How To Celebrate Sorrow

How to Celebrate Sorrow

By Jane Tawel

February 26, 2017

 

Wednesday, March 1 will be one of my favorite days in the year.  It is Ash Wednesday, a day  where some of us who believe in Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God of The Christ,  begin forty days of penitence. The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah. (Note to self: The Muslims also celebrate these same days of repentance.) At the end of these various religious days of repentance, there is a big celebration:  we call it, Easter or Resurrection Sunday.  The Jews call it Yom Kippur.

So I am meditating on the fact that I seem to have been born into a time and place where the idea of penitence, remorse, regret, sinfulness, unholiness — all of it — is “not a thing”, as  the kids say. Perhaps born out of time and place, I am trying to make it “a thing” — a daily “thing” in my own life. I walk and pray and try to accept a daily sense of my need to be cleansed from “stuff” inside and outside, in my mind and in my heart.  The bible I read, calls it a sense of my own unrighteousness and need. And being redeemed has to do not only with eternal salvation but with relationship to a specific and real God and relationship to specific and real others — my neighbors which Jesus says include my enemies, as well as my family members, biologically family or Christ-0logically family.

The first time I experienced someone who celebrated Ash Wednesday was when I was a freshman at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  My beloved theater professor, Jim Young, came to class with a large black smudge on his forehead and I, being ignorant of the meaning, kept trying to rub it off for him.  He recoiled in horror from my little anxious helping hand.  Jim is no longer wearing ashes; he is now on the other side of Resurrection Sunday forever.

I often think of that metaphoric moment and how it reveals continual issues in my own life.  I have grown up in a culture that does not want to look at negative things too closely and does not want to live in grief much at all. We want to move straight on to the celebration.  We want to helpfully and quickly remove the “smudges” from our own lives and the lives of others. We want to “bury the past” and “bury the body” and be happy again.  We move past the moments of sorrowful deaths, both the literal ones and figurative ones, as quickly as possible.  There is not enough time to grieve or mourn, there is too much to do and accomplish, and staying busy and active helps us “get past” the problems and sadnesses in our souls.  And what good does it do any one anyway?

The only problem is, all of that reasoning just isn’t true. We know it isn’t true somewhere deep inside. And when we keep living by denying the smudges and moving on to the resurrection of our own happiness, we end up with ever larger and larger holes in our souls and confusion about why we aren’t all that happy. We merely bury the live body of ourselves along with the dead bodies of the other person, other relationship, other job, other life.  We move our bodies along, but our souls begin to rot from within, merely masked in the myrrh of merriment. We refuse to go through the needed completeness of penitence and grief, a daily need, as Jesus told Nicodemus, to go through the painful channel of suffering and be reborn into new life. We want Jesus to have suffered for us on the cross so we can wash our hands and souls of a need to suffer with Him on behalf of our own broken lives and the lives of others.  We want to avoid going through the Red Sea and wilderness and arrive in the promised land with all our “stuff”, saved and cleansed by someone else’s journey, while we sit and watch, grumble and criticize, and devour the panacea of false hopes and happinesses. We want the fruit from that tree not the one we were provided — partying continually, eating, drinking and being merry, and never finding the joy that comes with the hard work of penitence and deprivation, fasting from self-love in order to find the love beyond measure in our Heavenly Father and the selflessness of a reborn soul.

In the bible, numbers matter and forty and ten, the days of Lent and of Rosh Hashanah respectively are days of completeness.  At the end, of both of these times, I don’t end up with a better me, like I might after a diet, but I end up with a better sense of who I am in the vastness of eternity and worlds without end.  I end up not less penitent, but more humble and thankful to be alive, more thankful to a God who loves enough to suffer and grieve. I end up closer to shalom, or true soul-wholeness, and with a better relationship with a real God, and a better relationship to the reality of this world and my neighbor. I end up with an inkling of what completeness might really mean. And that is how sorrow leads to celebration.

This Lent, I am sharing with folks that I will be “fasting” from Facebook.  The reason I am fasting from it, is because I keep anxiously and falsely thinking that I can be “helpful” — I am wired to be busy, busy, busy as a teacher, a parent, a friend.  I have been reading a book by Parker Palmer and this week’s reading was about the days of “Lent” for Jesus — The Forty Days in the Wilderness– days when Jesus met head- on complete fasting and complete temptation. The One Who Was Sinless came out from those days of deprivation and temptation with a better relationship with a real God and a better relationship to the reality of this world and His neighbors, including His enemies.  Jesus came out of those forty days with more grief and more joy and began the business of saving the world. And in The Christ’s ministry of sorrow and suffering, we all get a better chance at celebrating.

One great thing about writing a blog, is you get to connect with other writers.  I have realized that anything I have to write, has been written better by some one else, but I also realized that I simply am one of those people who must write to think and process.  I encourage any of you readers who want to take a journey into a less unfulfilling -self-centered life and a more fulfilling, other-centered life of “being”– a life where a true lenten season and a daily sense of grief and repentance and a conviction of one’s own need and want is a path to a true sense of completeness or shalom– where a time of repentance and taking up Christ’s cross leads to true joy– I highly recommend you read some of the great writers on these topics. There are many. If you haven’t read the bible for yourself, check it out along with those who can illuminate it for you. Recently,  Parker Palmer and Henri Nouwen have provided a huge paradigm shift for me. I encourage you to read them.  Here is the passage from Palmer that has given me an idea of how to fast and celebrate Lent this year.  I look forward to celebrating with you on Facebook on the other side of the next forty days. God willing.  Here’s to ashes!

From The Active Life  by Parker Palmer:    on fasting,  temptation, and the need to prove ourselves:

 

In the first temptation Jesus faces, the devil says, “If you are the Chosen One, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.”  But Jesus refused him…. But these word of Jesus, his refusal to turn stone into bread, are his response to the devil, not to starving people. Once Jesus moves through these temptations and embarks on his public ministry, he works a number of miracles, including the provision of bread for people who are hungry. What Jesus says and does is related to context, and when the circumstances are right he has no inhibitions about using his powers to meet authentic needs.  We need only to understand why the circumstances in this story were wrong.

 

The devil prefaces his challenge to turn stone into bread with a taunt that takes a very familiar form:  “If you are the Chosen One…Though few of us get needled for thinking we are Chosen, the tone of that taunt should remind us of outward or inward voices in our lives: “If you are so able… “If you are a real woman or man…” If you truly care…” If you are such a good parent…” The root temptation here is almost irresistible.  It is not the temptation to do a magic trick, which most of us know we cannot.  It is the temptation to prove our identity, which many of us feel we must…

 

Had Jesus made stone into bread simply to show the devil that he was the Chosen One, he would have been acting mechanically, caught in the cogs of cultural expectations, compelled by circumstances to act a role.  By refusing to do so, he both demonstrates and extends his transcendence over the context of his action….Jesus does not regard himself as accountable for his calling to any voice except God’s so in his refusal to “prove” anything to the devil he is actually proving that he is the Chosen One…

 

When you refuse to meet the terms of an external demand, refuse to produce publicly verifiable results, you do not prove anything in the normal sense of that word.  Instead, you leave yourself open to charges of elevation or cowardice, and you forfeit the external confirmation on which so many of us depend; you may become inwardly shaky about who you really are. …

 

In light of the fact that Jesus had been fasting in the desert for an extended period of time, “and at the end he was hungry,” the devil seems to speak with a voice of reason, perhaps even compassion, when he says, “… Tell this stone to turn into a loaf.”  Henri Nouwen calls this the temptation to be relevant, and with that word he names something that many of us face from time to time—the temptation to “solve” some problem on a level that does not solve it at all, and may even make things worse.

