Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘torah’

True Love is Golden

Luke 6:27-31      

Have you heard of the law of reciprocity?

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How about the golden ratio?

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In essence, the law of reciprocity is the social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. Reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative. Conversely, in response to hostile actions, a person is frequently just as hostile and in some cases, even more brutal in response.

This idea of Reciprocity is old. It’s possible that it is even part of our human DNA. Well, at least it’s something that human beings developed socially thousands of years ago. We do know that in the time of Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BC), the 6th king of the Babylonian Dynasty, there was the Hammurabi code, a collection of 282 laws and standards for citizens’ conduct. You’re probably familiar with the “eye for an eye” principle. That’s this code, specifically Law #196.

These laws of reciprocity showed up in the Torah and the ancient Israelite culture, and were the cornerstone of ancient Greece. In fact, you can look around the world and throughout history and find the rules of reciprocity. They seem to be a social norm for us as humans.

Now what about the golden ratio? In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. Expressed algebraically: using quantities a and b: a > b > 0.

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Yeah, I’m not great at math and especially not algebra. For some of you who are, I bet you get this right away. For me and for others, however, it may be helpful to consider the golden ratio in architecture, art, design, music, and nature. It’s helpful for me to see the spiral arrangements of snails or the patterns of the veins of leaves.

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The golden ratio.

And it is both of these concepts—the golden ratio and the law of reciprocity, that lead us to something we’re all familiar with.

The so-called golden rule.

The golden rule, is of course: do to others that which you would want them to do to you. Pure, positive reciprocity.

The silver rule is the same, yet in the negative sense: do not to others that which you would not want them to do to you.

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Pretty much every religious or faith tradition, as well as secular and humanist traditions, claim some form of the golden and/or silver rule. In fact, in interfaith work I have come across the golden rule countless times, as it is seen as the one universal concept that we can all agree on, in spite of many other competing truth claims. So on the surface the golden rule seems like a perfect ethic for all of humanity. Like the amazingly beautiful and mathematically perfect golden ratio, the golden rule may just be the one thing that can bind us all together.

Right?

Not exactly. Don’t get me wrong—when I am with people of differing traditions, conflicting opinions, and even very opposite beliefs than my own, the golden rule can be a comfortable place for us to find common ground. And of course I would like people to treat me as well as I treat them, especially if I treat them well, right?

But wait—the golden rule isn’t perfect, and that’s been proven throughout history and all over the world. Consider whether the golden rule works in situations of adversity and struggle, and especially in contexts of marginalization and totalitarianism. Sadly, we can see in our human history when people who were pushed to the margins were subjected to the golden rule while those in power were not.

We see this today. I for example, I would never tell my black or brown or other non-white friends, or my gay, lesbian, or transgender friends, who have been mistreated, to turn the other cheek when they are racially profiled. Anytime someone’s humanity is questioned, or their dignity taken away, how does the golden rule apply? If you were being oppressed, how would you react?

Obviously, I’m not advocating for revenge or violence or vitriolic reactions. But when hateful things are said and done to people, I have a hard time telling them to be passive and to just accept what’s been done.

No, I think we sometimes overlook that the golden rule is nuanced and has layers to it, according to the context. And it was no different for Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew raised by the law of Leviticus in the Torah: love your neighbor as you love yourself.

But love your neighbor seems different than just “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Love your neighbor? It feels different than  “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.”

Love. Your. Neighbor.

Of course, Jesus posed the “who is your neighbor” question with parables, and it never turned out the way people thought. Their neighbors, as it turned out, were not the ones closest to them, and were often even perceived enemies like the Samaritans or tax collectors. And so that’s what I mean when I say we sometimes overdo it with the golden rule, because we hear these words in Luke’s Gospel:

Love: your enemies, do good to those who hate, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you; if someone hits you in the face, let them do it again; if someone steals clothes from you, give them more.

