I have more time lately, and reason, to meditate on all the “What If’s” and “Instead Of’s”. Some days, this is instructive and hopeful, such as “What if we realize people in essential services need to be paid more in the future and billionaires need to be paid less?” And some days, this is mind numbingly depressing and futile, such as “What if they win again, and Canada still has closed borders?” Perhaps we all have been made more aware of this frame- work of Possibility Thinking during this “Impossible- to- Imagine- It- Could- Happen-In-Our-Lifetimes” Time. I mean, even dear John Lennon, didn’t “Imagine” this. I truly hope and pray that with all we are all thinking, writing, experiencing, doing, that we, the human race, or at least The Good Guys and Gals, decide to use Possibility Thinking for a better world for all of us. A healthier, saner, safer, kinder, more peaceful, restful, equitable world would be a nice “Instead Of” Outcome.
Though I am rather obsessed lately with the What If’s of the Future, we most often use this rhetorical device for thinking about the Past, and not the Present or Future. It’s human nature, after all to pick over the spoils and pick at the scabs incurred in our Pasts. And of course, it is vitally critical to look at the Past — or should I say, Pasts — plural. We have all gone egregiously and just stupidly wrong in not learning from our individual Pasts, our communal Pasts, and our national, religious, planetary, and world-wide Pasts. It is one of the things that elevates us as humans, this ability to change course, to envision something better, and yet we foolishly continue to so seldom use it. Rather than evolve by learning from past mistakes or last night’s sins, we so often choose to devolve into either helpless or stubborn beast-like creatures, chalking it all up to some other beastie’s problems or some innate inability in ourselves to grow and change. But being a human being was meant to be a glorious thing — a unique thing, a godlike thing. As human beings with souls, we are uniquely placed on this planet to live into the reality of “If-Then’s”. And therefore, when we go wrong, we can live into the miracle of “What If Instead Of this, We do that Instead’s?”. We can choose differently today than we did yesterday. We can regret. We can repent. We can hope. We can imagine. We can change. We can ask, What If we did this Instead Of that?
Now the “What If’s” are closer to home for many of us on a day to day basis now they seem to be more personal and more a very real matter of life and death. We don’t have to imagine quite so hard what it is like to walk in another person’s fragile, vulnerable shoes. We don’t have to try so hard to think what it is like to be afraid of going outside, of being imprisoned, or of not having enough money for the future or even the present day, or what it is like to work among dying patients in a war that makes no sense, or what it might be like to be very ill, afraid of dying and physically impaired in a world meant for only healthy people. Some of us don’t have to rely on memory alone any more or try to imagine what it is like to have pollution- free skies, or birds singing in the morning, or time to just be still and relax and rest. Some of us are finally experiencing a small sense of the prejudice and injustice that people of color have experienced their whole lives. Some of us are mourning over the senselessness and randomness of death.
Some of us are finding out the joys of the “Insteads”. We are finding that it is freeing to make do with less. That love starts at home but you have to be there to be part of it. We are discovering that creating things is vital for every human being and that everyone, no matter how faceless and nameless, matters deeply and intimately to each of us personally. A few of us may be realizing the “Instead-Reality” that we were meant for more — maybe it isn’t completely clear yet, but it is glimmering up ahead as a faint, dream-like Possibility. Most of us hopefully have some clue that instead of getting ahead for just me, myself, and I, Life is more fulfilling, and the Future more plausible, if we realize that we are all in This together.
And so, we may find ourselves asking, “What If we want things to be more like this in the Future?” What if I want to care more about others less fortunate than I, now that I have a better idea of what their lives have always been like? What if I want to help heal the planet from the outrageous things we’ve done to it? What if I want to work less and live more, and try to make sure that everyone has that same opportunity — to stop living for our work and start working so that we all might live — more equitably, more freely, more safely, and more joyfully? What if I want to spend more time in creative pursuits and supporting those who create art — whether it is on a stage, in a gallery, or in a garden? What if I want to spend more time outside in a world made for our enjoyment? What if I want to help protect the things in nature that before I have endangered? What if every day, I want to look at those I love and be more forgiving, more accepting, more understanding, and more selflessly helpful? What if everyone I love becomes Everyone? What if everyone I love includes you? And what if everyone I love includes myself — me?
What if I carry the lessons of the Past into Today to change myself in order to be a part of a better Future for the world? What if I become an “Instead Of”?