 

Jesus’ real problem in the desert is not hunger—though it might look that way to an outside observer—so his real solution is not bread…   when the time comes to end a fast, you do so gradually, and not devour a chunk of bread! When we rush to the aid of a fasting person, attempting to be “relevant” by insisting that he or she eat, we are likely not only to be irrelevant but to do harm as well.

 

True relevance requires a certain subtlety, which the very idea of relevance seems to exclude. What Jesus really needs in his desert fast is not food.  In fact he does not need anything external.  Like the woodcarver in the poem, who fasted not merely from food but from praise and criticism, gain and success, Jesus’ real need is for inward confirmation of his mission, a confirmation he is more likely to find in the emptiness of fasting than in the gratification of bodily needs…..

 

Actions that seem relevant may turn out to be irrelevant in the extreme. Parents know that they do not necessarily solve a child’s problem by giving in to the demand for a special toy. They must address the problem behind the problem, which may be the child’s capacity for delayed gratification or for simple self-reliance.  Teachers know that they do not necessarily solve a student’s problem by answering the questions the student asks.  The real question may be the student’s ability to find answers for himself or herself, so the teacher who withholds answers may enlarge the student’s capacity to learn.  The temptation to be relevant is often the temptation to deal with only the external illusion of a problem and ignore its internal truth. (Palmer, The Active Life, excerpts from pp. 106-108)

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A Sort of Answer

I have a new Facebook friend, named Jeremy whom I have come to really like a lot.  He is a friend of a previous student of mine and he is willing to ask me – a stranger – questions about what I believe and think.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love that.  I love wrestling through ideas and beliefs, especially when they have anything to do with what I call Worldview or Christianity or Truth or Spiritual Things. So here goes Jeremy, my answer to your question:

 

A Sort of Answer to Jeremy from Jane

By Jane Tawel

February 2, 2017

 

Dear Jeremy:

 

Do not imagine, Jeremy, that I feel that what I am going to say is adequate or will answer your deep question, even though it is a very long and circular answer. I do circuitously and at length usually answer most everything, even when asked a simple, “How are you”– just ask anyone who is acquainted with me. If you don’t feel like reading all this I will understand and you can skip to the very last paragraph or two.

 

In his preface to “The Active Life”, Parker Palmer says something that speaks to how I am going to try to answer your question. About his own writing and knowledge, Parker says: (Jane’s side comments are bolded in parentheses): “It is a mistake to imagine that writers (dare I insert “Christians”?) are experts on the things they write about—at least, it is a mistake in my case! I write about things I am still wrestling with, things that are important to me but that I have not yet figured out. Once I master something (for me that is never — mastered that is– so far!), I put it behind me.  I lose the passionate curiosity that writing a book requires.  I write to explore vexing questions and real dilemmas, to take myself into territories I have never seen before in hopes of understanding myself and the world a bit better, (dare I say understanding Christ and His Kingdom better?).”

 

So, Jeremy, I write because I am an often afraid, worried, pretty inadequate, but passionately desiring –to- know human being. I say “dare”, because I am metaphorically the woman who pours perfume on Christ’s feet, having no or at least little idea of what I am doing and whether I am “right or not”– only knowing I want to find a way to know this Jesus better  and to be able to someday be welcomed into His Kingdom. I pour out words like perfume, in a pathetic attempt to wrestle with God’s truth and seek God’s blessing, as Jacob did, and to pour out my love for the Savior who saved me and guides me.

 

So one thing you should know, Jeremy, before you go on, is that I guess the first pouring out of a perfume/idea is that I do not believe “praying the sinner’s prayer” makes you a disciple of Jesus.  It is a very, very good start, but it is only a start.  Being a disciple means studying and following –being born again,  being twisted and molded into a whole new being. It means giving over everything to His Refiner’s fire – heart, soul and mind. It means less of me and more of Him.  It means becoming the least of the least. (Matthew 11:11 and Matt. 20:16) But most of all being a disciple of Jesus means taking up Christ’s Cross. That is not “your cross”, that is His. (Matt. 16:24)  The cross was a punishment for a criminal, it was literal death, and for a religious Hebrew, spiritual death. For Jesus, of course it was a misunderstood yet humiliating public spectacle; in Christ’s case for a man who was considered and condemned as a traitor to both his nation of Rome and the nation of Israel (the people of Jehovah). The cross was a humiliating event meant to shame in excruciating death while causing the most suffering, and for The Christ it was also a deep heart and Soul suffering—a suffering  by God! for the people who had actually sinned against God – which ironically of course did not include the one man who took it up willingly, revealing Himself to be The Promised Son of Man, the Messiah.

 

None of us can take up The Cross – The One Way, Truth and Life as Jesus did because He did it once and for all for the whole world. And yet we are called to take His cross as we take Christ’s yoke, walking as best we can in tandem with Him as Jesus takes the burden once and for all. (Matt 11:30) This is the great mystery of The Cross. The important thing is, “my cross” is my “deep  heart suffering” for a lost world, my willingness to give up all of “me” for the salvation of others.

 

All of that to say, when we call ourselves, “little Christs”, which is what Christian means, we do so with humility and trepidation and suffering and eyes trained completely on Jesus, the revelation to us of the Father’s heart and the modeled life lived as the one True God’s behavior. A behavior that comes from grief for His people, a willingness to listen and suffer with His people, and a desire for truth, justice, grace, mercy, and love combined in a way which we as sinners and temporal beings see only as if “through a foggy glass”. (I Corinthians 13:12) We suffer for and with others and the weird hard thing about the Jesus Way is that the others must be our enemies, the hardest people we could imagine to suffer for–if we are to go The Jesus Way.  My problem is, we as Christians seem to be choosing power over love and choosing to suffer for the people it is easiest to suffer for, not the people it is hardest to suffer for.  We have become the priests and rulers who see people in need, broken people and we cross to the other side of the road so we don’t have to spend time or money or thought or get our hands dirty by helping. We feel safer condemning the outsider while coddling our own, raising lukewarm baby Christians and hardening the hearts of those who don’t believe.  So the Samaritan, which would be what we think of as today’s non-believer, or, unsettling thought for most Christians, the wayfarer who today is perhaps a Muslim, has to model a God we say we have the corner on. It is not up to us to choose whom to help but we “cross the road” and thereby leave up to others the opportunity to model a God they may not believe in but –in the image of God– they unknowingly serve Him by helping the needy. Of course there are lots of Christians giving up their lives and livelihood to help others, but … that wasn’t your question to me exactly so I am being as hard on myself as possible.

 

So, Jeremy, you asked me a question about what I believe about abortion and I thought I would try to answer you here because there is no way Facebook could handle this long- winded response.  My caveat is that it is a response for only today with the sure knowledge that tomorrow – maybe even five minutes from now– I will need to find a new lens, a new glass, a new heart, a “renewed” mind (Ephesians 4:23, Romans 12: 1 & 2) in order to see even more clearly how the “narrow path” leads me (Matthew 7:14).  As Augustine said, “I err, therefore I am” and perhaps the way Jane best errs is by writing.

 

Jeremy, I think my point to you in a previous post on this was not to argue one way of seeing a national policy in Christian or biblical terms. Rather it was to create an inner dialogue for myself and maybe someone else.  My point is more to fellow seekers and believers and that is this: The Bible is a big, big, big book with many, many calls on a person’s life if that person wants to take it seriously as the only inspired Word of God. We take it “in parts” greatly to our peril. And we should only and ever use and wield God’s Word as the sword of God with humility and love. I love “conversing” with you because you are thinking, listening and digging in.

