The Very Social and Political Good News

The Political and Social Thriller We Call God’s Word

by Jane Tawel

June 26, 2018

Recently a Facebook chum posted a message by a preacher who is well known, and who has a lovely accent. In this message, this preacher, whom I have enjoyed tuning in to occasionally on the radio, boldly proclaims that Christ did not preach a Gospel that calls people to address the political, social and economic issues of our times.  This of course could not be more wrong. In fact it is frighteningly wrong, if you read the Bible with the intent of understanding it as God’s ultimate plan and message for the world and all the people who live in it.  This sort of idea that Jesus doesn’t mean us to preach or live a “social” gospel could only be spoken by and clutched at by rich, privileged people – like us. There are many stories of people in the Bible who preach this “good news” and they are never on the right side of God. We must remember that Jesus was not one of those privileged, rich, majority rule people. Quite the opposite.  We also must remember that Jesus preached a very political and social message and it got Him killed by the state and the religious rulers of His time.  Some of us wear a cross to remind us of this agenda of Jesus’ – or rather it is one important reason as to why we should wear it, I think. We who believe, must accept that the cross is Christ’s and symbolizes not how we should die but how we should live, and in “taking it up” as we are admonished to do, we also take up His agenda. He is quite clear on our necessity to do this if we want to claim to know Him and be known by Him.

 

There are many people throughout the centuries who have written on how we should read the life of Christ and especially how we should read the Hebrew Bible which is what Christ based His message and life on.  I encourage those who believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Holy Word to us, and who want to dig deeper into who Jehovah is and what The Christ means to us, to read them.  However, I also encourage anyone who believes that the Bible is merely an interesting tome of collected essays, stories, poems and proverbs, and myths to read the Bible and perhaps some other books that illuminate what God’s and therefore Jesus’, messages from another Place and Time are to us in this place and time.  But far beyond that suggestion, I encourage all of us – self included – to step away from judging and reading the Bible as something I and others can “use”, or something I need, or something that will “prove” something, and especially to not read it as something that will make me feel better about what I am not doing. Perhaps it would be helpful at this juncture on history’s timeline to read the Holy Scriptures as we would any great book.

 

Perhaps we should step away from what we think we want to find there and read the Bible as we might read any great work of literature. Because in all great books, you will find a deeper meaning, a truth, a light for the journey. In great tales we find people like us, people like we want to be, people like we don’t want to be, and  perhaps a small inkling that when we put the book down, today could be different. When we read a  Great Story, we can be changed. I might walk away from a book and think, perhaps today my small life  could  be lived in Epic Proportions. In fact that is exactly what The Bible says; that an act as tiny as the offer of a cup of water to a person in need, has reverberations in the world that change history. Perhaps, my life is, in reality, being played out in an alternate world,  something greater with possibilities that only a hero could accomplish and for which the true meaning of will only be revealed at the end of my story.  In fact, this too is what the Bible says; we can all be queens and kings with many crowns, but the crowns aren’t earned the way we think they are. It is truly a very odd story, this story between the pages of  the Bible.

 

Suggestion: Read the Bible as you would read Tolkien’s Mythological Trilogy, Madeleine L’Engle’s Sci-Fi, or C.S. Lewis’ retelling of Greek Myth or his Space Trilogy.   Step away from reading the Bible as either personal devotion, or as merely a book with some decent rules to follow,  or for some, as a weapon that has been used against you; and read it as a super great collection — a hodgepodge really — and a tale, although without fairies,  about what is Really Real, if only we could catch more than a little glimpse of it. Read the Bible as it was written, in mythological form, which as even the unbelieving Joseph Campbell knew is more important and true than history. And as all great saints have known, myth, metaphor and poetry are  the only practical way into The Truth.  True Truth must always in the end and ultimately be written as metaphor, symbol, story, poetry,  and lived as model or example. We have only to look at who we love most in the world to know that.

This idea of the Bible as somehow “going beyond” what we think we know,  is especially true for anyone who believes we are a fallen race; an incomplete, unfinished creation; a longing for Utopia people; a planet diminished by an original great Evil event; or at minimum, individuals who are,–depending on your Point of View –sinful, weak, broken, limited, yin and yang, good and evil. The Bible holds truth that is true for anyone who believes that there is something unique but not perfect about being Human  and that there is also Something, Someone, Other Things, that are not humans – that are not Us.

 

The fact that I use the term, Point of View, or POV, should not be lost on us, as that is a literary term one must always grapple with when studying a book, an hypothesis, history, or human relationships.  Some of us believe that Scripture has been written by men and women but somehow mystically given or “inspired” by Jehovah, one true God above gods; therefore, the Bible is from God’s POV.  Others believe that the collection of writings in the Bible are all reflections of the POV’s of the authors who were all creating ways to think about, talk about, and write about their relationship and understanding of each other and an “Otherness”, they called God.

 

Now the other thing that changes the reading of the Bible, is my own individual Point of View.  I have a rather large collection of books that my husband kindly reminds me I have already read.  I sweetly remind him right back, that I may some day want to re-read them.  I wake up each day with a slightly altered POV, and therefore, rereading a book, especially the great ones – is always a delightfully new learning experience — a stepping in a new part of the flowing stream, so to speak. I highly recommend a little experiment in reading the Bible, or for many of us, in re-reading it; an experiment in what we would learn and discover if we re-read the Bible from a different Point of View.

 

So here is a suggestion. Read the Bible as if it has been written to show us what is really going on among the powers that we can see and those we cannot see; between the mystical, spiritual powers both within us and without, but also the very real powers both politically and socially that the Bible simply calls This World. Read the Bible stories about both the powers that fight for others (Good), and those that conversely, fight for selfish gain (Evil).  Read the Bible as if it is written to show us what was created as a perfect planet, and what we might have again in a perfect world if only we fight for it as Jesus did. Read it like I do all books that reveal the dystopian leanings of all of us and with the desire to not remain at peace with  the increasingly dystopian world that is indeed very political and social.  Read Scripture as if there really is an ultimately knowable and clear and constant line between what is Good and what is Evil, what is Truth and what is a Lie, what is on the side of Justice and what is Greed, what is Demon-like and what is God-like.  Read the Bible as if there are heroes who have hubris and who fail, but who in the final judgement, end up on the side of Good, and on the side of the very social and political King of the Humans, Jesus. Read the collection of writings in the Bible, as if there are seemingly beautiful, lovely, nice  and successful people who are actually when revealed by The Author, not as they appear and can even be completely corrupt and horrifying; or those characters who make the famous and powerful their idols and live lives sycophantic and servile to what will one day be revealed as Evil. Look at the Bible characters as you would those from the great myths we like to read – Gollum, Boromir, Elwin Ransom, Meg Murray, Sam Gamgee, Arwen, and on and on. And then cast yourself in your own story. Who do I want to be?  For those of us who say we want to be “little Christs”, i.e. “Christ-ians” or have the “character” of Jesus, well that means we will be very involved in the stories of our times. Because Jesus was.  That is what makes Him the most  unique and perfect King and His Story the greatest among all the stories ever told

 

I have respect for the  Christian speaker, who is trending now with this message on what we are to do about the current political and social problems of our time, but he could not be more misguided in his point of view, if he is talking about Jesus’ “Good News” or Yahweh’s “Good News” to His people. The messages of The Others in Great Stories and the messages of Jehovah and Jesus in The Story  of course always  have to do with “social issues”.