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Really, if you take your time and look at these words, they are triggering, are they not? There is NO WAY that I’m telling people I know who have been bullied to love the bullies and let them stay bullies. There is NO CHANCE that I’m telling anyone who has suffered abuse of any kind to just pray for their abusers. If a friend is cursed by another, I’m not telling my friend to bless that person. If someone steals stuff, they should be rewarded? If someone smacks you in the face, you should just let it go and say: “Please sir, may I have another?” And really? We have to do good to those who hate us?

Wow, Jesus, what was in that glass of wine you drank?

But remember that with Jesus there is always something subversive and contextual. Yes, preachers and churches and politicians have used even the teachings of Jesus to propagate misogyny, prejudice, racism, war, hate, and their own agendas.

But when Jesus said to LOVE it was not a feeling, it was an action, and it always circled back [or spiraled] to the reciprocal triad of love: love God, love yourself, love others.

Those three always went together and interchanged. If you love the Creator, then it follows that you love all of creation—all living beings. And you love yourself, and you love the other humans you encounter because you all belong together.

In the case of an enemy, agape love isn’t about being a doormat or excusing terrible behavior. In fact, love of enemy can mean confrontation of evil and resistance. Cue Martin Luther King, Jr. who we often point to as a U.S. pioneer of non-violent protest and resistance to bring about major social change. This is what love of enemy looks like. Likewise, Jesus’ contextual view of hate was that some people hated and cursed others simply because of their nationality or ethnicity or their religion. Jesus was flipping over the tables of people’s prejudice and challenging their own biases.

And no, Jesus is NOT telling anyone who has been abused to just accept it. It’s the opposite. Take a look at the “turn the other cheek” thing. Context: the one striking you on your cheek would have been your master. Remember that slavery was alive and well in Jesus’ time. If a master wanted to discipline a servant, he would assert his authority by striking your right cheek with the back of his right hand. That was proper striking etiquette. Now picture this happening, and after you’re struck on the right cheek, you stand there and turn your head to show your left cheek. It would be impossible for the master to strike your left cheek with the back of his right hand. This becomes an act of resistance, as you break the so-called etiquette of acceptable violence and expose the master’s powerlessness.

Let’s get down to it. There is no perfect ethical code or moral law. This is what gets us into trouble and how we end up giving way too much power and authority to a small group of people. No, the power and universality is in the agape love-act itself. What binds us all together on this messed-up, chaotic, seemingly fragmented planet is agape love. It’s not a feeling, not some impossible dream or wishful thinking. Agape love can be resistance, solidarity, subversive, compassionate justice, prophetic, paradigm shifting, difference-embracing, counter-culture, and downright dangerous for the oppressors, the authoritarians, the haters, and the manipulators.

Love. Of the Creator and all creation. Love. For yourself as you are. Love for others.

These three great loves are one, and they truly are golden.

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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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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.

Interfaith Immersion Day 4

Wednesday

At noon we journeyed to Repair the World,

Repair the World

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

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

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

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

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

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See you tomorrow.

Building & Nurturing Reconciling Community

Matthew 5:21-24; 33-37 

So many labels.

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We are named this, that, the other thing.

We are told what we are capable of or not capable of. And we bring all of these experiences into our relationships. We bring all of this into community.

These labels, these stereotypes—they hinder us from fully expressing ourselves and sometimes they even keep us from connecting to others. I would argue that the divisiveness we experience in the world occurs because we too readily accept the labels given to us, and too readily apply labels to other people. The divisiveness begins in each one of us, as we seek to balance how we see ourselves with how others may see us. It is not easy, for sure, but essential work we all must do. Because if we don’t know, love, and accept ourselves as we are, and if we too often accept the labels given to us, we will find it difficult to have meaningful and positive relationships. It will be more difficult to be part of a community.

This individual work I will call self-reconciling—the work of getting to know yourself apart from societal, religious, and even family labels. Discovering how to love and accept yourself as you are, raw and unfiltered. That self-reconciling, in my experience, leads to reconciliation with others, in community.

