Sunday, August 25, 2013

Today's Sermon - When can we be set free?

Luke 13:10-17
Jeremiah 1:4-17

The work of transformation – the work of healing people, and communities, and the world.  God may use us to help, but this is God’s work alone.  When change happens, when transformation happens, it is God at work.  When God comes to prophets like Jeremiah, a prophet too young to think he could be influential, to think he could be called or that he could do God’s work, it is God who works through him and therefore transforms those who hear Jeremiah’s words.  When a woman who had been crippled for 18 years passed Jesus by, he came to her, not because she called on him, not because someone else called on him to help her, not because of her amazing faith, but because Jesus, God, is about healing and caring for all people.  Jesus transformed her – not because of anything special about her, but because of something amazing about God.  God chooses to transform, to bring new life, to do something creative and beautiful and good.  That is who God is, and that is what God does.  The difficult part of this for us is that we don’t have a lot of choice about whom God picks, and God seems to pick the most unlikely candidates to be God’s people, to serve God, to be agents of God’s action in the world, to be transformed, to demonstrate and embody God’s love and grace.  God picks a child to be God’s prophet.  And God picks a woman who is not even asking for help, not being cured by her faith, not someone who was able to be part of the community to demonstrate God’s love and healing and care.
But it’s not just that we have no choice over whom God calls, whom God picks for healing, for transformation, for God’s work in the world, we also have no choice over when God will do God’s work.
The Pharisees were really upset that Jesus chose to heal the woman on the Sabbath.  And I think it is critical to our understanding of this passage to look at WHY Jesus did heal her that day.  The laws were strict about what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath.  And the reality is that surely Jesus could have waited one more day to heal this woman.  After all, she had been crippled for 18 years.  In the span of 18 years, what is one more day?  But Jesus did not wait a day, or even an hour.  He chose to heal her then, breaking laws to do so.  And it is important to understand why.
       There are two answers to this.  First of all, Jesus stood by the second Old Testament understanding of Sabbath.  The first understanding of Sabbath comes from Genesis 2:2-3 in which God rested on the final day.  In this understanding, we are to do the same – rest, completely, as God rested from the work of creation.  As Exodus 20:-8-11 puts it, “therefore the people of Israel shall not work on the Sabbath”.  However, there is another Old Testament understanding of Sabbath that comes from Deuteronomy 5:12-15.  In Deuteronomy 5:14, when Moses reiterates the Ten Commandments, he notes the second thing that we must remember on the Sabbath:  "remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God brought you forth from there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day". (from a web-site on Jewish orthodoxy): What does the Exodus have to do with resting on the seventh day?  It is all about freedom.   In those times, leisure was confined to certain classes; slaves did not get days off.  Thus, by resting on the Sabbath, we are reminded that we are free.  But in a more general sense, Sabbath frees us from our weekday concerns, from our deadlines and schedules and commitments.  During the week, we are slaves to our jobs, to our creditors, to our need to provide for ourselves; on Sabbath, we are freed from these concerns, much as our ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt.”
   In this understanding of Sabbath, the Sabbath practice or observance is not just about resting – it is a day of doing a holy work, and especially a holy work that is all about freedom.  What could be more holy than healing, or freeing a person from their infirmity, from a crippling condition, from a life of estrangement, alienation and isolation from their communities (since they were considered “unclean” and could not be touched or enter many places, including the temple)?  What could be more holy than honoring God and God’s people by transforming them from the physical slavery of infirmity into life?  For Jesus this was absolutely vital, absolutely important that the healings he did BE done on the Sabbath, on that holy day, on the day when holy works and acts of freeing and freedom are to be done.  Yes, he could have waited one more day.  But Sabbath was the right day, the appropriate day, for him to do a holy work.  Just as the Israelites were freed from slavery, in remembering that, the woman was to be freed from her affliction.  As the animals of the Pharisees were freed, even on the Sabbath, to drink, this daughter off Abraham was freed in the kingdom of God to receive life.  Jesus transformed Sabbath, even as he transformed the woman.  Jesus focused on freedom, even as he freed the woman.