At this crossroads time in the history of humans, we are forced perhaps like never before in most of our lifetimes, to look backwards and wonder, “What If”. We ask it of the whole world: “What If they had done this Instead Of that?” We look at our leaders and weigh them in the balance of this equation. But it will never mean a thing if I am not asking the What If’s of myself. If we are at all honest and seek any kind of life of understanding or at least desire something better up ahead, we must look within our own hearts, our own minds, our own individual wills. We must peer with intention into the very essence of what makes us human — we must look within our souls. While we have been picking at the Past scars of What If’s that we can not change: — What if I hadn’t let Grandma go to work that day? What if I hadn’t gone to that birthday party where that woman was coughing all over the buffet table? What if Uncle Pete hadn’t gone to sing in the church choir that Sunday? — We must now let the scars heal over, and begin to seriously look at the “Instead Of’s” from here on out going forward. The What- If’s of our past choices should be given a very short shelf life. They are rather useless “what if’s” unless we can create a Time Machine and go back in Time to change them. (Let me know please, if you do. But I must warn you, I have a rather long list of changes I’d make.)
Some people spend a life-time on “What If’s”. What if I hadn’t married her? What if I had taken that job? What if I had majored in something else in college? What if I hadn’t gotten drunk? What if I had told him how I felt? What If’s can only change the Past-Self if we let it change for the better our Present-Self in order to grow into our best Future Self. We can evolve, we can be born again. That is the glory of our status as sentient, sensible souls. What If’s can pull us under with regret, remorse, anger, sorrow, lack of initiative, brokenness, and a host of other short-term and long-term emotions and ploys for convincing ourselves and others that change is impossible. Emotions without goals for change merely serve to sap our desire for a better life and deplete our energy for action. What If’s are only helpful if one understands that “though I didn’t know it then, I DO know it now”. What If’s are only helpful if you look at the Past and decide that Today, you will choose “Instead Of’s”.
If you grew up “back in the day”, when I did, with any sort of Biblical or Judeo-Christian Worldview, you have grown up to believe that every thing is, in fact, a “life or death” decision. Ideas like, “what does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?”, or “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”, used to be the bedrock of a belief system that supposedly was based on a Savior who lived and died in such a way that the whole world might be changed for the better. Tragically, this isn’t at all a popular or wide-spread belief among the most vocal of those who claim this particular religion these days, so please don’t be fooled if you look to those who espouse a religion in name only, and not in deeds. Unlike what we hear today, the Judeo-Christian belief system was meant to be pretty much completely a religion of straight-up, unadulterated, no excuses, no holds barred — Love-First actions. I say that with a great amount of regret and repentance before God and other humans, for my own Past, a deepening humility for my Present lack of virtue, selfless love, wisdom and dearth of loving actions, and my plethora of selfish wrong-doings. I say it with a great desire for a Future that is definitely based on a lot of “What If’s”. What If — I can change — be reborn — starting today? What If — God is real? What If — human beings are meant to live most practically and healthfully when we love others as we love ourselves? What If — we were put here to care for a planet? What If — we will only keep our human souls alive if we make sure that the least and most struggling among us is as essential as the highest and most powerful? What If — Jesus was an example of what we all could be — Miraculous?
So Today, I look outside my window, and hear the little grey sparrows and the large black crows, and I say, “What If God’s eyes are on the sparrows and the crows, and what if I can trust that like a Mother Hen, She is watching over me?” What If I truly have nothing to lose by living in love for all others, by doing right and speaking truth, by choosing to do Good, by changing my worldview, my heart, and my actions, and by hoping and praying that the whole world might be “saved”? What If I have everything to lose if Instead Of that, I choose my freedom and rights over other people’s safety and health? What If I choose my will over their lives — “not Thy will but mine be done”? What If I choose my convenience over the planet’s safety and health, if I choose my pleasure over other people’s needs, if I choose to be right rather than righteous? What If I gain the whole enchilada, but piece by piece, day after selfish day, lose my soul?
Ah, hurrah, hurray, it’s another grand day! To be alive! To be alive to choice and change and chance! To be alive to the idea of being a better human being today than I was yesterday. What If — ah Glorious, Glory-ing thought! What If by believing whole heartedly in the lessons of the Past, by studying them deeply and with humility, I can change. What If by making less of me and more of others Today, there will be something of me Tomorrow? What If by loving others with heart and mind and will in the Present, I can save the very essence of who I was created to be, I can save my soul, and have more than a temporal happiness, have Instead, an eternal life of love, and light, and joy?
What If today instead of Death, I choose Resurrection?