Jesus of Nazareth spoke a lot about this type of reconciliation, within ourselves, and as part of a community. His quite famous “sermon on the mount” includes such identity metaphors as salt and light, and of course, the beatitudes–the affirmation of the marginalized as part of God’s reconciling work. We are looking at the latter part of this speech in Matthew’s Gospel, and this time Jesus shifts to a conversation about the Law.

What is the law? Plainly speaking, it was and is the Mosaic Law, the precepts and rules from the Torah; in other words, the first five books of the Old Testament. For Jewish folk in Jesus’ time, the Law was of utmost importance. It defined the behaviors of individuals, and also how people related to each other in community. Jesus, in the Gospels, interprets these Laws as Rabbis were prone to do. In his interpretation, however, was an underlying theme new to many:  laws were only good insofar as they valued and protected people.

In other words, it was not about who followed the laws more religiously. It was about how people’s lives were affirmed and embraced—that people had a right to be part of a safe community in which they could be themselves.

Please keep in mind that for Jesus, the Scriptures were not ending points that were God-words and therefore a done deal. Instead, the Scriptures were more like beginning points from which to re-form them. Jesus moved away from the authority of the written words in order to truly honor the spirit of the teachings themselves.

Each time he says “but I say to you” Jesus is placing a comma where others had placed a period.

The Scriptures were not dead and set in stone. God was still speaking through them—to people in the current age, and thus they should be interpreted in that age.

Thus, Jesus runs down a list of various laws and rules that his audience would have seen as hot button issues: marriage and divorce, murder, repayment of debts, adultery, and oaths [making vows/promises]. But in each case, Jesus focuses less on the letter of the law and more on what the spirit of the law was about—affirmation and reconciliation in community. A quick breakdown of the issues at hand:

Murder. It is not enough to just say that we shouldn’t kill each other. The point is in the valuing of another. People’s lives matter. Rather than prohibiting violence against another, this law is actually about wanting the best for others, actively seeking their well-being, affirming who they are, and even taking risks to do so. No one should go to a church or worship or do anything so-called religious before reconciling with others and loving them as they are. Can you imagine what it would be like if we actually committed to this? Then it wouldn’t be about how many times you attend worship or educational classes or how many committees you serve on or any of that stuff. It would be about reconciliation with others and seeking the best for our neighbors.

Marriage and divorce. So easy to get caught up in morals here, but that’s not Jesus’ take. Instead, this law is about certain individuals being mistreated, in this case, women. Females were considered property in Jesus’ time. The rules for marriage and divorce were completely one-sided in favor of males. But the spirit of the law is about the valuing of persons and thus prohibits us from objectifying them or treating them as lesser. In blessed community, we value each other fully and consider ourselves to be of equal value and therefore deserving of protection and affirmation. In 2017 the spirit of this law is absolutely relevant. Still there are far too many people [who say they are Christians] who are fighting against and in some cases blocking the affirmation of two men or two women who wish to marry; and others who refuse to recognize the beauty and full humanity of transgender people. And females still experience objectification and are considered property. This is not what beloved community stands for.

Part of the reason why “religious” folk keep hanging onto laws that denigrate and divide people, says Jesus, is due to our spending way too much time arguing about oaths.

The formal swearing of oaths in court is something familiar to all of us. But have you ever thought about how much people swear oaths in churches? You want to join a particular faith community [or even attend a Christian school] and you must swear an oath. You must swear that you believe a particular list of things, a doctrinal statement, etc. For Jesus, oath-swearing was for people who didn’t trust each other. You say pious and hollow words. It has nothing to do with how you treat people.

And yet, in beloved community, oaths are unnecessary, because people speak the truth to each other, trust each other, and love each other honestly. I encourage you [and myself] to focus less on the labels we are given and the labels we give; I challenge you to focus less on rules and more on community.