As an “uber-individual-as-that-which-matters” and information as cure-all culture, we have difficulty seeing what is in one great story, behind the curtain, and in The Bible Stories,  seen only as through a cloudy glass;  but we will of course — frighteningly– still be held accountable for living in our particular part of the story, even though we can not clearly see or completely understand.

At the end of all stories, comes the final reckoning, or as we say in literature, the Climax followed by the Dénouement. We can look at  Christ’s teachings and actions to understand that ours is a very social and political journey, as well as a personal, familial, and communal one; but we need look no further than  what the Bible says will be the Denouement for the Earth. There is a story that is written in the last book of those collected in the Bible – a dreamlike, symbolic, mythologically proportioned book simply called “Revelation”. In this vision given to a follower of Jesus, Christ’s criteria for judgment is indeed very “social”. We are called to read the words in the Bible and to figure out our relationship to The Christ and The Creator/ Father and to know that the “Gospel” is all about  what we do and who we really are in our deepest selves – our souls.  Revelation of course means To Reveal The Really Real and this book of John’s is about finding some keys, some clues so we can know a little bit more surely, that there is a real and true Kingdom  on Planet Earth that we must as human beings strive to live in  as other beings do in God’s Heavenly realms. We are to live with others as imperfect fallen created beings, who are still trusting that if we practice holding things lightly in our hands as Mother Teresa encourages; practice radical generosity and love as the Hebrew idea of Jubilee; practice faith that there are many things unseen being lived out among us; practice radical love of enemies and trust that Someone radically loves us; if we go into the day’s battle to die to self but live to Christ as that great Hero Paul did; if we live out His Story in our history; then and only then are we really real in a really real alternate Reality.

We are not created nor excused to live an individual “salvation”.  There are no truly great stories written about a hero who lives only for his own individual gain. Do you really want to be cast as Gollum in your story? We find self-obsessed nihilistic stories incredibly depressing for a good reason. We may live our lives  quixotically; we may end up bruised and battered and momentarily defeated, but we must not think that we are meant to stay in a corner reading good stories that help us as individuals.  We are meant to Be The Story.

We are called to live socially, politically, spiritually, emotionally, physically and relation-ally, moment by moment just as we were “once upon a Time”, in The Beginning intended to live. We are meant to journey with companions together in upside down commitment to the world – the whole world – the oceans, the Syrians, the Guatemalans, the honey bees, the soybeans, the birds of the air and the puppy dogs, the people who look like us and the people who don’t, the people who talk like us and the people who don’t, the people who believe like us and the people who don’t.

 

IF we choose the right way to read The Stories, and the right characters to emulate, then in God’s Point of View, we will have earned the right to enter into His Eternal Story, The Story that Will Never End. And this is the story that our characters were created to be a part of from The Beginning. Any of us who want to speak as emissaries of the Good News and who venture to speak  for the Son of God must do so by servitude and love and this must be the Plot lines of our lives; because a story without action is not any kind of great story at all. To be like the radical characters of God’s Story, we must also live out these great actions without a thought for our own gain, without our own glory just like The King and Lord who wants the best for the world– in every dimension, lived His life. Jesus came to speak and live and rule for the least of the least, for the most undeserving, most home-less, poorest, most powerless. He came to live among us as That Character in our story. Christ is the God of the Epic disguised as the beggar at the door. We decide daily if we open the door to the beggar or not; we will not be told whether this time the knock at the door is just another beggar or in the Real Story is The God. This not knowing how my story ends must influence how I respond to the powers of this world and to the powerless of this world. My answer to the knock at the door must always illuminate who I really am in today’s tale, because it did Jesus.

 

One of the Great Books is Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.  In the novel, Juster explores the many facets of influence that one’s Point of View has on oneself and on others and on the Truth. Juster says  as Christ did, that it is best if we stay as child-like as possible for as long as possible.  Jesus, says, “Come and snuggle in, and listen to My stories like a little child listens to stories. If you don’t become childlike, you can have no part in My Kingdom’s Story. If you do, you just might learn something and fight great battles; and then when you grow up, you just might do something of mythical proportions in My Kingdom which has no end.” In The Phantom Tollbooth, the protagonist, Milo is on a trip. Much like all heroes, the trip is a metaphor for Life’s Journey and Norton Juster uses an alternative world to show Milo, and the readers, what is truly True in our own world– if only we get childishly humbled enough to see it.  At one time, Milo meets a boy who grows from his head in the sky, down towards the earth and so this character,  Alex is waiting to grow up enough for his feet to touch the ground. As Alex floats along in the sky, and Milo walk, they talk about their disparate Point of Views.

 

Would it be possible for me to see something from up there?” asked Milo politely.

“You could,” said Alex, “but only if you try very hard to look at things as an adult does.”

Milo tried as hard as he could, and, as he did, his feet floated slowly off the ground until he was standing in the air next to Alex Bings. He looked around very quickly and, an instant later, crashed back down to the earth again.

“Interesting, wasn’t it?” asked Alex.

“Yes, it was,” agreed Milo, rubbing his head and dusting himself off, “but I think I’ll continue to see things as a child. It’s not so far to fall.

 

As we get older, we may or may not realize that we do indeed have a constantly long, long way to fall. But  little children realize that it is always much farther to fall if there is no one around to help. Jesus says, as the real – the true—the perfect – the future and present Ultimate Human Being and the King of Heaven and of Earth – that this world’s story must be read and then must be entered into like a child. And all children love to hear stories.

Just as Lucy finds her way into Reality and to Aslan, by walking through the Wardrobe Door, so can we. Pick up a Bible today and find a good corner to curl up in and read a great story of Good versus Evil, of heroes and gods, of battles and miracles, of queens and poets and serpents and giants and little boys who slay monsters and of the One True Present and Future King.  Read the stories of saints and prophets, the poetry of artists, and the inklings of a world that is more porous and entered into by God and Other Beings, than we could imagine. Read God’s Word like a child who wants to learn how to live, not just for herself, but for a world in need of heroines in both great and small ways.

If you are like I, you would prefer to never have to “socialize” again and think it would be a wonderful day to just stay curled up and introverted-ly imagine a different and better world told in stories in a good book, like maybe the ones in The Bible. Some times we want to believe that we can be close to Jesus all alone in an imagined individual story. But as with any good story, if it remains just an idea between pages, then it isn’t really real at all.

 

We are not called to live a personal tall tale, but a radical, revolutionary, World-changing, Truth revealing, Mythologically proportioned social, political, communal, other-oriented, God-fearing, Good versus Evil battling, and miracle believing Epic Story. We are not meant to live as the protagonist of a story but as the image bearers of The Protagonist of All Stories.

If we want to claim the God of the Bible as the Author of our Point of View, and The Son of God, The Christ as our Leader, Hero and Lord, then we, in our own chosen place and time, must live out His Story.

Otherwise, our stories will not be worth reading. They will definitely not be worth “saving”.  They will not make any one want to re-read our stories. They for sure will not be worth preaching about. And they definitely will not be The Good News of the Messiah King, Jesus. The Good News of Jesus is  a great political and social thriller — the ending is to die for; the sequel — well, He left that up to us.

 

Read any Good Books, lately?  If not, have I got a great story for you.

 

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It’s the Law, Kid

 

“It’s the Law, Kid”

World View Check #3

By Jane Tawel

June 20, 2018

Periodically I post what I consider a Worldview Check in words written by authors far more wise, capable, and mind-blowing than I could ever be.