     Additionally, after 18 years, for God, that one day mattered, that one hour mattered.  Laws be put aside, or as Jesus said it, “The Sabbath was made for humans, NOT humans for the Sabbath.”  Therefore, if the day of rest is not serving the needs of the people, then it is not observed in the way the Pharisees understood it needed to be.  God’s timing is not our timing.   God’s creative, transforming love comes every day because every day is holy for God.  God’s understanding of law is always to be surpassed by God’s commitment to love.  And on this particular holy day, Jesus would not and could not wait to heal this woman whom God loved.
The Pharisees hated this.  They hated it for many reasons.  But I want to read you a quote from one of my favorite commentaries, “Feasting on the Word” about the Pharisaic understanding in all of this.:
  The desire to control Sabbath observance is critical for maintaining another social order as well. The slavocracy of the American South was in part maintained by the restriction of "doing good" on the Sabbath. Reflecting on religious practices in the slaveholding South, Frederick Douglass notes:
It was necessary to keep our religious masters at St. Michael's unacquainted with the fact that, instead of spending the Sabbath in wrestling, boxing, and drinking whisky, we were trying to learn how to read the will of God; for they had much rather see us engaged in those degrading sports, than to see us behaving like intellectual, moral, and accountable beings.
     While enslaved Africans desired to worship God and to educate themselves, literally to "do good," they were prevented because their improvement represented a threat to the social system that circumscribed their lives. Although the plantation setting is clearly not a direct parallel to the situation Jesus faces, similar issues of power, control, and order are present in both cases. The control of Sabbath practice in both instances represents a convenient way of maintaining an oppressive system whereby some people are forced to endure perpetual suffering by others who are more concerned with sustaining a system that benefits them than alleviating the burdens of those it cripples.
(Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
      For the Pharisees control of religious laws and rules was very important.  But God cannot be controlled.  God cannot be contained by our rules and laws and even our understanding of who God is or what God is about, who God can use, when God can use them and why.  None of this can be controlled.  I’m reminded of the quote from C.S. Lewis’ the lion, the witch and the wardrobe, in reference to Aslan who is the Jesus character, “He is not a TAME lion, you know.  He is very good, but he is not Tame.”  We want God to be tame – or rather contained.  We want to be able to understand, to expect certain things and to count on them.  But that is not who God is.  God is not TAME.  God can’t be controlled by our prayers, our thoughts, our wishes, our hopes, or even our ideas of who God really is.  And the truth is that ultimately I’m not sure we would want a God who could be because that God would not be big enough for all of who we are, all of our needs, all of our hopes, and all of our lives.  God’s dreams for us are bigger than our own, and that is VERY good news.  Just as the woman in today’s story could not look up, hunched over for 18 years, she could only see the dirt in front of her and could not imagine a life free from her infirmity, Jesus had bigger plans for her, bigger dreams for her.
Again, from ‘Feasting on the Word,’  “We are like the woman bent over and unable to look up and see the sun. We know only the dust and dirt underneath our feet. We struggle to see the path before us by straining and twisting, because we cannot look straight ahead. To ask for healing helps us step into Jesus' invitation to mend our souls as we mend creation. There will be times when we will "know" this in ways that are too profound for words or reason. There will also be times when God
seems far off and the pathway unclear, but seek healing we must.”  Yes, we must.  We must seek freedom from all that binds us, whether it be physical, emotional, social, psychological or even political.  But again, we have to remember that God is not a tame lion – and therefore God’s plans for us and God’s timing for those plans will remain in God’s hands, even as we are called to seek healing.      The good news is, though, again, that God’s dreams are bigger than our own.  And God’s call for us to find life is more insistent and immediate than we could even hope.  It comes down to this…”Where Jesus is, things begin to be made right…. In the reign of God, the world will be repaired.”  That is a promise we can count on.  That is the good news.  The challenge then for us is two fold – one to take the Sabbath seriously as both a time for rest and a time to do a holy work towards the freedom of all God’s people.  And second, to trust that God is the force and power behind any transformation towards freedom.  But that God will use us, no matter what our condition, our age, our situation, if we are open to God’s calling.  Amen.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reframing, Part II