How will we as a community value and affirm others?
How will we tackle the culture in our communities that devalues some because of their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or social status?

How will we continue to build beloved community?

 

Who Are Our Neighbors?

Luke 10:25-37

WhoMattersMoreWhelp, this is a well-known story.

I’ll try to highlight some of the details that may sometimes go unnoticed before I share some thoughts. First off, the person asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a lawyer. Why that is significant is because of what lawyers do. Lawyers qualify and define elements of the law, correct? Good lawyers are concerned about justice. So, in this case, the lawyer is examining the Mosaic Law of the Jewish faith to find out exactly what he must do to justify himself before God. This is not an attack on Jesus. This is a legitimate question. What do I need to do to be right with God? Jesus responds appropriately: “What does the law say?” And the lawyer knows:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, life, power, and thought; love your neighbor just as you love yourself.”

That’s from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And Jesus says: “There you go, good job. Done.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. So he asks a follow-up question: Who is my neighbor? And then Jesus tells the famous parable-story. Some insight:  it begins in a typical way like many ancient Jewish teaching stories—with an introduction akin to a joke: A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite walk into a bar…

But in this case:
A dude is beaten up and dying on the side of the road, and then, a priest, a Levite, and….

And an Israelite walks by…right?

Uh, no. Remember that probably there were at least 70 people listening to this story. They all expected for the third character, the hero, to be an Israelite. But wait—it wasn’t. Before we get there, some quick notes on the first two characters. The priest decided not to help the dying man, most likely because he wasn’t sure if the dying man was a Jew. Better to be safe than sorry, because if he were not a Jew, going anywhere near him would defile the priest and he’d have to go through a lengthy process of becoming clean again. Oh, and also, the guy might die soon. So a priest certainly couldn’t touch him. The priest is the higher class, the elite. Then, the Levite. The Levites were not as high as a priest, but they were descendants of Levi and assisted the priests in the temple. The Levite decided to pass by, because maybe he saw the priest? How could he do that which the priest passed up? So the Levite walked on by. So now the lower-class Israelite will arrive and save the day, right? WRONG!

It’s a Samaritan. The Samaritans were a mixed race between Jews of captivity [when they were exiled from Israel] and the Samaritan people of the actual land of Samaria. Jews [called Israelites, too] were hostile towards Samaritans. The Mishna, the oral traditions of Judaism that developed about law, say this about Samaritans in Mishna Shebiith 8:10: “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.”

Right. That’s harsh. Also, you may remember Jesus talking to a certain Samaritan woman at a well of water? She told him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan” [John 4:9]? This Samaritan, though, would be bound by the same law as the Jews. So seeing a dying person on the side of the road was equally dicey. This dying person did not qualify as the Samaritan’s neighbor. So why did he help?

Because he was moved with compassion.

He did the right thing, regardless of the ethnic and religious conflicts involved. He put himself at risk. And the crowds listening would assume that the half-dead person now rescued by the Samaritan was Jewish. So add that to the drama. Jesus tells the lawyer: go and do the same.

The lawyer wanted to know who we are obligated to love. Jesus answers with a story that says it’s not about obligation, of loving the person near to you, or like you. Jesus erases the line of difference. Whoever is in need or hurting is your neighbor.

mylifematters1Friends, in the course of 72 hours this past week, all sorts of &*$! went down. Two more Black lives were taken away. Their names are Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was needless violence, and yes, it was committed by police officers and once again against Black people. And then, violent individuals not affiliated with the peaceful BlackLivesMatter demonstrators in Dallas, Texas, opened fire on police and civilians, taking the lives of five Dallas police officers and harming many others. As a white person, I cannot understand the racial profiling that others have experienced. I can only stand with my friends and colleagues while they express anger, frustration, and grief. I can only continue to work for understanding and peacemaking in our communities. I can only choose to be vocal and to say that Black lives do matter.