The following from Garry Wills’ What Jesus Meant was written in 2006 but is a newly read ironic, funny and searing  look at where we are today. I would also highly recommend a re-reading of Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (2008) and Andy Crouch’s Playing God (2013).

We live in a nation that needs a serious reality check on what God has actually said to us. We use His name in vain to our peril and use His Word to justify our actions to the peril of other people throughout the world, most recently those seeking asylum at our borders.

As we make enormous paradigm shifts in our misuses of the idea of law versus justice; as we bestow mercy for self but not mercy for the least of these; as we defend one type of religious practice as Christians ( think t-shirts and cakes) but not others (think aliens and prisoners); as we look at certain sins differently in our own lives, while out of the other sides of our mouths claiming that God sees all sins as equal; as we worship with cheaply bought grace when we are not busy brunching; as we live in this way, we are left with a choice. We can either:  Re-educate ourselves, re-align ourselves, and restore ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit and the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the Love of the Creator Parent of us all; Or we can continue as we are.  I just recently realized: I don’t want to continue as I am.

Don’t read the Bible or any of the books I have mentioned, if you do not want to: contemplate mystery, confront hypocrisy (both within yourself and others), and sense God’s humorous humbling of us through His word, His very flawed followers, and through a truthful reading of the world’s history.

Do  not read further if you do not want today to wrestle with hard truths. I am often pinned to the ground and counted out, but wrestling, nonetheless. Before reading Wills clever deconstruction of our cherished views on God’s word and the law, I found it helpful to meditate on the following ideas from Jesus and the Bible Jesus read.

Jesus: To whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48)

Jesus:  I came not to abolish the laws but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

And from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34)

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein”. (Luke 19:14-15)

Deuteronomy 10: 12 –21

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.

Acts 5:25-32

The chief of the Temple police and the high priests were puzzled. “What’s going on here anyway?” Just then someone showed up and said, “Did you know that the men you put in jail are back in the Temple teaching the people?” The chief and his police went and got them, but they handled them gently, fearful that the people would riot and turn on them.

 Bringing them back, they stood them before the High Council. The Chief Priest said, “Didn’t we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name? And here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are trying your best to blame us for the death of this man.”

 Peter and the apostles answered, “It’s necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging him on a cross. God set him on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven. And we are witnesses to these things.”

 

What Jesus Meant

By Garry Wills

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.  When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination—end of debate.  I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s laws and how to follow them.

  1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
  2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
  3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
  4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.  Should I smite them?
  5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
  6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11;10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?
  7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
  8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
  9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
  10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton-polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

 

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.  Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging (34-35 Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant. New York: Penguin, 2006.).

 

I am continuing in my journey by confronting my own egregious sins and hypocrisies and struggling with how I have lost orientation on The Way.  It is not easy, in fact it is extremely difficult, but inch by inch, I feel as if, with a humble nod to C.S. Lewis, that I am walking towards the wardrobe door and there ahead,  I am momentarily catching a glimpse of  something real and full of light just beyond that door; in a world just as real as the one I woke up to yesterday but even more real; and there Aslan waits –just beyond the lamp post.

Bear Witness in the World of Something better, by being Someone better.

Further up and Further in,

Jane

In conclusion, I  meditate on some visuals from history and artist’s imagined visuals from God’s His-Story.

Children swinging from a lamp-post in the ruins of their London Street (1940)

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“Killing children is fair, says US Military”. The War on Iraq:

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Image of a Central American child traveling with migrants sleeping at a shelter.

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United States White House: “It is very biblical to enforce the law”.

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Artist’s imagined image of Herod ordering by law the slaughter of what could have been Jesus’ pre-school classmates.

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Our favorite historical homeless asylum seeking family on their way to a new country with hopes of freedom.

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Love On a Cow’s Stomach

Love On A Cow’s Stomach

By Jane Tawel

June 12, 2018

1100

 

I was rereading a Facebook post that was regurgitated automatically for me.  This is done thanks to Facebook’s ability to cow-like keep my entire life in separate Facebook stomachs and then sometimes daily, vomit those posts back out onto my current Facebook page, where I can chew on them again, deciding if I would like to re-post and thereby re-swallow the relative truth of said regurgitated post from days gone by.  Here is the post hurled out for me today from 2012 – Six years ago:

Thinking of my kids and their changing lives: Quote by Buechner:”You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”

 

Last week I took Gordon to sign up for classes at a college where he will transfer next Fall.  This weekend I will watch Verity graduate from UCLA. Last week Raoul and I were talking and mostly listening, with Justine and Clarissa about their thriving careers. When any of my kids are speaking about their respective fields, knowledge, work-days, etc., I sit there nodding but inside I am thinking, “Well, dear Fruit of My Womb, I am delightedly and completely punch-drunk proud of you but I don’t understand your specialized field of expertise at all So I will let your words wash over my head and heart but Child of Mine, you may as well be speaking Croatian because I don’t understand a word of this”.

Wow — my kids! They truly do amaze me.  These are the beings who, as Buechner says, actually were carried in my stomach (okay, technically womb). But Buechner is too miserly in his analysis. I think I carry each of my Beloveds in  every single pore of mine.  Sometimes, I worry and I carry them in what I assume must be my metaphoric sweat pores –sweating my stinking worry like a work horse.  Sometimes I fear for my children, who are never really completely adults in a mom’s heart. Fearing for them is when I carry thoughts of my kids in the cow-like stomach that is ready to vomit the fears out, knowing I will just regurgitate the anxieties in order to cow-like chew on the cuds of those fears again tomorrow.

But when you really, really love someone, you are, like Buechner says, not only aware of what the world holds for them but you are holding the world of them within you.  I hold my children in my Buechner-esque stomach like a delicious warm meal that never gives me a love-stomach upset,  no matter how full I am. I am daily filled by the world I carry inside of me – a whole world of love and admiration and thankfulness for my children’s and my husband, their father’s, continued presence in memory and reality in my heart, mind, limbs, and stomach. And once you have this kind of love-feast, well, then you tend to find gleanings of it in whatever field you roam. I have found it in my classes of students in loving learning together, in my friends in shared meals together; and even occasionally in a random snack of mutual understanding with a stranger.

Yesterday I stood in line at Target, a place I used to haul those four kids of mine to; and a mom of two had her little baby in one of the wraps that I used to attach my own babies with, tight to my chest. The baby was making that lamb-like crying only a brand-new minted infant makes. You know, that tremulous bleating that hits a new parent in the solar plexus.  It is the cry an infant makes against an incomprehensible injustice. It is a sound that seems both so new and so old. It is the deep trembling wail dug deep from the depths of the world and raised up into the lungs of a brand new human being.  And like old human beings tend to do, I turned to the new mom behind me smiling and said, “Love every minute of that sound.  Someday, like I, believe it or not, you will miss it.”  And that mom smiled back and for a brief instant, she and I were united in the warm love that understanding can fill even total strangers with, like shared repast fills stomachs. The baby kept bleating and the mom continued her traditional mom side-to-side dance to quiet the little baby wrapped tight against her stomach.

And I turned back to wait in line and even though no one could feel it but me, I still held in memory my little babies, crying and gurgling and cooing,  wrapped against my memory-stomach.  As those babies of mine go forth into the world, they are out there bleating new cries against the injustices still being dug from  deep in the world.  And I listen when my children let me, to their cries of joy and sorrow, their gurglings of gain and loss, their cooings with  energy and weariness.  And I hold those grown-up children of mine so  very, very close to my heart.