 

The Bible has many examples of people (see Paul and Peter) who vehemently disagreed on things, who had to talk and listen and be content that they would not reach a mutual agreement or conclusion.  And yet we call them saints because they did not fall by the wayside; they did not veer from the path that their King, their Lord called them to walk.  And because of Peter and Paul  (and yes, several Marys) the Christ Way, or Kingdom Life was spread throughout the world. And with Paul and Peter, it was perhaps actually somewhat surprisingly because of the very fact they disagree on theology but still did not veer—because of their wrestling together through Christ’s words and life and calling –because of that — many were saved and brought to faith and a whole new life. So since you asked, and I appreciate that! — let me try to say a few things rolling around in my head about the current pro-choice, pro-life discussion.

 

Your question to me about pro-life/ pro-choice is difficult for me to answer because of my own digging in and life experience and desire to understand what it truly means to be a Yahweh follower. As I mentioned to you earlier, I believe the same questions about choice and life must be consistently and humbly asked about all lives – soldiers and war, refugees and political asylum, guns and citizens, poor and needy.  You asked about war and as I said, I believe that usually any decision about taking a life, whether it is a war or self-defense or an abortion, comes from several previous bad mistakes or bad decisions—but not always the individual making the choice! And these decisions come from what you and I would call sin – personal sin yes,  but what it is critical to understand is that they also come from the avalanche of fallen humans’ sins — the world as a whole’s sin, the systems of power and of nations and powers and greedy monsters’ Sins.  And this is what leads a beloved human creation of God – a human soul that God loves more than anything — to make a lesser than God’s ideal choice.  I have made so many lesser choices in my lifetime. And I have sinned quite, quite a lot and daily.

 

Any one I have personally ever met or read about, unless they have given themselves over to evil, feels heartbroken for taking a life, whether they believe in a God or not. But here is my big point, I guess –We “little Christs” are called as Christ was to “bind up the broken hearted”. We are not called to shame them nor legislate them. We are called to heal them and in so doing, to in great part through our own faith, to heal ourselves. (Psalm 147:3, Isaiah 61:1)

 

Taking a life is never a good choice.   BUT – ever since Adam and Eve chose power over trust and rule over relationship, the one thing God wanted us to understand is that we would continue to have freedom to choose and that this would be a blessing as well as a curse.  As a seeker, I also each day have freedom to choose to follow the Greatest Model of Humanity– or not. I can as Lewis says, choose to follow The One who calls, “Come, further up. Come further in!”

 

Now back to where we live now. The one thing America has seemed to get right in this great experiment is this idea of freedom with checks and balances for justice’s sake. Of course, a nation or “State” must combine freedom with good ways to protect and care for all citizens. This is good stewardship. God has proved Himself to be a God on the side of nations and people who care for the least, the lost, the needy, and the unable. God tried very, very hard to help His chosen people to have this kind of community on earth (as it is in His Heavens).  But they really ended up just wanting what everyone else wanted – a king.  And with great sorrow, knowing that the Israelites would eventually worship their nation more than they worshipped Yahweh, He gave them the freedom to institute an earthly king as an authority – to be like other nations.  It was pretty much with a few exceptions, all downhill from there. I confess – I believe many American Christians are confused about what Kingdom we are supposed to be living in. And what authority we are supposed to honor and serve.

 

So, from Israel,  fast forward to America –To be simplistic — I believe one of the great things America did is separate church and state.  I see the problems Israel had when they did not want a separation from this world’s power and “stuff” and Yahweh’s Power and “Stuff”. Israel wanted a king not a God to rule them.

 

I also look at history — not only the history of America but the history of God’s people as storied in the Bible and the history of The Church, from its humble terrified persecuted but Holy Spirit-filled beginnings to when “the church” became powerful and greedy and condemning and self-justifying –instead of suffering with Christ’s cross leading. Instead of rejoicing! with Christ’s cross leading. Instead of loving! with Christ’s cross leading. I am not very smart when it comes to anything, including history but I look at the Church from Constantine to Pope Julius to Calvin etc. and I just don’t ever see good things happening when Christ’s Bride tries to rule as Government – not good things for the people under that government and not good things for Christ’s Church. **Side note – this is why so many people of all faiths, like and respect the current Pope Francis.  He actually seems to try to be a servant and to influence His flock and the rulers of this world to turn from wickedness and toward love. And Pope Francis is trying to show the Jesus Way even in the great halls of power he has been elevated to. Sort of like Jesus! Philippians 2:5-11. The Pope is one of this world’s current authorities that many can get behind and pray for. That is we can pray for Him as a true Christ follower. It is in “the fruit”. (Matthew 7:16) Of course we can pray for any particular authority in church or state, like all souls, to find true salvation. And which of course if it happened, would change everything.

 

We have only to look at the Kings of Israel to see that it was with sorrow that God gave his people what they wanted — a government on earth to rule them in His stead. And then “in the fullness of time”, God came Himself as He promised He would – but in a way no one could imagine – with no power, ever– suffering, the least of the least, and with no claim on national influence anywhere not even to the nation of Israel. God slipped under the radar to establish His Kingdom on earth as it has always been in His world –  Heaven).  All of that to say, I know it is not a popular view, but I think if we claim Christ’s name, we need to see America as Babylon or Rome. If we want to see it as a new Israel, then we should definitely know the perilous thinking we have let ourselves in for. No, Jeremy, Our role is to “rebuild the temple” ie. the body of Christ, His Bride, and to care for the people — all people, perhaps especially those outside the walls of “that temple” — in Jehovah’s desire to bring all to Himself. Of course a lot of Hebrews preferred to remain in Babylon. Metaphor intended.

 

Just as when God’s people were in Babylon, and many decided they preferred the life of the nation, to the life of God’s temple people– So I fear The Church of America does today. And that means me too. And Jesus keeps begging us –standing at the door and knocking– that we who have been given so much knowledge, so much of Himself, so much grace, so much forgiveness, so much LIFE – He asks us, silly old, flawed, broken us –to “feed the sheep”, to BE His Temple.(John 21:17).  He asks me, silly old me, to understand that to whom much is given much will be required. He asked me to leave behind daily that which makes me comfortable and to enter into His Kingdom.(Luke 12:48)

 

So I am struggling with this conviction that as a believer, I must start cleaning my own “inside of the cup” even as I try to address the dirt on the outside. (Matt. 23:26) Of course we must speak out against injustice—the dirt on the outside– as this is a primary requirement of following Yahweh. But we must be humble, humble, humble in doing so, with our eyes constantly searching the insides of our own cups– and we must know that it must come from a Christian worldview that is rooted in truth and love, not in an American worldview that is rooted in “Us First”. And this is a problem when so many Christians – myself included—have tied their bank accounts, bottom lines, and incomes along with their way of seeing Jesus and God — to their Christianity.  We cannot serve two masters. (Matt. 6:24)

 

I– with sadness– and by convicting myself as the number one culprit, submit to you that the American Christian needs to understand that we are the world’s current Sadducees and Pharisees. (Matthew 23:13). We are the rich young rulers who go away sad and break Christ’s heart. (Mark 10:17 – 27). And by placing myself in those people’s places, not in the place of those disciples I wish I were like, by casting myself as the Pharisee, I am humbled. This paradigm shift in seeking directs my thinking. I have to meekly, foolishly come to Jesus daily—No– I must submit moment by moment.

 

My greatest yet nagging guide and struggle in the past years has been to meditate on these fearsome words Jesus speaks to Christians:“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7: 21-23.