girlBLMWhen thinking about this burning question of who is my neighbor, this is what I hear:
My neighbor is anyone and all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice.
I cannot just walk by and ignore their suffering; I shouldn’t try to silence their anger, frustration, and sadness. I should love them. I should stand with them. Loving my neighbor compels me to help put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism in this country, inspires me to continue to talk with colleagues and church and community folk about why it’s important to stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

I close with some words from the UCC’s Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, Rev. Traci Blackmon:
Ultimately, the guns used to kill those 5 officers last night and wound 6 more and 1 civilian and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, 49 mostly black and latinx people who were LGTBQ at Pulse in Orlando, and the 9 people in bible study in Charleston, were loaded by our common enemies, fear and hate.  This same ammunition is responsible for the bombing of mosques and the burning of churches. This same ammunition fuels the escalating levels of death in our nation’s streets as a result of communal violence. Irrational fear and hatred that nurses at the breast of a nation increasingly divided against itself.

We must mourn them all because we are all connected.
And we must find our way back to love.
Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love.
Love is our only hope.

changestartsBLM

And look–the WNBA players who chose to wear these t-shirts while warming up for their game were just doing what we should all do. Their message was simple: CHANGE STARTS WITH US. Let’s stop trying to spin things to fit some agenda that isn’t helping to bring us together. Remember the Dallas police officers who protected Black Lives Matter protestors. Let’s set an example for all the kids and youth who are just waiting for us to cooperate and love each other as we should. Come on. Change starts with us.

 

How Do We Measure Success?

Luke 10:1-11

Speak Peace
This story, in my opinion, is about how one defines success.My initial thoughts on the background of this Luke story: it’s originally a Mark story, but instead of Jesus sending out 12 [as in Mark], Jesus sends 70, or is that 72? Some Bible translations go with 70, while others say 72. Why? I don’t have time to go into all that, but let’s just say it’s all about one little Greek word that appears in some of the copies of Gospel manuscripts and whether or not that particular manuscript copy changes the number, but it’s not really a huge deal. In my perspective, either 70 or 72 leads us right to the Old Testament, and more specifically, to Genesis 10. Often called the table of nations, Genesis 10 reveals all of Noah’s family and offspring. That family, of course, eventually led to the story of Moses, who in Numbers 11 appoints 70 elders and then two more. That’s 72. And these people were filled with “spirit.” Seems like a pretty strong connection to Luke’s Gospel story. The number 70/72 makes Jesus’ calling and sending of disciples a universal action and not some regional movement.

Those people are sent on the “way” to be with other people. They are sent to treat all people with equal respect, to heal social divisions, and to create and participate in open tables. They are “lambs in the midst of wolves,” which reminds them of their vulnerability. If they are to do this work, they will need to be vulnerable with the people they meet and accept their hospitality.

Without community, this work will not happen.

And so, away they go, in pairs. They are to speak peace to every house, which is shalom, the wholeness. If someone reciprocates that peace, peace will rest on that person. If not, the peace comes back to them. Finally, they are to heal the weak. We’re not talking about sick people as we often assume. Healing the weak entails addressing the unjust societal structures that separate people and oppress. Healing can be physical, mental, spiritual, or societal, or all of the above.

So in short, this mission, this living out the Reign of God looks like this: eating, drinking, healing, and fellowship. Oh, and also not dwelling on those who reject the peace and the healing. Shaking the dust off of one’s sandals, in my view, is about moving on and not resenting people, even if they reject you.

In Luke, this is Jesus’ version of success. How does it compare to what churches actually do and say? Hmm…..

I think it’s obvious that most churches today are more concerned than ever before about measuring success. How many people sit in the pews or attend worship? How much money are we taking in? How many new members did we receive last month? Do people remark about our beautiful building? Are we well-respected in the community? I could go on, but you get the idea. The institutional church bases most of its measurement of success on business models or societal structures. For generations, the U.S. Christian church was a standard, old reliable institution in each town, city, and suburb. Then post-modernism came and went. People in those towns, cities, and communities began to see the church institution as no different than any other. Where was the meaning? What made the church uniquely wonderful and different? In fact, most people saw or experienced awful and hurtful things in the church. No wonder they left. No wonder the institution started to decline and continues to decline.