Sometimes, now, when no one knows, and I am out there living in my world – maybe when I am lying awake at night, or standing in line somewhere; or when I am walking the old walks I used to take with my kiddos; remembering holding two of them by their hands, with one strapped on my back near my heart, and one wrapped tight against my stomach – Sometimes then,  I pull up a memory from when we were all young together, my four children and I, and I chew on that memory like a cow with her cud.

AH! and my stomach is full. And my heart is fuller. And I am grateful for the meals of memory and satisfied with the feast of this life. And once again, I remind myself, that thanks to those I have loved, a whole world lives inside me.

 

 

Trust a Dance Move

Trust a Dance Move

by Jane Tawel

June 6, 2018

 

https://www.facebook.com/xochitl.dalton.9/videos/10206469354478362/?t=2

 

If we could see the World the way God sees it, we might see something like this dance concert.  In it, three little girls, all who look quite different from each other, but who obviously have the same teacher, the same desire to dance, and hopefully, the same loving families in the audience; all try to follow the directions of their off-stage director. I am sure when these children got home to their respective families, they all thought they had done a marvelous job creating something beautiful, and that is as it should be, because children do create beautiful things just by their complete joy in the creative process.  But when we grow up and lose our joy in the simple act of creating something for the mere pleasure of creating and sharing, we lose something basic and critical to our humanity, and more importantly to our God-image.

 

This video is a visual parable that I imagine Jesus would love.  One little girl is so terrified she doesn’t dance at all. One little girl has her eyes on the off-stage director but eventually gets distracted looking at the dress of her neighbor and eventually is on the floor crawling around on the dusty stage.  The other little girl, who is black, which in this world still means something, looks back and forth between the off -stage director and her loving father whom you can hear chuckling behind the video camera.  If Jesus were telling stories today, He might substitute this dance parable for His own parable about the seeds sown in different kinds of ground.

 

We have an Off-Stage Director, too.  And when we are children or young in our faith and our innocent hope  is intact in our belief in a Director Who cares; we keep our eyes trustingly focused on the Director of the Dance.  But eventually and tragically, most of us lose that childlike faith in the Off-Stage Director.  We decide the applause really is because we are just so “all that” and fantastic.  Or maybe the applause ends after a while and all we can hear  is the critical and skeptical World judging us. So  maybe we stop dancing all together and we figure that the  Great Heavenly Director doesn’t think too much of our dancing abilities either.

 

I am truly – and I say this with much self-love – the world’s worst dancer.  I am the world’s geekiest dancer and I have seen Bill Gates dance, so there you have it.  My children long ago forbade me to dance, so as not to embarrass them, even in the privacy of our own home. I secretly wonder if this why my husband calls me “Chicken” because when I dance I look like a poorly plucked chicken trying to escape the frying pan – and this is not when I am in fact doing that old stand-by, “The Funky Chicken”, that great practical joke of a dance that Rufus Thomas played on unsuspecting “white boys and girls”. (I do happen to do the Funky Chicken pretty well.)

 

When I dance, I look like a cross between a scarecrow in a tornado and a sock puppet of Ichabod Crane on steroids.  The only one who has ever enjoyed dancing with me is my dog, Jolie. And she scratches when she does the waltz so it is always a bit risky on my part to accept her as a partner.  I came of age in the eighties, when music was such that you could pretty much dance like a geek and get away with it. Or so I thought.  Add to that, the fact that I lived in a part of the world where dancing was still frowned on, with people believing that the Devil loved him some Disco for sure.  Take my history into account and I really ought to be able to claim disability payments for what my dance moves have done to my psyche.  Come to think of it, my children have probably already each claimed disability for the trauma that watching me dance has caused them.

 

But as I watch the video-taped children dance, I think about what dancing is really for. Whom is it really for? Last night my husband and I went to a local event that brought back some of the traditions and ideas of American Chautauqua. Many lovely moments were created but one was a time of group line and square dancing – no abilities required other than the desire to have fun dancing and the ability to follow the Caller’s directions. There was also a Chautauqua Campfire Sing-along. Being there made me realize how much we have lost in community  to our individual pursuits and how much we have given up doing things  just for the sheer enjoyment of doing them –no applause, no payment, no fame necessary.

 

What would it take to see each day as a chance to join in the great joy-filled         community-based Dance of Life? No one was ever created to prefer dancing by oneself. What would it take to get back to being able and willing to listen to The Great Caller’s Directions in this Dance of Life? None of us was created to dance without loving Directions.

 

I think about what it would take for some people to get back on the stage and not dance for the applause but to dance for the praise of the Great Off-Stage Director. I think about my years of dancing for the applause that ultimately was never loud enough, never long enough, never enough; and then even more years of my hearing the figurative, metaphoric boos and hisses that my insecure soul feels about all my life’s work – the seeming lack of confirmation of anything well done, the losses, the fears, the mistakes, the egregious sins both large and small.

I think about how many times I have been the little girl standing off to the side, too afraid to start dancing in front of everyone. How many times, like the little girl in the middle, have I lost my balance twirling in this spinning Globe’s pathetic imitation of God’s Great Created Dance Moves? How many times have I been obsessed and taken my eyes off the Director to covet my neighbor’s stuff; how often have I fallen to the ground and not been able to stop worrying about things and get back into The Dance?

 

What would it take for me to embrace the fact that the way I see my dancing – even the way those I love see my dancing—even my most loving audience members – does not truly matter as long as I am dancing because I love to dance and because I love them and because ultimately, I want to honor my Director?  Whether the gig  of life is a long run or a short run, what ultimately matters is if I am following with attentive joy, my Life-Dance cues by The Director of The Dance. What matters is if I trust and obey.  He, who Choreographed The Waltzing Stars, the Grooving Whales, the Gliding Worms, the Twirling Starlings, the Hip-Hopping Hippos, and all the dancing children of this world,– He can direct my moves.

 

I like to imagine that Heaven is a place where I will have endless time to learn things.  I plan on learning the cello and playing it with Mozart directing. I will finally learn to draw from Vincent and Raphael, just for starters.  And I plan on spending a few thousand years learning to dance – it will take at least that long. But truthfully, I imagine when, God willing, I am finally caught up in that Great Dance among the Heavens, that none of us will need to learn to dance and no one will be dancing for the applause.  We will all be too eternally elated to be moving with The Great Director and Creator of The Dance, Who will no longer be Off-Stage, but dancing brilliantly and gloriously amongst us.

 

In the video with the children, the song they are dancing to includes this paraphrase of the words of Jesus’s instructions from  when He came from Off-Stage to live among us  On-Stage. As  Bob Marley prophesies and admonishes:  “Don’t worry. Every little thing is going to be alright.”

The Creator of the Dance, with a love for us despite our disabilities, fears, and missteps, assures us humans, “If I am watching over the smallest sparrow dance, surely I will watch over your dance moves.” Young MC, might not advise a geeky dancer like me to “bust a move”; but The Great Director whispers to my heart from Off-Stage, “Trust a Move”.

And so once upon another time, this geeky funky chicken gets up, adjusts her tutu, prays for Off-Stage guidance,  and heads back out on that Dance Floor.

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Traveling Dreams: Mother’s Day 2018

The following is a re-post from my blog.  I first wrote it in 2015.  I would  add that in the three years since I wrote this, Justine, Clarissa, Verity, and Gordon have continued to follow their dreams and follow The Way and I could not be happier or more proud to be their mom. I continue to study The Map for Life-guidance, and for better or worse, I still attempt to “tell stories slant”.