So today I had the opportunity to practice what I preach...
Today was the first Friday (my day off) that the kids are back in school so I was really looking forward to this day.  I would have some alone time - something that I treasure and that is so very rare when one is a single parent of three children while at the same time working full + time in a church.  I couldn't wait for this day.  I had scheduled a massage, planned a walk with a good friend, planned an afternoon nap and was going to then take the new kittens for their first vet appointment.  But when I got in the car to go for my massage, the car wouldn't start. are two ways to tell this story - both are true, but again, the way the story is told makes all the difference.

Version One:  I really needed this day of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.  Things have been hard and I desperately needed a day to not work so hard.  I needed some alone time.  I needed to write my sermon for Sunday.  In addition, my bank account has been very stressed this month between paying for the kids' lessons for the fall, all the equipment, vet bills, etc. that go along with three new kittens, school supplies, vacation bills due, expensive house repairs, etc.  I really could not afford to have the car fixed on top of everything else.  I just don't have the money.  So instead of spending the day resting, paying bills, getting the house cleaned, RESTING, working on my sermon, being good to me, I spent most of the day dealing with the car, and was rewarded for that with another bill.  A parishioner came over to do a repair I needed doing, but that too is another expense.  And in the midst of dealing with the car, I also left my wallet at home.  Since I had never been to this car place before, that was thoroughly embarrassing as I knew they would know nothing about my character or that I wasn't out to rob them.

Again, all of that is true.  But here is version two of the same events:
I wanted to leave early for my massage because it is in a place I had never been before.  It turned out this was an amazingly good thing, because when the car then wouldn't start, I had time to call my very good friend who just happened to be available and who is so very generous with her time and resources, who then drove out to my house, gave me her car for the day and walked herself home.  Of all the times for the car to break down, this one was by far the best, being my day off and so I had the day to rearrange and didn't have to be at meetings or taking kids to school (not my carpool day).  Also, as a result of my friend's amazing availability and generosity, I was not even late for the massage.  It was wonderful!  I then drove the car to my friend's house and she joined me in walking back home.  So despite the car situation, I still was able to have both my massage and my walk with my friend.  When I got home another friend was busy replacing closet doors in my house - a very needed repair, which he is willing to do on my schedule, despite the fact that he's had some medical things going on this week!  I called AAA, and they sent someone out to tow the car right away.  Once again, I was blessed by a person who got the battery going and recommended a local place to have the battery replaced for much cheaper than the dealer would have done.  I drove the car out and the place (Sylvester's in Berea) fixed it immediately.  It only cost $135 for both the battery and the installation, and the people there were really kind.  I had forgotten my wallet at home, having taken it out of my purse in order to find my AAA card when I went to call them.  But my amazing friend who had lent me her car earlier in the day was also willing to drive out to my house, pick up my wallet and bring it to me at the car place!!  I got home then in time to take the kittens to the vet.  And while alone time did not happen, I usually end up mildly depressed when I spend too much time alone anyway.  Amazing.  Not the day I expected, but a day filled with the blessings of nice people, helpful people, good friends, a massage, a walk, kittens, kittens, kittens, new closet doors, the smell of lavender (from the massage), and the day is not even finished yet!

Re-framing.  Telling the story differently.  Looking for good, looking for GOD in every moment.  We can choose to do that.  And I am working hard to do that more.  It is more than just seeing the glass half full.  It is envisioning the possibilities for the empty space in the glass.
For me, the possibilities in the glass are not so much "vodka" but more along the line of soda or sparkly water, but you get the idea.  It is not just seeing that something is "half".  It is seeing the joy in making it whole, the opportunities and possibilities present in a space that is not yet committed to anything else, the grace in being invited into a creative process of seeing where and what we can do with where we are and what we are given today, each day.  That is my goal for this day.  That is my hope for each day of my life.  That is a calling we have - to live in gratitude rather than in the darkness of despair.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reframing - again