But the institution is not the church, and thank god.

The church is community.

As Jesus sent out people to heal and reconcile, he sent them out in community to be community. Buildings didn’t matter. Strategic financial planning or marketing didn’t matter. What mattered was community, and what that community stood for: justice and peace.

As such, any faith community is our group of 72. We are not in this alone. Faith and spirituality are communal and we make a huge mistake when we try to make it isolated, like when people say: my Bible says, or my God does or says…In our church structures, we struggle the most when our leaders and volunteers are completely autonomous. We become fragmented, burned out, and disconnected. Why? Because that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We are supposed to be a community of staff, volunteers, leaders, etc. Males and females, non-binary zes, children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, people behind the scenes and people in front, creative and visionary minds and detail-oriented and task-oriented minds. We are supposed to be radically together in community. This means that every little and big thing we do in our faith communities is for the good of the whole, for something bigger than ourselves.

How do you measure success? It matters how you answer that. People struggle their whole lives trying to achieve goals they never reach and end up feeling tired, disappointed, and out of balance. But what if this story offers us some insight? What if success is not measured by numbers, money, degrees, and prestige?

What if success is measured by community, and how people treat each other within that community?

What if success is welcoming all to the table?

Consider this from St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

Note: next week I’ll post something about Luke 10:25-37 and ask the question: Who Are Our Neighbors?
I’ll say right now, however, that #BlackLivesMatter!
BLM
And all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice, we won’t stand by and watch it happen; we won’t be silent. You should have the space to express your anger, frustration, and sadness. We love you. We will stand with you. Let’s put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism. And let’s stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.

Pentecost Inside, Spirit Outside

John 14:8-17; 24-27

 

What is on the inside eventually shows itself on the outside.

emotionsHave you seen the Pixar movie Inside Out? Many have, but just in case you missed it, Inside Out’s story revolves around a young girl named Riley, who is uprooted from her comfortable Minnesota home when she moves to the busy and chaotic San Francisco.

rileyHer emotions—Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Joy—disagree on how to handle this dramatic change.  Their disagreements start to stir up trouble in Headquarters, the central living and working place for the five emotions, and the audience is invited to watch as Riley and her emotions navigate and interact with the world around them. Inside Out illustrates how our minds react in social situations and create, process, and alter memories.

 

In essence, the movie confirms a universal truth of humanity:

For every feeling we have there is a thought, for every thought we have there is an action, and for every action there is a social reaction.
Take a look at the many emotions of Riley.

Inside Out is indeed about our emotions, and additionally, I also think it leads us to think about our spirituality, which is in fact related to our emotions. If you’re wondering what I mean by spirituality, for the sake of this conversation, take it mean: a sense of connection to something bigger, A universal human experience—something that touches us all.

We all feel emotions. We all try to navigate those emotions. We think about our emotions. We all act on those thoughts. And our actions affect those around us.

Are you with me so far? I hope so. Now, stay with me, if you will, as I relate this to this thing called “Pentecost” in the Christian tradition.

 

Pente is a Greek prefix for the number 5 or the number 50—depending on the context, and would have been said by Greek-speaking Jews centuries ago. Later on, in Eastern Christianity, Pentecost was designated as a festival celebrated 50 days after the day when people commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

But Pentecost as a festival did not originate in Christianity; it comes from the Jews.

It was called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew. This festival will begin Saturday, June 11th and end on Monday, June 13th. People will read the Torah, fast, eat special foods [specifically dairy products], and pray.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gift of the covenant—in other words, the giving of the Law [Torah] to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the first Seder meal [linked to Passover] to remember the Torah and God’s promises.