 

Traveling Dreams

May 10, 2015

By Jane Tawel

For my children on Mother’s Day: Keep in The Dream Way

 

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I had one of my traveling dreams last night. I have always had traveling dreams and they are always stressful, slightly scary, and silly, and pretty easy to analyze.

 

In my traveling dreams I am always trying to get somewhere. It is always dark, even if it is happening in the daytime. I am always driving or being driven somewhere in a car of dubious merit. Since becoming a parent, I often have my children with me. I am almost always lost and can’t find my way. Told you this would be easy to analyze.

 

In my traveling dream last night, my cousin Emily was driving and I was in the passenger seat. We had another woman with us in the back seat who was a friend or second cousin twice removed sort of person. She was a Ginger. We were trying to get somewhere so Emily could catch a plane. We were travelling all those little back roads and highways that used to be so common in the Midwest but every once in a while we would hit a terrifying freeway and have to get off. I took over driving and got lost and pulled into someone’s driveway to turn around. We ended up in a small town and the police started following us, then another police car came along side and pulled us over. They made us get out of the car. They thought that we were kidnapping the ginger-haired girl in the back seat. The female and male cops pulled the unnamed Ginger second cousin twice removed aside and then asked Emily to tell them the first name of the girls’ father’s father. Neither of us knew it though we racked our brains trying. Even though we didn’t know the name that would prove we knew the Ginger and were not kidnapping her, for some reason unexplained to us, the cops realized we were not kidnappers and let us go. We went to a cafeteria line where suddenly my cousin Amy and my sister Janet appeared and the second cousin twice removed disappeared. I put a plastic container of salad with edemame beans on my tray. Emily asked for the two taco plate. I decided I wanted tacos as well but did I still want the edemame salad? Emily insisted she was treating all of us. The dream ended before I knew what I decided to eat.

 

Sometimes all you can say about a dream, is “Life is like that.”

 

Life is full of choices. In life, you are always trying to get somewhere. Life is confusing and you often feel lost. You have companions on the way, some known and loved and some that are just along for the ride. Bad things do happen to good people and good people do often do bad things and sometimes the cops catch the wrong people and sometimes the bad people get their just desserts and sometimes the cops don’t show up at all. Sometimes the cops in real life actually shoot you dead for no reason. And some times the cops get shot dead for no reason. Just like in their nightmares. And Life is like a dream because we so often are just asking, “why did that happen?” and we are in it having to keep driving forward without ever knowing how it ends. Ever try to get back into a dream after you wake up and find out how it ends. Life is like that.

 

Sometimes, in real life just like in dreams, we seem to have no idea how we got to the place we find ourselves in. It is often because we weren’t paying attention to the choices we made when we started that particular journey. Just like in dreams, suddenly you are there. Sometimes we end up somewhere in life because we are dreaming when we should have been paying attention to what we were actually doing at the time. “Did I leave my keys in the car when I locked it?” — sort of attention deficit things.

 

The end of a day or a month or year is sometimes like waking from a bad dream because we got lost on the way. Sometimes we push the gas instead of the brakes or the brakes instead of the gas. Life is stressful because we just keep driving even if we don’t know how to get to where we think we want to arrive. We often refuse to stop and ask directions.

 

And Real Life is always slightly scary, at least once you take the wheel of your own life. Life was much less frightening when your mom was driving you home and whenat the end of a day you found yourself snuggled up against your parent in a warm bed after a large meal and a cup of cocoa.

 

Also, to be honest, our lives are frankly always a wee bit silly. Most of our life’s journeys should be relegated to the “I went to Target and the post office today” sort of journeys, not the crossing the Rubicon or the “It is a far, far better thing I do” sort of journey. But then since none of will know until the next life, the true meaning of each day’s journey, we should never image that our silly selves are not somehow also living out an epic journey full of unseen battles and quite a few seen ones.

 

If you read some of the great books that show in equal parts, humans as God-imagers and frail-ly ridiculous beings, you get a better idea of how spectacular and silly we all are. We are heroes unawares. Explore characters like those in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Anne Tyler’s or Jody Picoult’s women heroes and you will hopefully see humanity in a light that our dreams often try to reveal to us.   I am not talking here about the brokenness / heroic element in a Sydney Carton or a Billy Pilgrim. I am talking about tilting at windmills and a thumb to hold back a flood. I am talking about flying dreams and being famous dreams. I am talking about silly disciples walking with The Christ and arguing about who gets what chair near the future King’s throne. And Jesus responding by both laughing at their silly hubris while recognizing the heroic efforts to follow God that lay around the unseen bend for these human beings. Jesus must have some good chuckles at our silliness as we slap-stick through Life. And yet, just like the disciples who confused gaining a throne without carrying a cross, God has an inexplicably dream-like desire to help us humans drive towards the brink of heroism. Sometimes, we even leap over the chasm of “quiet lives of desperation” into something gloriously God-like.

 

I am talking about Life not as a linear attempt at accomplishment but as a traveling dream. I am talking about dreams in real life if not necessarily what we consider real time and place.

 

Dreams always have their own sense of time and place but aren’t usually what we consider factual time and place. Quite often they do not end up how and where we imagine they will or should. In this way our dreams illuminate something of God’s view of time and reality. A dream begs the question, what is Reality? Am I seeing this as it is? Is the meaning of what is really going on inside me more revealed when I am awake or when I am helplessly, innocently asleep?

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I like to mess with my husband about my Native American heritage. If you know anything about the Native Americans you know that dreams are an important part of their belief system, much like they used to be for Judeo-Christian folk in the Bible. The Native Americans believe that it is your soul that dreams dreams, not your mind or your body. In this philosophy, life is one big Dream and in that the impermanence of this life is recognized. Steven Bancarz writes of Native American philosophy, “It is by experiencing the realness of the dream world that we appreciate the dream-ness of the real world”.[1] The Bible talks about the reality of dreaming versus the reality of what we imagine is only in our waking this way: It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. (Joel 2:28)

 

 

Eugene Petersen in his book Tell It Slant, talks about Christ’s use of apocalyptic language. Petersen notes that Jesus uses stories to reveal to us Kingdom reality which is not a future apocalyptic dream or a past historical accomplishment, but a present reality behind an almost dreamlike curtain of the world we try to see with fallen eyes. The kingdom world can often only be approached not with eyes wide open but through eyes closed, as in sleep, to the oncoming traffic of the world and open to the dream world that exists just beyond our consciousness. Just beyond our small egos.

 

Much like the telling of dreams, Jesus’ stories are not easily understood nor analyzed. Parables have a dreamlike quality because they reveal the world behind the curtain. When Jesus is telling the story of the widow and the judge in Luke 17:20-37, Petersen writes,“he does it by introducing a radical reorientation on the nature of time and place, kingdom time and place.” Peterson goes on to say, “Jesus is training our imaginations so that we will be able to participate appropriately in the great salvation drama that is taking place right now – not world events of the future but the presence of the kingdom right now. Apocalyptic is a language strategy for breaking open awareness of the tremendous energies of good and evil contending with one another beneath the apparently benign skin of the ordinary.” [2]

 

Apocalyptic language gets our attention, like a dream might abruptly wake us from sleep. Apocalyptic awareness says, “Repent”, which is another way of saying “Turn around, you are driving the wrong way.” Apocalyptic awareness, like a dream, reveals what is under the surface of our world and often wakes us up to a different reality.