      I've been thinking more about how we frame the events in our lives.  This started with a sermon I preached for our Wednesday evening praise service last night.  It was on the story of the vineyard workers - all of whom were paid the same wages even though some only worked an hour while others worked the entire day.  The thing is, if the workers who had worked all day had been paid their wages without knowing that others were being paid the same for less work, they wouldn't have been unhappy.  They were only unhappy as they compared their lot to others.  This is the experience of most of us, I think.  When we look at those worse off, we feel our blessings.  When we look at those we believe to be better off, we feel life is "unfair."  It really depends on where we stand and what we choose to look at or focus on, and how we then "frame" our experience.
      I told this story last evening: when we lived in California, my daughter attended Head-Royce school.  Head-Royce is an outstanding, private school where the kids are not only taught extremely well in all subjects, but where strong and important values of caring for the world, the community and each other are taught.  The kids are taught that they have resources, are privileged and should, therefore, use those resources and that privilege to better the world.  Head-Royce is also extremely expensive to attend.  This year's tuition for a high school kid is $33,525 for the year. We could not have afforded to send her there but for the school's commitment to serve people of all types, including all economic classes and they gave Jasmyn almost a complete free ride (for which I continue to be extremely grateful!) based on our family's income.  We felt incredibly blessed, incredibly blessed by the quality of the education she was receiving there and by the amazing staff and faculty that were part of her life for those few years. I'm sure you can imagine, most of the children attending came from extremely wealthy families.  Keep in mind that a family would usually send all of their children to the school - can you imagine a yearly tuition of over $100,000 to send three children to school?  Well, obviously many can.  Since that is far and above my annual salary, it doesn't really compute with me.  And while I stood in the place of gratitude that she was included in this community, there came a day when Jasmyn came home from school and said, "Why don't I have a huge, castle-like house to live in? Why don't I have my own pony?  Why aren't we going skiing in France over winter's break?  Why don't I have my own play castle in the backyard, complete with kitchenette and bathroom?  Why don't we have a nanny?  Why are my clothes hand-me-downs? ...etc., etc., etc..."  And I realized that while I was able to compare our situation to those in our neighborhood, in our town, in our community, Jasmyn was only able to compare herself to those in her daily community, which was these other families at school.
     I think about the challenging situation that our family went through.  So many people, then and now, say to me "You are amazing for continuing with the joy and energy that you still do!  It is incredible that you continue to walk and laugh and move forward and have your being intact in this way, that your faith is still so strong and that you are able to still dream and vision and...."  Well, okay.  They are comparing me to what they have gone through, or what they think "most people" in the United States don't experience.  But I tend to compare myself differently.  I still have all three of my children and they are all healthy, brilliant, beautiful, compassionate, good kids.  I have a beautiful house and neighborhood to live in.  I have work that is meaningful and enjoyable.  I am surrounded by a community, near and far, of absolutely wonderful, deep, faithful, loyal, honest, true and loving friends and family.  I have enough to eat.  Our standard of living has not been decreased by all we experienced.  And I have my faith - a faith in a God who is tangible and present and loving, all the time.  There are people who really suffer - people who live through wars, who suffer hunger, who have no work and don't know how they will care for their families, people who've lost children to horrible events.  My life is not like that.  I am blessed.
     It's all about how we choose to see, what we choose to focus on, and how we frame things.  I could focus on what we went through that was horrible.  Or I can focus on the amazing gifts that came from that time - strength, a deeper connection with God and with many other people, a sense of my own abilities in times of crisis to persevere, a deepened empathy with others who do suffer, experiences that I can write about that hopefully will help other people, and the list continues.
    My children sometimes say, "It's not fair...she got a bigger piece of pie than me."  Yes, we can focus on the fact that our piece of pie is smaller than someone else's.  We can also focus on the gift, the grace, that we have pie at all.  I also hear, "It's not fair!  I work hard and don't get nearly the reward of those other people who don't work nearly as hard as I do".  Yes, we can focus on that.  Or we can focus on the fact that we do have work and that the work we have brings in an income to support us.
     I have found myself re-framing my life experiences repeatedly.  How will I tell my story?  How will I describe the events in my life?  Will I talk about them as tragedies that I have endured?  Or will I talk about how close God was through the challenges in my life?  And how wonderful people were who stood with me, who listened, how gave me hugs and comfort - many of whom still continue to do that?  Will I focus on the friends I lost through the tragedies?  Or will I give thanks to God for the time we had together, and accept that some friendships only last a season or for a reason, while others last a life-time and that the ones that don't last still had value and contributed to my life?  Will I talk about myself as a victim?  Or will I talk about how I grew and was given gifts of understanding, insight, friends, faith, God's presence, that I probably would not have otherwise experienced and that now have made me stronger, better, more whole, more connected?
    It's not that we don't have feelings.  Feelings happen and they just are.  We experience grief, we experience loss, we experience being tired or overworked or overwhelmed, especially when difficult challenges arise.  But we can impact those feelings, or at least how long they last, by what we choose to see, to give our attention to, to make the focus of our lives.
     How do you tell your stories?  How do you allow those stories to define who you are?  We have a lot of choice about that.  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forgiveness, Part V

Another song about forgiveness, lyrics are posted below, followed by my comments.