 

Do I long with passion to know Jesus? It means His cross but it also means His power of the resurrection. (Philippians 3:10)

 

The rich and powerful have a difficult time entering The Kingdom, because they don’t want to.We don’t need to. And so we persuade ourselves that we are “doing many wonders in His name” – but we don’t know Him and therefore, He doesn’t know us. Thank God — Jesus assures us that nothing is impossible with God, praise the Lord. Even though it is harder for a rich man to “enter” His kingdom, God is able when we are not. God through Christ made The Way (Isaiah 43:16, Hebrews 10:20). But we get to choose. And we have to walk through a very narrow way to enter His Kingdom – We can not have one foot in some one else’s kingdom, lest we topple over. (Matt. 7:13 & 14)

 

I think especially as one raised in the Church and as an American -raised “Christian”, I  have grown up with a giant tree trunk in my own eye and I need to be very, very careful about picking splinters out of others’ eyes, especially those from different lands, different “countries”, different belief systems. (Matt. 7:5). I fail at this knowing myself in the light of God on a daily basis.  Hence my extreme need to understand what Christ means by hypocrisy and my agonizing need to have the hypocrisy in myself removed. It is sort of like choosing to get a root canal, but there it is.

 

Finally, Jeremy, if you are not comatose by now with my searching through many words and ideas — Since we mentioned Bonhoeffer, I struggle with the fact that I believe the “First World” Church as we might deem the Western World and hence, America, has tragically cheapened grace for “their own” –while it has offered very, very little grace to those outside its “walls”.  If you read the Bible, you will see that Jesus did the exact opposite and that His stories radically turned upside down people’s understanding of who behaves justly in the image of God and who believes rightly– and who does not. Again, we must cast ourselves as the Pharisees, the eldest son, the ones who have been given much both in “stuff” and in knowledge – both in power and in forgiveness, in love and in truth. We have so, so much. And yet we still do not know the Father and how much He loves. We need only turn to The Rabbi Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal (Luke 15:11-32) and His parable of the Good Samaritan  (Luke 10:25-37) to have a view of Christ’ “crazy” Upside Down Kingdom.

 

Jeremy,  I appreciate your hanging in there through all this (if you have managed )  I know I haven’t really answered your question.  But then again, I find that the Jesus I read about in the Scriptures, doesn’t really answer people’s questions, including my own. And this is also much like The Father, Creator if you read the Old Testament. Jehovah doesn’t answer. He doesn’t answer Job or the Hebrews’ questions or frankly any one else’s really.  God mostly says, “Be still and know that I Am.” And in that are all the answers. (Psalm 46:10).

 

When it comes to peoples’ questions, Jesus is mostly a Doer. Jesus isn’t really  much of an Explainer.  In fact, when asked to explain, The Messiah mostly tells stories about people who Do Stuff, not Talk Stuff.  This is an irony, I agree, for me, a woman who has now spent pages “talking about this stuff” to you.  Which is why I am really seeking God’s call on my life to “be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only, thereby deceiving myself” into thinking that I am living for God or Jesus.  (James 1:22).  God does not need little ole’ Jane to speak for Him and I must be very careful about doing so. We take God’s name in vain when we try to wield Him for our own misunderstood needs. There is a commandment against using God for the own misguided or dimly lit desires of my heart. (Exodus 20:7).

 

Christ, God’s only begotten Son does require much of me since He sent the Holy Spirit to work through my body until I meet Him at the gates of eternity. The Church is now Christ’s Body, and as He gave His own Body, we now join together communally in remembrance of Him, becoming His Body: His eyes, His hands, His feet. I am struggling to become so much as a pinky finger. I am striving just to hand out metaphoric cups of water and some real ones as well.  As another Francis once said: “Preach the gospel, and if you must, use words.”

 

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Matt. 10:42 I Corinthians 12: 4-13 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

 

So, Jeremy, this has been a whole lot of “perfume” poured out, and not necessarily the designer expensive kind of scented words. I am glad that you as a young man are seeking to find the scented perfume of brilliant theologians and seekers of God.  Hopefully you figured out if you don’t want to read this whole thing that you could scroll down here to the bottom for my answer.

And my answer is, “Yes.”

You told me you couldn’t figure out from what I was saying whether I am pro-choice or pro-life.  I sort of think Jesus (not that I am comparing myself to Him at all) often had the same issue – people just could not figure Him out. He refused to give a direct answer, not because He didn’t know – unlike Jane who doesn’t usually know much of anything.  Jesus didn’t answer because He did know – HE KNEW THEM.  He knew their real hearts and He knew what it was like to be  them – because He was fully human and fully God.

Jesus refused to cast stones even though He was the one person who could. But He also refused to cast pearls before the people who didn’t know what do with them because they were so, so hungry. And what can a hungry-souled woman do with a pearl?  She can’t eat it, and she so desperately longs to be fed.  “Feed my sheep.” The Christ kept eating with sinners and then doing miracles, healing even the unfaithful and ungrateful ones – because that is what God does.  Confusing.  I apologize Jeremy, I do get rather confused about how I am supposed to be like Jesus. But I’m going to keep living in the mystery and confusion and keep trying to step back onto the narrow Way when I fall off and seek with all of me to know All of Him and be known by Him.

I can’t thank you enough for helping me to try to find my way – no Jehovah’s way – further in and further up. Thank you for helping me by asking me your questions and thanks to you and to others who have forgiven my missteps.

I guess in answer to your question– Am I pro-choice or pro-life, the simple answer would be:  YES!

With gratefulness for your journeying with me,

Jane

 

 

 

 

Happy Moment to You

Happy Moment To You

by Jane Tawel

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January 1, 2017

I began the new year today at 3:00 am and soon hit the road to take my daughter to the airport to catch a return flight to Virginia.  Under the klieg lights of LAX — rubbing tears into my eyes, giving my daughter a sharp hard hug… or two… all right  maybe it was three… and then heading back into the dark, black but for the blinding headlights behind and oncoming, searing all colors from the landscape and impairing my vision. If I look at my life, bitten off whole, it can often seem like that – lots of dark, black  but for the blinding lights. Blinding lights can hurt.  Blinding lights can frighten.  Blinding lights can keep you awake.  Blinding lights can save. Christmas is a season full of different colored lights –and One Light that was Blinding and yet can save.

 

I began the new year today driving home, listening to what they call an alternative radio station and wishing there were an alternative.  Coldplay’s “Yellow” came on and I thought about how my favorite color used to be yellow and how Coldplay singer guy’s mother died with yellow skin. Things happen in life– to people– and I feel fake at my age liking the color yellow. I wish I could be one of those cheerfully accepting purple -hatted red- dressed old ladies or whatever that was then, but when people ask me I tell them I don’t have a favorite color.  Well, it depends, doesn’t it? Are you talking favorite color for a couch or favorite color for a sweater? Do I need a favorite color for a potato? Or a couch potato? Or  a favorite color for a cleaning rag? What is your favorite color? For a sunset? Or a rainbow? Or your favorite color for understanding? Or for a memory? Or for a hug? Or your favorite color for a moment?

 

I started the new year today driving silently on rain-teared freeways and wishing the stain-teared world a “Happy New Year”.  But what a silly thing to do.  Because there is no such thing as a happy new year. What color the year will be for you or for me or for any one remains to be seen and it might not be one of our happy favorite colors. And yellow can change its meaning from favorite to sad. Every year is guaranteed to be  full of lots of contrasting colors for each of us. In fact, there is no such thing as a new year at all.  There is only this new moment.  I acutely realized that this new morning as in the blink of an eye,  I laid on my horn to wake up some one’s father or sister or child going 90 miles an hour, and to prevent me and Polly Prius being hit and pushed into the semi-truck on my right side.  I just had that single solitary moment in which to live. No more. We all – the someone’s crazy -driving relative, the semi-driver, and I –just had that instantaneous moment. To live. To choose. To breathe. To think. To yell into the dark.  To pray. To thank the Lord. One more moment.  Not one more year.  Never a whole year. Not even a whole week. Not even a whole day. No one has that. We all just have One. More. Moment.