 

It is like the first time you reach out your arms to hold your newborn child. Though it seems like a dream after all the planning and striving and fears and work and hopes, your deepest being knows immediately that reality will never be the same again. You will no longer see reality as you did before you became a parent. The world has changed forever. You have turned a corner and the road will lead you in a whole new direction. And you are desperate every day thereafter for the rest of your life and his or her life, to find a perfect map that will take you and the most precious being in the world in the right direction. So she will be safe. So he will be fulfilled in a career. So she will find the right soul mate. So he will be brave in the face of disaster. You scour maps so you can help this new little entrusted life drive the straight path and find The Way.

 

There are many options today for getting directions. I am old enough to remember the giant tome called The Thomas Guide that was your traveling bible when you moved to Los Angeles. Today I prefer Mapquest, but my children swear by Googlemaps. All religions promise to provide a life map. The Judeo-Christian Life-map is revealed in the Scriptures, the lives of those who have tried to follow the Life-map, and in the Life of the Son of God who came to live the Life-map to the fullest. Early Christians first called our Life-map simply, “The Way”. Now we often get a bit lost in what we think is Christian Reality and we start calling The Way things like theology, Arianism, Calvinism, Wesleyanism, hermeneutics, and Vacation Bible School. These often help but they often simply encourage us to define other humans as going the wrong way. Sometimes all the technologies and labels and secure findings trap us in a sort of Christian couch potato life, watching Rick Stevens live the journey while we only talk about it. Not travel it.

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I fear sometimes with all my knowledge about The Way, that I have lost the joy in the journey on The Way. I think I know where I’m going but it’s just in my head. It’s a dream, not a reality of living in The Way.

 

Remember when you were a kid and you just hopped in the back of the car and let your parent drive you someplace. Even if the place had a name you recognized like Grandma’s house, or The Mall, how you actually got there was always a mystery. You couldn’t see much as your little child self, looking out the back seat window. But you weren’t afraid, because Dad was driving. Mom was reading the map and telling Dad, “no you missed the street, turn around.” Your sister was pulling your hair and you desperately had to pee but didn’t want to tell the parents because then they’d pull over and make you crouch behind a bush. So you looked out the window, tried to avoid your mean sister, and trusted you could hold it long enough so that Your Parent could get you to Grandma’s bathroom.

 

The Way is best traveled if you sit in the back seat, hold on, enjoy what you can see out the window, avoid the mean sisters, and let Your Parent drive.

 

 

The Way. Sometimes when I read about The Way or hear about people who have lived The Way, I think I must be dreaming. Who could live like this and get any where? I mean it can’t be real. You must be dreaming to think you can live out The Way on this earth, at this time, in this place, with these people, with that going on, with all the this and that and those. You are living in a dream world, girl friend to think you can do what Jesus did, follow God’s instructions, trust the Holy Spirit. Get a reality check, dude. Smell the coffee, honey. Wake up! Jane, ole thing, you gotta get in the driver’s seat, sit up front, take control of the wheel, and never stop to ask for directions or turn around and start again. Don’t admit defeat, don’t admit you are lost. Just drive, girl, drive!

That great book of stories that teach, The Bible, teaches us much about paths and ways. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and He will direct your path.” Prov. 3:5,6 I am The Way, the Truth and the Life.” – Jesus –John 14:6  The Bible also teaches us about a magical kingdom that exists just beyond the touch of our own realities.

 

This is what the kingdom on earth as in the heavens, looks like. Kingdom Life is a dreamlike reality, open to our imaginations, beating on our hearts like an unseen guest at the door, alive in the souls who do not crush the dream for a blind, tasteless portion of “reality”. The journey towards the Kingdom is full of adventure, full of choices, full of bad guys and good guys, and filled with moments of heroism and moments of hubris. Just like the journey of childbirth or adoption, Life is full of pain and angst and fear and bad choices and good luck and you would do it all over again because at the end you get a prize.

 

At the end of childbirth, you get to see that little face and you know that every step of that hard dreamlike journey was worth it. You dreamt about this moment of having a child for so long and at last you know the real meaning of what it means to be a parent.

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At the end of Life’s Journey, Jesus promises a prize. We will see the face of our Savior. And the real meaning of the dream of this chimeric world, will be gloriously revealed to be something similarly dreamlike and really quite different after all. And that is why following the Life- map of The Way is worth every thing. For what does it profit me if I gain the whole enchilada, but lose my soul’s way? What profit is there in gaining what I dream I want if I lose the reality of what God wants for me?

 

Have you heard that theory that we never actually die in our dreams? That we always wake up before we hit the ground, or get run over by the bus or crash the car? That is the promise of Christ’s dream if we follow The Way. We will never die but simply wake from what we thought was reality, to find it was always only a dream.

 

Once upon a time a young woman named Caitlin, saw her boyfriend named Raoul, take off for California to work for JPL. She stayed behind in Boston, a city she loved and where she had acting gigs and friends and a free place to live. It was also where she began calling herself Caitlin instead of Jane because it would make her famous enough to achieve her dream of getting on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show as a famous actress (Did I mention she dreamed of being famous?).

 

But a funny thing happened after Raoul had been gone for three months. Caitlin began to miss Raoul. She began to dream of him. So Caitlin hopped in her un-airconditioned Mazda GLC Hatchback and with Triple AAA flip-maps on the passenger seat, began to drive all the way across the big ole’ country of the United States of America. No GPS, no cell phone, no laptop, no gmail, no companion. Just Caitlin and her AAA maps. She made it to her mom’s house in Indiana for some loving and free food. She made it to her Uncle Marlin and Aunt Sally’s house in Kansas City. The morning Caitlin left, Uncle Marlin snuck out and filled the tank with gas and the tires with air and the whatcha ma thingy with oil. Aunt Sally snuck a packed lunch with cookies for dessert into the back seat.

 

Our heroine Caitlin got seriously lost in Omaha but eventually turned around and found her way. A flat tire made her swear. Once when she stopped at Wendy’s for lunch, she left her watch that her grandma had given her, in the restroom and someone stole it before she went back and could retrieve it. That watch was gone forever and it still makes her sad.

 

When Caitlin finally hit Phoenix she was a bit bedraggled and shell shocked and did not at first compute that it was blizzarding in what she had assumed was a part of the world that was always hot. Caitlin thought she must be dreaming. She managed to pull of the road in time to buy the tire chains but when she got to the part of the road that said “no tire chains, no go”, she was defeated. So she sat in her little tin can of a car, a bit teary for a heroine, who was going many miles for her man. Then an angel of the Lord dressed up like a trucker stepped out of a chariot that looked like an eight-wheel semi, and said “Fear not, I bring tidings of great joy!” And he asked if he could help. Caitlin never saw that trucker again which proves he was an angel.

 

After two nights in a Motel 6, our heroine Caitlin, outlasted the Evil Blizzard and began the terrifying trip flying on the dragon’s back of The 10 and The 210 into Los Angeles County. She arrived, eyes still stuck open with fear after her first near death experience with LA traffic, and she stepped out onto the sidewalk of Brent Avenue, South Pasadena. Caitlin realized as she stood, her legs numb with days of straight driving, that she was getting wet, and thought that it must be raining, not realizing it never rains in California. She was instead, standing in her first ever sprinkler system.