Forgiveness – Susan Werner

 How do you love those who never will love you
 Who are happy to shove you out in front of the train
 How do you not hate those who would leave you lie bleeding
 While they hold their prayer meeting

 How do you love those who never will love you
 Who are so frightened of you they are calling for war
 How do you not hate those who have loaded their Bibles
 And armed their disciples, cuz I don't know anymore

 And I can't find forgiveness for them anywhere in this
 And with God as my witness I really have tried
 How do you love those who never will love you
 I think only God knows and he is not taking sides
 I hope one day he shows us how we can love those
 Who never will love us but who still we must love
 How do you love those?

     So that's the song.  I get it.  I do.  When there are injustices or meanness, especially when it is thrown at people I love, or when it is a huge and dreadful injustice, I understand why it can feel almost empowering to cling to anger or hatred instead of choosing love and forgiveness.  And if that can move us into changing, confronting, healing the injustice, then that can be a gift.
     But I also continue to believe with every bone in my body that when we don't forgive, the person we tear apart is ourselves.  That lack of compassion is a wall we build, not only between ourselves and the other, but between ourselves and God.  God is love.  If we can't tap into love, for any person, we are failing to connect with God, or let that God of love into our hearts.  If we continue to hate, we distance ourselves from God.  Actually, I can't think of a more effective way to distance from God or to destroy our own souls than to cling to hatred or anger.  As a good friend of mine said, the one word that Satan cannot tolerate is forgiveness.  Yes.  Forgiveness is the ultimate expression of God's love - for us and by us, out of love for God, to one another.
      Personally, I can't afford to house anger in my body.  I don't have the room, the time, the energy to hold hatred in my being.  I don't choose to give power to those who would hate me or hurt me by allowing them to injure my spirit by infecting it with unforgiven anger or hatred.    It doesn't mean I don't get angry.  Of course I do.  Anger is a feeling, and feelings just are - they just happen.  But we have a choice about what to do with that anger when it arises.  Will we take it and try to make healing, restoration and reconciliation out of it?  Will we talk to those with whom we are angry and try to understand, have compassion, and make amends for our parts in the wrongs?  Or will we cling to the anger, create an impenetrable wall that separates us from God and one another?  Will we turn the anger inwards (depression), failing to forgive ourselves and again, creating a wall between us and God?  Will we fail to look at ourselves, but stand in self-righteous hatred towards others, forgetting that all of us fall short, all of us make mistakes and that the way for all of us to heal is to work together towards reconciliation, compassion, understanding and grace?
     I know it isn't easy to forgive.  But it is necessary.  Absolutely necessary - for our own healing and for the healing of the world.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Is Love Enough?

I've been thinking about the other side of love - and this time I'm talking about the human kind of love rather than the God kind of love.  Is loving another person enough to choose to be with them?  And again, I don't just mean in a primary relationship, but in friendships or other relationships as well.  Is loving another enough?

The answer for me is pretty simple.  No.  Or at least, it never has been for me.  Starting with primary relationships, I think about the men I've dated.  I was 29 when I got married, so there were a number of men that I dated before then.  And the reality is that I loved many of them.   Still, in the end I chose not to be with each of them - for reasons that had nothing to do with how much or how little I loved them.  Love wasn't enough.  It isn't enough.  It isn't enough for marriage, it isn't enough for partnering, it isn't enough for friendships.  There has to be more.  There HAS to be more.

Mutual trust is a key component on that list.  Mutual respect is a needed component as well. Appreciation, lack of abuse (verbal, emotional, as well as physical), willingness to work on the relationship, willingness to apologize, to take ownership of one's own stuff, to listen, to grow, to move - all of these are necessary in healthy relationships as well as an ability to understand one another, a compatibility in something - lifestyles, communication, interests, values - all of these are important.  Am I saying that if one of these is missing the whole relationship should be chucked?  No.  If there is real love, I believe these can be worked on together.  But I am also a little wary of this.  Too many people enter marriage (and maybe other kinds of relationships too?) hoping to change their spouses, to make them into the people they really want them to be.  That is dangerous and usually unsuccessful.  Asking someone to be something they aren't choosing to be on their own, that they are not striving for, that they don't see as part of themselves can end up with both people unhappy, unwhole, and losing out.  We are called to love each individual as the unique person that they are, for exactly who they are, as well as for who they are striving to be. That doesn't mean we don't confront or speak truth when someone hurts us.  But I think we have to approach those conversations without the expectation that the other person will change, and instead just the deep hope that together any challenges can be surmounted.