 

I began my new year with just one more moment to get home and text my daughter waiting in the airport for her one more moment. I texted, “I’m home. Praying for you. I love you.”

 

In this new moment, as I sit and type, my husband and other children are still asleep. In the next minute I plan on getting up and if I do, I’ll pour my second cup of coffee. I am thankful to have this moment to hear The Beloveds still breathing– Still alive in the rooms that contain our now stale Christmas decorations and half -eaten boxes of candy. The Christmas colors and lights surrounding me in this new dawn, remind me of all the happy minutes in the past week. I am so full of sweetly-remembered minutes I want to clutch them tightly to hold onto and never let them go. I want to hoard them like a new box of Crayola crayons and get them out just to look at from time to time. They are all such pretty colored memoried moments.

But some of life’s moments aren’t all that great. Some of life’s moments aren’t pretty colors at all.  In this same moment in this same city my friend sits in the hospital by her daughter. In this moment, while I pour my second cup of coffee, she has one more moment of  blindingly agonizing fear and pain. While my daughter crams her bag in an overhead compartment, my friend’s daughter is crammed full of tubes. The color yellow looks different under my dining room’s glowing lights; yellow seems different under the airplane’s muted lights; yellow feels different under the hospital’s blinding lights. Blinding lights can hurt. Blinding lights can frighten. Blinding lights can keep you awake. Blinding lights can save. I hope and pray in this. one. moment. that the One True Blinding Light will change the colors for my friend and her daughter.

 

I began my new year thinking about all the people in all the world who can’t remember their last happy moment, and all the people who won’t have one more happy minute, let alone a whole Happy New Year.  I began my new year thinking about the cascading waterfall of all the happy minutes of my life. So many moments dancing like rainbow-hued water drops reflecting The Light. Just like a favorite color, I don’t have a favorite moment.  And in this world, strangely, moments need contrasting colors to make sense, don’t they? Otherwise it’s like driving in the dark. Or into a blinding light.

It’s hard to say what color a moment truly is. Like a prism, a life lived out and held up to The Light, in the perspective of Eternity, changes every moment into something new. And each moment becomes its own Infinity Box of Crayola -colored Eternity fulfilled.

 

Right now, only Now, I have this gloriously joyful emerging-colored moment. It could be someone’s idea of a favorite colored moment.  But I am in fact, living in a completely new undiscovered –until- this- very- heartbeat, new moment’s hue.

I shall name my newly discovered color: Enough.

 

And this moment is henceforth called, Enough.  It is enough.  It is meant to be enough. It is Created Enoughness. It is a Universe of Enoughness.

 

I began the new year with just one guarantee– No guarantees. Not for a happy new year, at any rate. Not even a guarantee I’ll live another minute in this world. But right now I could guarantee myself that I can live this eternal moment and it can be deemed Enough. In this moment, I can accept and embrace Enoughness. One whole moment of Enoughness. One moment to breathe deeply. One moment to smile. One moment for a tear drop. For a belly laugh. One moment for a song. For a thought. One moment to see. One moment to listen. One moment to reach out to someone.  One moment to be home. One moment to risk. One moment to explore. One moment to wait. One moment to pray. To ask. To praise. To thank.  One moment to say, “I love you.”

 

And that is more than enough.That is every thing. This moment is a many-hued kaleidoscope of Eternity’s Enoughness. I can guarantee  you — I think it is going to be one of my favorites.

 

Happy New Enoughness to you and yours – in this very moment. Period.

 

The Christmas Letter 2016

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The Christmas Letter 2016    Justine, our eldest at (unbelievably!) 26 years, arrived home late last night from Virginia where she works for Enviva, a company that makes environmentally friendly fuel.  This morning she gave me a big hug and laughed, “Mom I think you are shrinking.”  I smiled, “Why of course I am! As children grow bigger, we parents grow smaller.  It is the way things are supposed to be.”  When our children are born, we look at their cherubic faces and say, “you complete us”.  As our children grow up, we say, “you deplete us”. But as nerve-wracking as all those food and college bills are, depletion is not bad. Shrinking for one’s children is only minorly painful. To deplete oneself for those not one’s own, however, is painful and technically unnecessary, but is in fact a calling to Christ’s upside-down kingdom life, especially when it has to do with the sowing of one’s resources. Isaiah, that great prophetic voice, tells us that “if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” I pour out my prayers that the angels that once manifested in my children’s cherubic faces, will stay perched on their right shoulders, protecting and speaking truth and light into their souls. I pray that my kiddos will humbly keep being seekers who will sow truth and light into a world that seems increasingly dark, as before a great storm. And I pray to feel personally burdened and responsible for all “little ones”, all those hungry for justice and afflicted by transgressions, those that have no one with spiritual or material resources to draw on. I pray to shrink myself for all the little ones, no matter their age, who watch as the giants are busy gorging and growing fatter, and the “little faiths” starve. As Isaiah foretold: May it be that our “Young men and women prophesy” as have always the great prophets from Abel to Jeremiah to The Baptizer to Saint Joan d’Arc to Martin Luther King, depleting themselves on the altar of justice, truth, and love.

 

I like Advent. I relish anticipation, unlike my 82 -year -old mom who gleefully never met a surprise she desired to keep. Perhaps because of my having spent so many years, waiting – for the curtain to open, for the baby to arrive, for the lightbulbs in the minds to turn on – I have always loved the anticipation elements of this season.  But among the many revelations of this year in the country in which I sojourn, I have had a paradigm shift in how I see Advent and the celebration of Christ’s birth.  We modern First Worlds have filled this season with hindsight’s happy, happy, happy– while in fact, for the actual person we say we celebrate, for the Messiah, “Christ – mass” was a dark, hopeless time filled with the utmost evil this world can offer. Wars, tax gouging, prejudice, “ignorance and want” as Charles Dickens might add, and a host of greedy power-mongers trying to rule the world—these are what brought Jesus’ family to Bethlehem. The anticipation of Mary and Joseph was perhaps mostly, “will we get out of this alive?” The Christ’s earthly parents were among the depleted people, with literally nothing to give their little one–symbolically wrapping Jesus in burial cloths, perhaps distressedly anticipating an early death for the poor baby.

 

So ironically as I have lately felt periodic senses of dread and depression and sadness and sorrow, I realize these feelings are truly perhaps the most “Christmasy” feelings I have ever had.  See, I am rich.  I am one of the rich wealthy ones.  Where we err as we celebrate Santa and all the free stuff he brings those who don’t need anything, is that we have turned Jesus into the Savior Santa that gives us free stuff – including salvation—gifts to people who don’t need them. We are the rich who mistakenly gamble that at the last minute, we will still be able to order and buy the God of Lazarus, no strings attached, full -warranty provided.  But Jesus never offered living water or the bread of life at a discount. At a time in history much like our own, Dietrich Bonhoeffer dubbed our Walmart attitude to salvation, “cheap grace” – the desire to believe God requires nothing of us in exchange for all of His Son’s riches, when in fact God requires every thing of us. To understand the Story of the Christ child, you must have a radically new way of seeing and being. You have to be starving to grasp it.  You have to give up everything to own it.

 

News Flash – there were no rich people at the first Christmas.   You can Snopes it. As the baby who became The Son of Man later told folks, “It is hard for you who find complete sufficiency surrounding you – you rich people –  you who believe you are saved because you are the elect and thereby you justify yourselves – it is difficult for you to need anything– and you do not understand nor do you choose to enter into God’s kingdom. It is harder for the rich to carry God’s anguish, God’s punishment, a desperate daily God-sized need – almost impossible to carry the cross – harder for you to willingly enter in– harder than it is for a private jet to fly through an oil pipeline, harder than it would be to import big screen televisions to Aleppo.”