Honestly, Pentecost [for most Western Christians] is not much of a consideration. Christmas [although less a spiritual tradition] and Easter are more known and widely observed. Pentecost is less-known, perhaps because it is about something called the spirit, and that in and of itself might seem elusive. Biblically, the tradition of Pentecost is based on the story in the book of Acts in the NT where the Spirit descended on those who were followers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost was historically known as the “birthday” of the Christian church, at least symbolically.

We are looking at John’s Gospel, however, and not Acts. John does not refer to any such event but instead tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his understanding of the Spirit.

And I will argue that this Jesus teaching in John is an “inside-out” teaching.

You see, Jesus’ followers, before and after his death, were not sure that they had what they needed to navigate life. It’s the universal idea of scarcity, that our ability to wake up, breathe, and to be alive is not enough. There is something missing.

We can most certainly empathize with the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. No question about it. They wanted concrete answers about the meaning of life. They wanted assurance that they wouldn’t be all alone. They were human.

And Jesus’ message to them reflects that. It is a message of help, comfort, and truth. Jesus promises that the spirit will be with them—no matter what. No wait—the spirit is also IN them. The word for spirit is Paraclete and originates from ancient Latin and ancient Greek. It means mediator or advocate. But if we really want to dig into its original meaning, a Paraclete is a person—someone who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and one who literally stands with someone and intercedes on her behalf. This is the Spirit of truth, not like the world promises, not like preachers, churches, religions, or companies try to sell you, but the spirit who lives in you, and she will always be in you.

Jesus wasn’t done. The spirit also leads to peace. Peace is eirene in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew shalom. Shalom is more than absence of conflict.  It includes maximal well-being for people and for society. Shalom is characterized by wholeness, healing, abundance, concord, reconciliation, social harmony, and spiritual and physical health.

We must notice here, however, that all this happens within the context of great sadness.

In the story, there is no repression of sadness here. Those who loved Jesus knew he was dead. But the message of John is honest. Sadness is recognized as something vital to our well-being, something to mindfully embrace—rather than to suppress. And the presence of the spirit speaks to this. The spirit is ever-present, even in our sad times. The difficult emotions that we often try to push down are recognized. The disciples felt sadness on the inside and expressed it on the outside. The spirit of wholeness, forgiveness, peace, and balance was also on the inside. How would they express that on the outside?

It is a legitimate question, and one that both Inside Out and John’s Gospel challenge us to ask ourselves. We feel all sorts of emotions inside.

How often do we suppress those feelings?
Are we honestly thinking about our emotions and where they come from?
Are we aware that our thoughts about our emotions lead to actions?
And, are we aware that our actions affect those around us?

Friends, maybe the religious significance of Pentecost isn’t widely known or observed, and perhaps that is okay. The idea, though, that a spirit lives in each one of us and accepts us as we are, and actually encourages us to be honest about what we feel, moving us to honest and compassionate action with others, is a beautiful and transformative thing. Keep in mind that this spirit of love, wholeness, and peace is poured out on all people; that should be emphasized. This spirit is freedom to be yourself; you don’t have to suppress who you are. This spirit makes all things new—meaning that each day of your life is a new beginning. No matter what happened yesterday, it’s over! This spirit brings life and makes you come alive, realizing that you have all that you need. Scarcity is not the problem; believing that you are not enough is the problem.

The spirit reminds you that if you love yourself as you are and you love others as they are, you keep the commandments that really matter.

Who you are on the inside shows itself on the outside.

So embrace, on the inside, a peace that lives in you—not the false peace that leads to more suffering, but the peace that is wholeness of heart, mind, and body. The peace that says to you: there’s no need to be afraid. Be bold, be strong–be you! This spirit moves you to be your higher self but also moves you to accept when you fail, when you are sad, angry, happy, or joyful. The spirit accepts all your emotions.

This spirit lives in you; now allow it to be evident on the outside in how you live and treat others.

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