Love isn't enough in other ways....In the book, Leaving North Haven, author Michael Lindvall tells the story of a Presbyterian Minister dealing with a small and dying congregation in a small and dying community in Northern Minnesota.   In one chapter he shares about a boy who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition caused by a mother drinking alcohol while pregnant.  In this case, Jason had lagged behind his peers, had been completely impervious to direction, was not changed or impressed by any kind of discipline or correction because he could not live beyond the moment.  He had no internal moral compass, but coveted approval from anyone, which eventually led him into a bad gang of kids and finally to a lifetime jail sentence.  The parents who had adopted him loved him but could not overcome the condition he was born with.  The story continues, “Ardis, Jason’s adopted mother, had told me that some shocking percentage of FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) kids end up in prison, that they still loved their boy, but had come to accept the hard truth that they could never have heard when they were young, namely, that their love – unbounded and powerful as it might be – could not conquer all….The boy was an incarnation of all the things that cannot be fixed.  Perhaps his parents love had somewhat deflected his heedless course, but it was never enough.  Jason was Jason.  He was the emblem of that which we may fear the most; not evil, not even death, but the terrible truth that love cannot conquer all.  Like Jimmy and Ardis, Jason’s parents, I once struggled to believe that this was not so, namely, that love – faithful enough, deep enough, tireless enough, bottomless love – could not but win.  Now I sat in an eight-by-eight room in a prison across the table from what looked for all the world to be a loss….Some broken things just cannot be fixed.  There are broken people who cannot be healed in this world, neither by our love nor our cleverness….Some wounded souls heal; but some go to their graves pulled into the earth by darkness no mortal love can ever lighten.”  In those cases, we have to rely on God's love to pull those souls through.

Love is the pinnacle.  Loving others, loving God, loving self - these are the most important things we can do.  But in this human life, human love is simply not enough....  And again, we can only rely on God's love to be enough, when ours falls short.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Choosing Love

     Last week was a very difficult week.  I don't say that lightly... the week was hard.  More injustice seen, more cruelty experienced by those I love and some by myself as well.  I found myself mostly feeling sick, anxious, scared, angry, and hurt: none of it is new stuff, or none of it is from new players...but anger and revenge have been expressed in new ways, and more information has come about injustices and wrongs done.  I have felt literally attacked by darkness, and pretty powerless to do anything about it.  But there is one thing I do choose. There is one thing I choose.  And in that I have felt empowered and this evening (or morning, since it is the wee hours of the morning as I write this), I finally can say with conviction and truth that I feel some release, feel God's strong presence again standing with me, feel strength and the courage to say, "in spite of all this, I continue, and I will continue to live with joy and hope."  The choice that has made all the difference, the choice that continues to make all the difference - that one choice is love.  From a place of faith and belief in a God who is love and who teaches and calls us to love, I choose love.
     I can't always do this.  I wrote in one of my articles about forgiveness that there have been a couple times in my life when I have been so deeply hurt and angry that I have failed to forgive right away or to act with compassion quickly enough, when I lashed out (with directly spoken words only!!) in response to hurt.  Those couple times ended badly.  I regret that, I repent those occasions in the truest sense that I made amends as best I could and made/make a commitment to choose a different path.  I learned from those experiences that it damages me and everyone involved when I do choose to speak in anger (even if what I say is true, there are good ways to phrase "truth" that do not involve attacking the other). But, thanks be to God, that is not where I am right now.  Right now I am able, with God's help, to choose love.  I continue to pray daily for those who are choosing to do damage to others, or choosing to hurt my loved ones and/or me.  I pray for them good things...all good things.  I pray for them healing, most of all, but also wholeness and lightness and peace.  I pray for them strong relationships and a sense of deep love.  I pray for them.  And in doing so my heart is lightened.  As I have said before when I can put myself in their positions and really feel with compassion their pain and need I can pray with love.  Then my anger is released, my hurt dissipates, and each moment becomes a moment to be thankful for life, for breath, for friends, relationships, community.  Each moment becomes a moment of grace.  Each moment I live, really live.
    I choose love. I don't choose to lash out.  I don't choose anger.  I don't choose revenge.  I don't choose to engage the darkness again, and sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to step away.  There are things we can't fix directly on our own.  And in those cases, we turn them over to God for healing and care.
    There is great strength and power in saying to the darkness, "I will not let you carry me down this path into anger, revenge, hatred.  I will not let you damage my soul or even my day's peace.  I am hurt, but even in the face of that pain, I  choose love."  It is empowering and life-giving to do this.  It deepens my connection with the Spirit and with others. It calls me to a new way of seeing life and being engaged in the world that feels more positive and hopeful.  I am deeply grateful for the ability to do this, for the strength from God to do this, for the faith that enables me to step forward into this.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Valuing Life - ALL life