 

Of course we Clausians (“Little Santa Clauses” instead of “Little Christs”) have gotten around that pesky problem by putting the frankincense and myrrh bearing kings snuggled next to the shepherds lurking around Christ’s cradle. What actually happened, though, is that the wise kings entered the scene much later, anywhere from weeks to years after. They had a lot further to travel, those rich folk.  It was a lot harder for the rich kings to enter the Christmas scene than it was for the poor shepherds who were waiting for jobs outside Home Depot – I mean tending their flocks by night.  And here is why our changing the rich folks’ entrance is so disastrous to our understanding of Christ and Christmas– because we use the Magi to justify our hyped- up lifestyle and gift giving and extravagance, and attitude towards the poor –not just at Christmas but in all seasons. Because we want to still stay rich and still stay kneeling at the manger. By erroneously placing the Magi at the birth, right next to the destitute and deplorable shepherds, we get to keep our worldly vision of what a “real” king is like. We tragically prefer serving the bling-laced authority of the Terminator Herod and all his cronies –the powerful, the glutted, the strictly religious First World authorities—finding it preferable to kneeling before the small helpless naked babe in the dungy swine trough. The wise men were wise because they rejected the false flashy authority of Herod and staged a non-violent political and religious resistance to Herod’s and Rome’s and Israel’s religious/ political empire, thereby helping to usher in a changed world kingdom- a revolutionary world that even angels marvel at.

 

But first, possibly for several long years, the wise Magi had to seek and seek and seek and seek and journey and journey and journey to find the real King of the World. When they saw Herod, they knew at a glance that he was not the one they were seeking. Not the real deal at all.  When the alien outsiders found the true King of kings they worshiped him. And because the wise ones depleted themselves in worship of a foreign King it ended up that– possibly unbeknownst to them– their kingly gifts  saved Messiah from the death at the hands of Herod and his ilk, death that awaited many of the other Hebrew babies. The Magi used their riches not to gain but to honor. The gifts were not extravagance but necessity for a displaced fleeing poor refugee family in danger for their lives. The gifts for the God-king helped delay the eventuality by thirty years for Jesus to be wrapped in swaddling clothes for his burial. The wise men who came from foreign lands, possibly even from enemy territories of Israel and Rome, worshiped with all they had a king who, with their gifts, would be able to immigrate to Egypt, enemy territory of Jesus’ religious and national homes.  And later this same Jesus would bring Hope to the hopeless by preaching and establishing a peculiar type of kingdom in which all His subjects and inhabitants must live out radical love to their enemies. And so as the great Magis shrunk into the distance of space and time, the Christ-child grew until He held the whole of space and time in His hands. The Christ grew big enough to flip upside down the whole world.

 

Today Justine and Verity, home for break from her third year at UCLA, worked out at our local YMCA.  I tagged along and yakked with my workout buddies, Bill the ex-postman, Sammy the ex- Russian gymnast, and David, the ex-military black guy (well, he’s still black but he’s no longer military). David told me about a metaphoric event happening at the Y today. The YMCA was hosting a doggie pool party. I was wishing we could take our old doggies, Jolie and Daisy, but they hate to get wet. The Y invited almost 100 dog owners to bring their dogs for a swim before the pool was drained for cleaning.  I love it because of course that is what the Babe of Bethlehem later did when He left His job (ex-carpenter) to go into ministry (Note to self: Ministry means you don’t make money off of it.)  Jesus invited all the dogs (the Gentiles the irreligious, the foreigners, the poor, the persecuted) to a pool party, because Jesus was getting ready to shut down the Pool for a cleaning out and a whole new kind of baptism. At the doggie pool party, anyone could come – with a dog — but the regular YMCA pass was no good. From the time of Jesus’ very first birthday, the party invitations have been sent to all. Star-sealed. But the traditional passes of wealth, and honor, and diplomas, and celebrity have never worked. So the rich usually don’t show up to the pool parties of Jesus. At His first birthday party, it was the poor, the needy, and the sinful who actually showed up, sitting right next to the sheep. And it has often been the same kind of folk who, without a pass, are out there swimming for their lives, doing the doggie paddle with all their “hearts, souls, and minds”.  The God-king baby who would become a carpenter, became a Life-Guard, and ultimately would became a Lamb. Someday the Lamb of God will be having a reunion party with all the shepherds. I think there will be a lot of dogs there too. I hope mine will invite me along.

 

We have had a lot of dream-building happening on our house – hard work for our two men.  Gordon at (unbelievably!) 18 years has contributed a lot of muscle and man power in between finishing up his high school senior year and concurrent community college classes.  As Gordon and our neighbor and contractor, Joe, scaffold and saw and nail, Raoul designs and oversees the classy new siding going up all around our home.  Raoul is the artist – and his dreams are large and lovely.  Raoul’s company Mosaix continues to help other companies realize their own particular dreams.  We have dubbed Raoul, “The Dream Weaver.” Several in our family had dreams come true this past summer. Clarissa, Verity and Raoul traveled together to Paris, France. Clare and Verity experienced for the first time visiting another country and Raoul revisited a place from his childhood. Although France has lately had its share of nightmares, it was still able to provide for our three, some dreams come true.

 

The prophet Isaiah said that in these end times of the second advent before Christ’s coming– not as Savior but as King– that “your young ones will prophesy but your old ones will dream dreams”. As Raoul and I hit those milestones of aging, perhaps our prayers should more and more resemble large and lovely dreams rather than merely wish lists. To shimmy two Shakespeare quotes together, “to dream things true–for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.” I have felt lately and intensely the pause in which anticipation lives, the pause awaiting hope. It is the feeling you have when you wake after a lovely dream and you just want to stay in the dream a bit longer, not waking up yet to the reality of the day ahead. We who own so very much must start dreaming for more than mere stuff for ourselves.  We must dream of a world for everyone, where, as in all of God’s intended worlds, there is no more sorrow, no more fear, no more pain, no more want, no more ignorance, no more hatred, and no more want. Then we need to stop dreaming about it, get started on our day and start creating it. Just like our house siding, it will take hard work, clear intelligence, team spirit, patience, and hope. But then, we have a Master Carpenter who laid the foundation and oversees the crew, so we are secure in the competent nail-scarred hands of the Dreamer of Worlds.

 

We who have been blessed with long life, need to keep strong “the stuff” of dreams. God often had to use dreams — especially to get ahold of adults, including some in the Christmas story. Perhaps God uses dreams because often we big people lose our childlike ability to shrink small enough for faith and joy to bring back Wonder and Awe. And we to readily let the strong pull of the world’s temporal reality deplete our hopes. We forget that God has a different reality ballasted in Eternity, on earth as it is in the heavens beyond heavens beyond heavens.  We must keep believing that though it is immensely hard for the rich to enter God’s kingdom, the Man-God Jesus also assures us that no matter who we are and what we have “with God, – all things – are possible”. The Magi entered God’s kingdom. So can we. IF.

 

We who seek truth and light must stoke the embers of dreams deferred (to quote another great poet/prophet).  We must hold in one hand, sorrow and angst and in the other hold faith and hope. We want the world’s young ones to have hope and with hope, to prophecy against all darkness, living as strong bright cities shining on the mountaintops.  We want the world’s old and tired ones to have hope, and with hope to still dream of a better world.  We want the world’s rich ones to have hope and with hope to deplete themselves for the love of God and all of God’s children. We want the world’s poor ones to have hope and with hope to say, “Blessed are we for ours is the kingdom of heaven”. We want every one of us to have hope and with hope know that we are so truly beloved that we can love others, even our enemies.