 

Behind the warmly lighted windows of the ground floor apartment, the inhabitants must have sensed the heroine’s presence. Out of the door flew Sophia Fifi Caesar, and Scott Warner, and their newest housemate, Raoul Tawel. And when Caitlin saw her Raoul, the one for whom she had traveled long and suffered much, she thought she must dreaming.

 

But it was real.

 

 

And the journey’s end for Caitlin was accomplished. And she deemed it Good. And there was peace in the land and in her heart and there was much love and joy for many days.

 

The End.

 

But of course it wasn’t the end but only a new beginning. And soon a new traveling journey was begun.

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I pray for you my children, that you will dream the dreams God has for your life. They are more exciting, more joy and peace filling, and more real than any thing you could possible dream on your own. If you follow the Life Map and keep on The Way by letting God plan the journey and Jesus take the wheel, you will arrive at Life’s end and wake up to see the Face that makes you sing out, “Oh, so that is what it all meant!”

And then the journey begins anew.

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Footnotes:

[1] http://www.spiritscienceandmetaphysics.com/where-our-soul-goes-when-we-dream-according-to-native-americans/#sthash.PXCziz1e.dpu

[2] Peterson, Eugene H. Tell It Slant. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. Pp. 129 – 131.

Personal Potholes: “Defining Your Own”

 Personal Potholes

Defining Your Own

by Jane Tawel

March 17, 2018

 

This past week, I have been thinking about people who do great things and, who if only perhaps for a moment, or sometimes, if rarely, for a lifetime, do something hugely important. Most of these people we won’t know anything about until Heaven’s Roll Call.  When I look at those people we call great women and men; and when I read the stories we like to read about heroes; or when I meditate on the life of Jesus – there is a pattern in these lives that seems to me to be this:

Listen. Learn. Define. Choose. Focus. Do

 

So during this time in the kingdom to which I have been exiled, as I stumble along trying to find my path in the True Kingdom, I have been thinking more lately about historical heroes, as young people across my nation try to find their own path in speaking truth into lies, and light into darkness.  They are stumbling and falling. Some will fall away and some will find a different day and cause to fight.  But I feel a deep sense of sorrow that they must fight also the naysayers and skeptics and those who confuse them and thereby wear them down with other issues.

This is the same thing, of course, that keeps happening to black people in my country and possibly throughout most of the world.  It is easy to sit at home and watch someone fight for the issue they believe in and then, like all Screwtapes do, drip, drip, drip the skeptical slurry of other issues that cloud the truth, and dirty the righteousness of their just cause. Are they perfect in the way they fight? No, are any of us? But was David perfect? Was Winston Churchill? Rosa Parks? Martin Luther King, Jr? Ghandi? Mother Theresa?  The requirement for perfection was met by only one human – Jesus – and He did not tell His followers to become perfect before they took up the causes of righteousness, justice and truth.  He did however, promise that we would be made like Him if we served with Him, served Him, and served others.

So here are my thoughts on it “all” lately.

 

Choose an issue to believe in. Eventually stop talking about it and DO something about it –or support the people who can. Don’t chime in on someone else’s issue by combining it with your own. Apples will never be oranges and unlike real fruit, just because something is “an issue”, it doesn’t become any better mixed into one big “fruit salad”. Disagree or agree, but stick to the facts and Big Ideas about that singular, defined, one issue. Combining other issues is fallacious reasoning. Fallacious has the same root word as deceiving which is mostly what people are doing to themselves when they muddy the waters of a clear issue. Like swimming in a stream, muddying the waters, makes it hard to see and hard to move forward. Don’t dilute someone’s issue by morphing in different issues. When you dilute the issue, you dilute the solution — quite literally. Just like in a chemistry solution, diluting the solution with other issues, makes the solution less concentrated and therefore less powerful. There are plenty of “issues” to go around, so pick your own instead of picking apart someone else’s. Listen. Learn. Define. Choose. Focus. Do.

 

So, just for practice’s sake, let’s take a random problem that doesn’t have the big fightin’words and emotional baggage that surrounds other issues (although in this country I am probably being naive when I say that). Let’s take potholes.

Now you can say, well, but concerning potholes, there is also this other thing over here that is a problem connected to potholes and so is this and potholes really start with this problem so how can we blame potholes, and that is a problem too, so shouldn’t you be fighting against this too or instead, and don’t forget that this here other thing is a bigger problem.

But if potholes are my problem, my “issue”, then there is a pretty simple solution that I am fighting for. Get rid of potholes.

Of course, you have the pothole supporters who say, give me my potholes or give me death. The sort of folk that believe that: Potholes are my right. People who would rather spend money on new suspension for their cars than work with others for the good of their community and spend money on getting rid of potholes. But my point here is that –every time one switches up the conversation, and rather than either agreeing or disagreeing with the position of the other person, they blame someone or something else, then it really dilutes the truth with a sort of  Pandora’s box of fallacious argument. If one is adding a different element to the solution for the rampant potholes in this country, then one is in fact changing the issue, diluting the solution, and letting oneself off the hook for taking a solid stand and making a change.

We had a pothole once at the end of our drive, and it was technically in the road which meant it was our city’s problem, but we just went out there ourselves and fixed it, because we could. We had the means, but most of all we had the desire not to live with a pothole in our driveway.

About a couple months ago we had to give up a whole bunch of our God-given American rights, like parking on our side of the street, and keeping our shoes clean as we walked through the dirt and mud on our sidewalks — Because our city decided it was time to do something about our street’s potholes. The road was torn up for weeks and there were a couple of days I barely made it to work on time with the extra work I had to put into getting to my car.  Now those potholes were not a big issue for me personally, and I might have rather spent our city’s money on more cops; but the community decided they were a big enough issue for the whole of our community to do something about them. Will there be more problems on our roads?  Of course, I live in L.A. County, so…. Will there be new ways for potholes to be created and hence, new solutions to be found?  Yes, I imagine if the world lasts that long, there will be. But for now, the problem of potholes has been solved. And you know what?  They were right.  It is super- duper great living in the safety and peacefulness of a street without potholes.

 

Of course we can all be a bit too myopic and therefore hypocritical if we don’t realize we can’t only preach out of one side of our mouths; but that is a different dilemma. However, on this topic, the bottom line is —  I can’t be too happy that my potholes have been fixed, while my Biblical “neighbor” still has to drive around or lurch over the potholes in her road.  So if potholes is my issue for my street, then they also need to be my issue for my neighbor’s street as well.

 

The one question Jesus asks us is this:  What do you believe in that you are willing to act on?  He is allowed to ask us that, because He believed enough in something and Someone to act on it.

This is the problem for all people – young and old, rich and poor, saint and sinner — because Jesus is quite clear that if I believe it, I will act on it; and that,  if I do it for myself, I must do it for others. If I want a part of Him, I must give up the selfish parts of myself. “There is no one good, but God”, is a helpful reminder that none of us are the “good guys”.

If I want eternal life, I must die to this world’s death-loving dystopia. Jesus gives us a few hints:  “If you want to follow in the way I have mapped out that leads to God, then you must give up everything to the poor and follow me”.  “Greater love has no woman, than that she lay down her life for her friends.” “For I say to you, love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you.”  “For whatever you do for the least of these, then that is what you are doing for me.”

The Words of God are:  Sobering. Undiluted. Clear. Uncompromised. Truth.

Jesus constantly and consistently defined His issue: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it…. It is not the will of the Father than any should perish. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…..  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

 

Listen: “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it”. (Luke 11: 28)

Learn: Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

Define: Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matthew 5:17)  In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

Choose: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:24

Focus: We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2

Do: But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. James 1:22

The road is narrow and filled with many potholes. If I want to walk the Christ road, I dare not walk around the potholes.  I must try to fix them.