       I took my shower yesterday morning with a fly.  Yes, I know that sounds disgusting.  It wasn't intentional.  But about half way through my shower, I noticed a fly on the shower door, let in, undoubtedly, by all of the in-outs of the house the day before.  I noticed the fly and my first impulse was to kill it somehow - with water or the shampoo bottle, or something.  But it didn't move, it didn't try to get away and that stopped me.  Was the fly a bad thing?  It was ugly.  If it had been flying around it would have been annoying.  Flies are dirty and they can carry germs.  But this one wasn't near my food or anything that it could potentially harm.  It wasn't hurting me.  So why did I want to kill it?
       We are generally very callous about life - especially other kinds of life besides human.  But just because we don't understand another life form, just because it doesn't "think" in the way that we do, or "feel" in the way that we do, does that really mean that its life is less sacred?  Or un-sacred?  And that it doesn't have the same rights to be on this planet and to live its journey in whatever way it can without my playing god and deciding when its life should end?  Buddhists especially believe that all of life is sacred and that killing any life is a sin.  I get that.  And looking at this delicate, tiny creature, I found I could not do it damage.
       So instead of killing the fly yesterday morning, I chose to watch it, see what I could learn from it, let it live out its final days or hours without my interference (since my guess was that it was dying which is why it hadn't moved despite my looming threat).  These are a few of the things I learned yesterday from this guru fly:
       1.  Sometimes just resting and being is enough.  We don't have to always be flying around like chickens with our heads cut off in order to actually live.
       2.  Sometimes there is joy is just flying around, letting the air take you where it will, without a purpose in mind.
       3.  Sometimes even genuine and real threats to our existence can change heart and become...well, less predatory, if we take the time and don't react right away to the threat (because if the fly had tried to run away, I'm sure I would have tried to kill it).
       4.  Life, God, the Sacred is in the little things.
       5. Taking a moment to be with what is right in front of you, focusing on that which presents itself in each moment and not worrying about what will come in the next allows us to fully live with whatever time we have left to us.
       Those were some of my "fly" insights from yesterday.
       This morning I woke up to a glass door covered with flies.  So here are a couple more lessons:
       1.  That which looks harmless and even beneficent sometimes just plain isn't.
       2.  Sometimes the postponing of one act, or the failure to act, can lead to serious consequences and a lot more work for us than if we had just done what needed to be done in the first place! (ie, if I'd gotten rid of the fly maybe it would not have had babies in my house, and I would not have had to spend a good part of today vacuuming up many, many flies who have all lost their lives to my raging cleaning frenzie!)
       Not that I don't still see all life as sacred.  Which leads to two final lessons learned:
       1.  Sometimes the most obvious options we see in a situation are really not the only options there are.
       2.  Sometimes the easiest options are just simply not the best.  To honor its life, while still not subjecting the family to the "plague of flies" I could have put it outside.  Or captured it in a jar for further observation: made it into a science experiment for the kids.
       The point is, that while it may be easier to simply not think about how we affect the rest of the planet, be it other people, bugs, trees, the air, the planet, that this does not in the end benefit anyone.  And it does not honor that life is a gift given to everything that has it - a sacred thing - something we should not treat lightly or thoughtlessly, no matter how small.  God is in all of it.  And to honor God, we must honor the God within all life.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prejudice? Choices? Acceptance?