 

How does one hope against hope? This phrase from Romans 4:18, refers to a man named Abraham, an old man who is said to have “In hope against hope, believed.” Well, if the aged centenarians, Sarah and Abraham, can keep believing, keep hoping, keep dreaming, then so can we. As the old hymn proclaims, it is when “my hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” – when all we have is weighed on the scales and is so depleted that the scales tip in favor of God’s righteous cross-bearing upside down kingdom.

 

How do you hope? Well, you accept it as a gift, as “the thing with feathers” as Emily Dickinson reminds us.  And you study it as the prophets always have. Whenever you walk in darkness, you put on your armor and you fight the evil that seeks to destroy hope. You joyfully serve others who cannot get a purchase on hope. You laugh hard and long whenever possible to dispel the oh so serious fears. As Frodo and Sam do you keep living your own part of The Great Story– without hope– but with enduring faithfulness.  And you trust the Man-God who in the end had absolutely no hope at all, but who had faith in the Father-God – in Yahweh who needs no hope because HE IS– beyond need of hope – BEING All things Always for All.

 

Dear God, let me keep shrinking, and letting others grow. Let me become like a child, asking only for what I need and can hold lightly in my hands.

 

The Wise still seek and the weary still hope. There are many people throughout the world hopelessly wondering figuratively and literally if “we will get out of this alive”.  This Christmas I don’t want anything at all that Santa has to offer.  What I would like is Hope. Not just the hope I need.  But Hope overflowing.  Hope to share. Hope that changes the world. May we stoke the small embers of Hope and the Wind of God makes us a flame, until the world catches on fire with the hope of the Return of the One True Holy King. May our small acts usher in a kingdom where the small people rule and the meek shrinking ones reign.

 

This Christmas, may your family’s merriness be rooted in Hope. May we learn to pour ourselves out and may Christ’s light in us, like the star at Bethlehem, rise in the darkness so that all those who journey seeking God, may find Him.

 

Hoping against hope, from the hopefully “Incredibly Shrinking Woman” who hopes that Raoul and I might one day say, “Honey, We Shrunk the Kids!”

May it be a Hopeful New Year.

 

From –Jane—- and Raoul, Justine, Clarissa, Verity, and Gordon Tawel

Fishing For Food for Thought

Fishing for Food for Thought

“Catch and Release”

by Jane Tawel

October 1, 2016

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So, the problem is I have long had this idea that you are supposed to analyze things and figure stuff out and think critically about things.  I believe as many others do that this makes one smarter and wiser. The PROBLEM is, that some times when you apply this thoughtful principle to thinking about other people, you end up becoming not a critical thinker but a critical human. The definition of “critical” when used for valuable thinking is thinking that uses careful reflection for analysis.  The definition of “critical” when applied to another person is to judge severely and often too readily.  Jesus advises us not to judge people but to wisely use our judgement to think critically and grow in wisdom.   But when thinking about “stuff” becomes an inability to let go of negative thoughts about others, then we are not critically thinking, we are thinking critical thoughts. We are criticizing, not analyzing. Our “thoughtfulness” becomes “thoughtlessness”.   The mind ever so sneakily shifts from analyzing in order to understand to condemning to bolster pride.  Suddenly one might realize that she has actually stopped thinking and without realizing it she is instead feeling. Feeling is always “suspect” in terms of navigational reliability, whether you are madly in love or so angry you can’t see straight. We use metaphors to imply that the Heart always needs the Mind and the Will to moor its reckless meanderings. The Bible and all great poets from Shakespeare to Eminem write about the tricky Heart and how it masquerades as a thinking organ.  Our current rich First World View seems to honor the heart i.e. feelings i.e. myself over the mind, the will, the seat of reason.  And when the mind is stimulated to thought by a negative emotion—large or small — then the analytical, rational, “need-to-understand” part of a human begins to deteriorate. Much like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the obsession begins to take over the person, and “my Precious”, unseats the image of God in me. This is the judgement  that is sin not wisdom. Whenever we sin, our God-image created ability to do and will, and willfully be creative is replaced with an image that is sickly, obsessive, and less than human (or hobbit)-like. Our stature shrinks and we become fixated and obsessed with one thought – holding on to the precious “fishy”.

 

So lately, I’ve tried to apply a fishing metaphor to my problem because I’m weary of:

  1. Feeling negative, grumpy or irritable so much
  2. Feeling helpless to change another person or the situation
  3. Feeling guilty for doing the wrong thing (God calls it sin and we should feel guilty until forgiven — but it’s tiring)
  4. Feeling like I just don’t have time to waste obsessing about negative things or negative people. (Although I believe in eternity, my current lap around the track is more rapidly nearing the Finish Line  each day.)

 

But!!! (she says in her defense) –I still feel like I have to figure out what is going on – even if only so I can stop doing all of the above.  I still feel that if I can just understand, comprehend, assess, analyze, think it through — then I can either avoid the feeling, avoid thinking about the situation, or avoid the person. Maybe.

 

SO………

 

I have come up with a new fishing hole so to speak.  I have determined I will allow the thought, I’ll look at it, do some figuring over it and then as soon as I have analyzed it, I will not think about it anymore. My new brilliant, copyrighted program is called…..

 

The Catch and Release Program

Or

“Throw the Small Fish Back In”

 

I’m going to “Catch and Release” all my little criticizing negative thoughts.  I will still reel in the fishy – that’s unavoidable — but I won’t make it my “precious”.  I won’t bash the fishey’s head, scale it, (do you know how much wasted effort goes into scaling small fish?!)  and take it home with me; there’s just not enough flesh there.  AND –anything too small, too insignificant, too unnourishing to keep, to digest, to “ingest” to make me a more wholesome, nourished human being – any thing too petty, scrappy, silly, tiny, or obsessively consuming — I will THROW OUT.  I will release these small fry ideas back into the shallow waters where they belong. I will quickly reject the negative “guppies” and “minnows”.  I’ll make sure that what I keep –and keep thinking about –are important things—things meant for some growth, either on my part or for someone’s else benefit. And ultimately I will try my best to keep thoughts only fit for the Kingdom. The King of that Kingdom, Jesus, was a great one for guiding His disciples into where to cast our nets for fruitful fishing.

 

Catch… but Release.

 

BUT …here’s the “Catch”. I am one of those disciples that it seems more often than not  keeps fishing out of the wrong side of the boat.  Here are the catches that keep me from being a “fisher of lives”.

 

 

Catch #1:  I’m a keeper. A hoarder, perhaps. Small thoughts store themselves in the corner of my head and I fear letting even one go or I might miss something. I still keep blurry photographs because it hurts me to throw them away. This is like hanging on to memories of bad stuff.

I need to release these remembered unourishing fishies to The Past.

 

Catch #2:  I’m not completely sure I am truly seeing the right “size” of the fish. My mind’s eye is not 20/20. Maybe I could skin it, bone it and cook it.  Maybe it’s not as small as I’m making out. I’m a worrier that I’ll miss something.

I need to release worry fishies to The Future and “let tomorrow take care of its own problems”.

 

Catch #3:  I keep catching the same darn fish.  The little boogers keep grabbing my mind’s line every time I throw it back in the big lake of thoughts.  Same darn little fish.

I need to release obsessive “take up too much of the net” fishies to The Present and to anticipate with hope great things happening – Big Kingdom Fish in my net. I must practice sitting still and praying patiently– in the very moment in which I live– waiting in peaceful stillness for the Big Ones to bite the Hook of Hope.

 

One question I’m left with – how small can I make BIG things? Or rather what seemingly, apparently BIG things could actually be “small fry”? If I put on Kingdom glasses, how would the World’s BIG things look? I mean really, don’t I pretty much blow many things out of all proportion in terms of fretting, getting angry or irritable, or just obsessively thinking about them?  That is– if I believe that the bible’s worldview is true?  If I believe that as Christ tells us, the fish are really all on the other side of the boat?