“Let those who have ears to hear, listen,” says The Great Hero.  The rest of us, need to find our own pothole.

 

Listen. Learn. Define. Choose. Focus. Do.

Pothole-damage

 

 

 

Come, But Don’t Stay Awhile by Jane Tawel

 

Come, but Don’t Stay Awhile

Billy Graham, World-view Check

By Jane Tawel

March 4, 2018

RNS-GRAHAM-LA b

 

 

 

 

Lots of talk about the Reverend Billy Graham, who moved on to a New Address this week, has caused me to reflect of course on his influence on my own particular life.  Literally millions have sung Graham’s praises, in a life time lived by a man who knew he was a child of A King. I humorously, like to imagine, he looked down on the corpse lying “in state”, and thought, “well, that’s about the least impressive thing I’ve ever been a part of”. I like to imagine him remembering the sawdust floors of his tent revivals and measuring his heavenly mansion for one.  Sawdust is such a wonderful metaphoric and physical joy.

 

I don’t remember every time I heard Billy Graham speak (and one always called him that: Billy not William, both names not just one). But I will say that any time Billy Graham held a revival meeting within driving distance (and that might mean four hours driving back in my Midwestern youth), my family was there. I remember vividly, as a small tyke, holding my Grandma Frances’ hand and watching Graham, from outside the packed  saw-dust floored, hard wooden bench- filled, barn- like “Billy Sunday Tabernacle”, in Winona Lake, Indiana. My many trips to his revivals, include the last time Billy Graham spoke in Los Angeles on November 21, 2004, when Raoul and I hauled our young four children to the Rose Bowl to join over 82,000 others.

 

No one can report on Billy Graham without talking about God, and as the Los Angeles Times writes,  Billy Graham had one message and one alone, “Individuals need to repent of their sins and accept God’s free gift of eternal life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.”

 

And it is that repent part that gets us, isn’t it?  I remember the weak, shaky feeling in my legs every time I “walked forward” with thousands of others at a Billy Graham meeting.  Many were walking forward to “get saved” for the first time, but I had done that back at Bethel Baptist Church when I was just a wee tyke.  I walked forward with so many others, to “rededicate my life” to Christ.  Because just like Billy Graham, who traveled the world with his message, and packed up his tent and his staff, and his paraphernalia; all those who came to God, were required to  “come forward” but no one was expected to “stay awhile”.

 

This is how it has changed with us today.  We now want to “accept God’s free gift” but give nothing in return.  Let me be bold: This is so anti-Christ.  Christ asks us to come, in the words of Billy Graham’s favorite “come forward song”, “just as we are”, but Christ demands we not stay there. There is a reason it was called “coming forward”.

 

So I looked up the author of Billy Graham’s iconic song,  that not many churches seem to sing much anymore.  It was written in 1835 by a woman named Charlotte Elliot. Here is what I found out about her:

In later years, when she was not able to attend public worship, she wrote:— “My Bible is my church. It is always open, and there is my High Priest ever waiting to receive me. There I have my confessional, my thanksgiving, my psalm of praise, and a congregation of whom the world is not worthy, — prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and confessors; in short, all I can want I find there.”[

Dr. Billy Graham wrote that the Graham team used this hymn in almost every one of their crusades. He said it presented “the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of Christ.” Hymnody historian Kenneth Osbeck wrote that Just As I Am had “touched more hearts and influenced more people for Christ than any other song ever written.” Christian writer Lorella Rouster wrote, “The hymn is an amazing legacy for an invalid woman who suffered from depression and felt useless to God’s service.” Dr John D. Julian wrote:— “Though weak and feeble in body, she possessed a strong imagination and a well-cultured and intellectual mind….. Her verse is characterized by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm. She sang for those in sickness and sorrow as very few others have ever done.”

 

But fun fact:  Charlotte Elliot although raised in a Christian home with a Bishop as a brother, did not become a believer in the Christian Worldview until much later in life, and when she realized she wanted to “come forward to accept Jesus as Savior”, she told her mentor that she needed to “clean up her life” and “get rid of her sins” before she did.  And this why she wrote this song, not because she believed that God’s salvation was cheaply bought, but because she realized that God wanted her to come “Just as She Was”. But just as she was, was a mess. Coming as we are today — That is the first step, and perhaps for many of us the hardest.  But as Billy Graham and Charlotte Elliot and all great prophets and teachers have taught, it can’t be the only step we take. We are not invited to come forward and then “stay awhile”, looking after our own needs and desires.  We are invited to “hit the road”, one shaky step at a time, falling down, getting up through repentance, and taking one more step of rededication, on our own Gethsemane walk down the aisle of Calvary, to the resurrection of our  revival in a Resurrected Savior.

 

The road to Calvary cost Jesus many steps.  But during this season, we celebrate – yes, celebrate!—His death on the Roman tool of torture and humiliation.  Do we really think we can wave to Jesus from the stands while we thank Him for the freedom we have because of His death?  Paul says, in Romans, among so many other places: Romans 6:1-6: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We are therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”

 

We rather blithely say that Billy Graham has a new address now.  But that is only because He never made his first step, his last one. Graham, as Jesus did on the way to Calvary kept walking forward, even when it meant falling forward. We thank Jesus, that not only did The Christ walk every painful step forward to the Cross of Calvary, but that He did not make even The Cross, His last step. He walked forward even into the pits of hell; walked forward into the grave; walked forward out of the grave; and walked forward up those steps to heaven.  As another hymn says, God expects us to keep taking steps, but He doesn’t leave us to do it alone, for “He walks with me, and talks with me, along Life’s narrow way.” We are not meant to sit down and get comfortable.  Jesus’ message, as Mr. Dooley said, is that he came to”comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”.

 

There is another old hymn that comes to mind, that we will sing at the end of this holy season which is really always just the beginning of a new season of Rebirth: “Up From The Grave He Arose”.  Jesus shows me the way; that if I walk, frightened, lame and blind, towards my own death to this world, it may feel as if I am walking in darkness and foolishly, backwards. But each step I take daily to “rededicate my life to death in Christ”, is in reality is a step towards the Light, which I can only sense out of the corner of my blinded eyes. Each step away from the treasures of this World is a step towards the true World, Christ’s World of Eternal Life. In the Eternal Kingdom, we all need to Come, “just as we are”; but we dare not, cannot, will not stay there. We are not invited to stay awhile here on this broken planet; just like Charlotte Elliot and Billy Graham, we are meant to keep walking towards our new address. We are meant to take steps toward the change that as Paul also says, means “we will not all die, but we will all be changed”. Change, like that first step is as painful and frightening as birth. But we are not meant to stay in the womb of our broken, fallen lives.  We are not meant to stay awhile there. If we keep taking those oxymoronic steps toward death as Jesus lived it, then we will live as we were created to live, as God-imagers – not Just as I am, but Just As He Is.

“Just As I Am”

by Charlotte Elliot (1835)

 

  1. Just as I am, without one plea,
    But that Thy blood was shed for me,
    And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
  2. Just as I am, and waiting not
    To rid my soul of one dark blot,
    To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
  3. Just as I am, though tossed about
    With many a conflict, many a doubt,
    Fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
  4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
    Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
    Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
  5. Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
    Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
    Because Thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
  6. Just as I am, Thy love unknown
    Hath broken every barrier down;
    Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.