       This weekend I saw a musical out at Near West Theater called Side Show. It was extremely well done and an amazing show.  It was also very thought provoking.  This is a spoiler alert - if you plan to see this and haven't, you may not want to read any further.  For the rest of you - the show is the story of conjoined twins who were working for a side show as "freaks" when they were discovered and brought to Vaudeville to sing.  At one point in the story, though, one of the other "freaks" at the side show admits to one of the twins that he is deeply in love with her and that it doesn't matter to him that she is connected to someone else (literally).  But this particular twin decides not to be with this man because he is a "freak" (and I still remain unsure about why the world considered him this might be his ethnic heritage, ie color?  This took place in the 1930's so that is a possibility, but I was really unclear about this) and is not accepted by society, and she fears that she would never live a "normal" life with this man if she chose him.  Of course the irony of this, the tragedy of this, is a key element in the story.  But it has me thinking, hard.
       I spent time as a volunteer in mission in North Carolina right after college.  And I lived with a community that had run a shelter for homeless folk as well as battered and abused women.  One of the homeless men came to me one day in a complete drunken stupor, confessed his undying love for me, and then accused me of being prejudiced when I gently informed him that I was not interested. He was an African American man and he was accusing me of rejecting him for his skin color.  I have dated people of many different ethnicities and I was not rejecting him because of his color.  But I WAS rejecting him because 1. He was an alcoholic 2. He was homeless, and as far as I could tell, had always been and probably would always be.  3.He was completely uneducated (I think finished 7th grade?).  So despite the fact that my prejudice was not in the way he thought, none the less, his accusation that I was prejudiced stayed with me.  Is it prejudice to decide not to be with someone because of a condition such as alcoholism?  Is it prejudiced to decide not to even consider someone because they live on the street and have no education?  Well, to be really honest, these are prejudices.  They are.
       We should choose partners and friends based on real connections, and love and trust, etc.  I'm not denying that.  But to fail to even consider someone because of something like income, or education or a condition such as alcoholism - that is to fail to really see a person, and therefore those are reactions of prejudice.  If I could have put aside those prejudices would I have chosen to be with this man?  No.  We had nothing in common, our values, our world views, our life styles, our goals for life - everything was different.  But it still was prejudice to not even look at him because of some of these other issues.  I can't deny that.  And the musical brought that back for me.
       The reality is that we all judge people.  We judge them for their heritage, or their gender, or their sexual orientation or their age, or any disability they might have.  We judge people because of the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they carry themselves and their personal habits.  We judge them because of their values, their way of life, the way they dress, where they were born, their accents.  We judge them because of their friends, their income level, their social status, their education level, their politics, their religion.  Or we judge them because of their personalities, the way they deal with anger, the way they deal with stress, the way they treat us and others.  All of these are judgments.  Some we have deemed "acceptable" judgments, but I wonder if any of them really are?  We know it isn't right to judge people based on their skin color, their heritage, their gender, their sexual-orientation (well, many of us know this...some don't), or any disability they might have.  But what about age?  Most people hang around with people who are closer to their own age (what a loss for those people - I learn so much both from those younger and those older: those age differences and differences in world views are such gifts to me!) - most people seem to find that ageism acceptable.  What about someone with Asperger's?  These are people who are not as well accepted by society - we don't want to befriend those who don't "get" the social rules, but isn't that a prejudice against a "hidden" disability?  Most of those who are uneducated or economically poor were raised in households that didn't have the means to support education or a higher standard of living.  Is that their fault then?  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  We all judge.  Those judgments are usually unfair in one way or another.  And those judgments always hurt.  From a faith perspective, we are told "do not judge lest ye be judged,"  but we are all judged and we all judge.  We all have prejudices of one kind or another.  And none of them should really be acceptable.
      The goal then is to see people, to love people, to choose people, no matter what.  To put aside judgments, to put aside prejudices, to overcome hatred - no matter what.
       I'm not suggesting we partner with everyone, to be clear.  I still think choosing for our intimate relationships people with whom we share some commonalities, especially in the way we live, is very important to their happiness as well as ours.  But I am saying that we are called again to strive for that unconditional love that God calls us to and that calls us to see deeper, to love without expectation of return, and to let go of our judgments, prejudices, and fear.