 

There are indeed big things that we are commanded to either mourn for or fight against or both. There is evil still and monsters in the sea. But in Christ’s Upside Down Kingdom, even those big things in this world are a bit like the monster fish in the fairy tales or “tall tale” stories, where the fish  gets bigger and bigger in the fisherman’s imagination and finally all the fish, even the minnows, are shark size.  Even large problems – newspaper problems, political problems,  pain problems – in the Kingdom Life of Christ the King– truthfully — aren’t they really smaller than they appear?  Just like the ads warn us: “Items in this picture may seem larger than they are in real life.”  Items in this World’s picture definitely appear larger to us  than they appear to God and to us if we live within God’s Real Kingdom Life. Life fishing with Jesus, Life with The Fisher of Men, Life walking on the water out of the boat towards Jesus, make even the sharks not quite so very large. And without doubt, make it imperative to get the guppies out of our nets so there is room for the souls of our fellow humans.

 

So I hope that maybe today I will not worry that I am not smart enough, analytical enough, worldly enough, right enough to figure out all the fish in the sea.  I will also not obsess about the “ones that got away”.  I will focus on the fish God puts in my net. There are plenty there for me and if they are wholesome, good, nourishing thoughts, then there is plenty there to share. All the rest that I catch, I will quickly release.

God provides an abundance of good fish for His children. And God “loves to give His children good things”. We just have to keep our eyes on Jesus and follow his commands to know where to cast our nets.

And Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of souls”. Matt. 4:19

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On David Bowie and Neil Young: Starman vs. Southern Man

by Jane Tawel

Musings on David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken

January 16, 2016

First let me say that I believe I am correct that none of these people have died yet, except I’m pretty sure David Bowie died. Oh, and Alan Rickman died too.  If I am wrong please feel free to comment to that effect but you should know first that my definition of getting old is that “you don’t remember if someone is dead or not”. By next week I’ll probably not be sure if Bowie died or not. I’m pretty sure Paul Newman died. And that makes me sad.

Everyone has been “honoring” David Bowie and Alan Rickman with tears and Facebook RIP’s and sorrow to the extent of “I was privileged to live at the same time as Bowie” posts  and tee shirts.  I imagine women in labor this past week couldn’t wait to be the first to name their little ones Bowie or Starman or Snape.

I liked Alan Rickman as an actor and I grew up with a few David Bowie classics but I didn’t post anything about them because I haven’t posted anything about them in my entire life up until now, so I’m not sure why I would suddenly proclaim and declaim about them when they died.   Just not my style maybe — not my flavor of the week to do this, though next week if someone famous dies, I might. This morning I was watching the down- right adorable and cute James Corden and Adele “Karaoke Car Ride” Youtube — so if one of them dies this week, I might online mourn them.  That would make me sad. If I remembered that they died.

What I mourn is the sad passing of important careers and historic moments. That is– careers I consider amazingly important and historic moments of my life, of course. Mourning people means I miss them. I lost them. I’m sad because they aren’t here anymore. That’s a bit tricky with famous people since I didn’t know them and I can still listen to them or watch them any time I desire.  What we mourn with the passing of famous people is the passing of the time or event of our own lives they represent.  For instance, when my daughter Justine was still at home, she  and I liked Alan Rickman movies. My husband Raoul likes David Bowie songs and had Verity and Gordon put some of Bowie’s tunes on Raoul’s “Favorites”.  I messaged privately Justine this week about Alan Rickman’s passing.  He was a connector and I was sad he was gone because mostly I was sad Justine was gone and those years with her and Rickman as Snape were gone. I’m sad Bowie is gone because he represents a time to Raoul when my husband was young and could dance to weird 80’s music. This means of course I am also sad that Fred Rogers is gone, and The Teletubbies are gone and Little Joe is gone and Audrey Hepburn is gone and Gilbert is gone. Because all those good years with good people I love are — gone.  But back to Bowie and Rickman who are gone. (Right?)

I liked that fact that David Bowie was married to Iman. For 24 years! I have no doubt Iman is truly mourning the death of David Bowie.  I liked Alan Rickman in the weird indies — “Snow cake” and  “Bottle Shock”. I liked him as Snape until  J.K. Rowling cheated and wouldn’t decide in the end if he was evil or good.  Rickman played it so it could have gone either way — just like all our real lives– they could go either way.  It wasn’t Rickman’s  fault Rowling cheated us.

I was in fact shaped by the artistry and often profoundly meaningful lyrics of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.  Young is an amazing musician and if you haven’t heard his guitar riffs then you are indeed missing something. Don’t listen to him though if you prefer voices auto tuned.  His is not.

I feel like posting some Neil Young music for you on Facebook — right now– so you can see how great his music is. Unless he just died.  Then I’d feel hypocritical. After this blog and all that.

Joni Mitchell was concerned about the environment before anyone had heard the term “global warming” and she taught me in her songs that relationships are worth crying over if they don’t work out, not songs about giving the guy the finger and moving on to the next one.

When I saw Christopher Walken in Deerhunter  I thought I would  never get his performance out of my head. Checking…. Yep, it’s still there.  And in my youth, Meryl Streep did more for  strengthening the cause of strong, vibrant, talented women  than Mother Teresa and Hillary combined. Acting as an art form took on a whole new meaning with actors like Streep.

Young, Bowie, Mitchell, Streep, Rickman, Walken — all of them had in common two things that I guess spoke to me — at least in the beginning, they went for Art, not for Fame.  And they were all odd. Odd looking and odd acting. Like me. So I guess even though they were known artists, they felt like someone who could speak my language. The difference was –They just turned my language into art — and got paid for it.  Of course fame happens– just like sh–.  And once fame happens, well something usually — not always, mind, but usually — happens to art and oddity. Didn’t someone once say, “Fame corrupts and absolute fame corrupts absolutely”?  Yep — synonym implied.

Perhaps art will never be the same now that it moves through the world faster than Florence Griffith-Joyner as byte files and lives like “Rocketman” mostly in i-clouds.(Yes, I know that’s an Elton John song not a Bowie song — speaking of odd artists I used to love who became famous….)  (Is Elton John still alive?)

Perhaps art will never be the same now that we have twenty plus “producers” and we have marketing experts and we have focus groups and we have reality tv stars and we have more channels and musicians and actors than we could possibly ever know about. There is a lot to be liked about our brave new world and a lot to applaud. But that doesn’t mean I can’t facebook-mourn what “It” was and is no more.  No matter what we gain in the world of music and cinema and media, we have lost something I can only describe as something tactile and patient.

There was something different about sitting in a room holding the source of music in your hands.  There was something different about having a room filled with music that other people could (or had to!) hear. There was something different about fighting over who in the room had to get up to turn the channel. There was something different about having to wait until you got home to find out about it, having to wait until it came out  to watch it, having to wait until it came on the radio to hear it. It all used to be something you felt you could hold and somehow it would hold you back. It used to require a waiting period and then — It was– like a surprise — like a sudden rainbow — like a gift.

There is something different about artists not caring about fame — not caring about anything more important than changing the world.  There is something different about people being odd not because it got them noticed but because they couldn’t help it. I don’t know how to facebook the difference to make any difference in how people see things. I guess it doesn’t make any difference anyway. I have my memories and will mourn the passing of those moments spent in the company of family and friends and great people . And I’ll try to keep carving out new memories — with family and friends and new odd artists who maybe want to change the world as well.  Or maybe artists who just want to change the moment.  And that is a very nice gift to we commoners as well.

So here’s to all the odd artists still living (as far as I know).  I guess I can’t include Adele any more. As odd that is.  I think she’s still alive. Isn’t she?

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