What If my Future, and the Future of the Earth and the Human Beings that inhabit it could, Instead of This be……………? Imagine……
The abrupt crash between idealists and opportunists, that has occurred at the intersection of the Corona Virus Pandemic meeting the onrushing onslaught of our climate and planet abuse should wake us all up. It’s rather a shock to me, who grew up in a very different kind of American Christianity, that so many who still claim that faith, are like lazy servants, putting their heads under the covers, and pointing their crooked fingers at PNLU (People NOT Like Us). Like bridesmaids in Jesus’ story who don’t think they have enough oil in their lamps to spread light, or the complacent servant who has told himself convenient falsehoods for so long about his Master that he no longer knows what his real job is, or what The Master is like, we who would claim to have the corner on Religious Truth have gotten used to sleeping-in or taking a break from our labors, hoarding our resources, and shirking our duty. For more on what our “duty” is, one could start by meditating on Christ’s summation of the commandments of Moses’ YHWH, or conversely, taking to heart the prophets of old who foretold what a real Savior of the whole world would be like.
It is difficult for some of us to do anything more than choose to survive another day, especially for those throughout the world who are suffering in unparalleled ways during this 2020 Plague, with the sure knowledge that more suffering lies ahead. I have been quite ill, probably with the Virus, and because so far, I have survived, I have been granted another chance to stare at my imminent death (everyone’s death, actually, is imminent from birth, if you think of the length of your own life in terms of the life of the world and the planet). I know I am not alone, in considering this current World-Event, to be much like other catastrophic and reality-bending historical occurrences. And these types of events are for many tragic and sobering, and strangely, for some with “eyes to see and ears to hear”, fortuitously salvific, reviving, and energizing. Or they can be, if we let the tragedies, uncertainties, and fearfulness at this crossroads we all have arrived at, to become each individual’s and our communal renewed determination to make new and better paths forward to a new way of living into our new lives. This can all seem like a revelatory nightmare if we awake to much healthier and Goodness-oriented physical, relational, planetary, and spiritual realities. We have to stop hoping and dreaming for a better world, we have to make and create a better world.
Like lying half asleep, and hearing outside the safety of my own home, an horrific accident, a loud and near car crash, with grinding brakes, blown-out tires, engines exploding, glass and metal smashing into cacophonous, roaring explosion, I have been startled into wakefulness. I have been forced to be more aware of what is “going on out there”, outside of my small reality, the very real clashes and collisions of values, morals, and needs of our human species. And like many other wee warriors in the daily battle to make sense of the world, I have struggled to interpret what is really happening out there. Although the destructive forces of human beings wrecking their very own living space, the Earth, has been a more quiet, less recognized, but more insidious catastrophe; compared to the dropped atom bomb of the Corona Virus, the destruction and dismantling of our planet for personal gain, like an advancing army of drones who wreak havoc across the world, seemingly with a will and mind of their own dronish-selves, has caused throughout the world, a mindless vacuum of virtue, and a soulless species of what might have once been human beings. But now that people have relegated our culpability to others, and our own responsibility, in the Earth’s destruction to people we can label, “them”; some of us suddenly wake-up in time to understand that “them” is really, in the end “us”. If this Corona Virus lockdown has revealed anything, it has revealed the truth that “we have finally met the enemy, and the enemy is Us”. This quote originally about the War of 1812 was rewritten by the cartoonist, Walt Kelly, and used on the very first Earth Day in 1970 to with tragic irony, describe what humanity had become to itself in terms of how we were treating the Earth. We had become our own worst enemy. Fifty years later, and most of us have not only not learned anything about our own destructive enmity towards the Earth and our species, we have stopped caring.
One of the things, I have had time to think about during this strange season, is what in the world Jesus meant, when he said a bunch of stuff about God and the Earth, and about human beings and about death and about the future of the world and about His different sort of “Kingdom”. I call that only “One-thing” to think about, because everything, in the end, is part of a Whole, or, it isn’t. We have found during this Corona Virus and the crazy abilities of small cells to defeat our greatest minds, and we have found during the economic depressions and repressions looming once more and throwing off balance some systems that we thought could survive it alone, and we have seen during this time of enforced sheltering in, how the world’s interplanetary eco-systems, and everything including dependent human beings, are connected. None of us can go it alone, and all of us will eventually meet the same fate, and all of us need each other to make things right again, and everyone is connected to everything, and nothing will stand alone for long, and what will be left standing in the end, is up to all of us.
With more than enough time to be restful and perhaps paradoxically, during this period which has turned into a very tiring, and somewhat sleepy time, in some profound ways, my “eyes” have been jerked open, and my eyelids which often function as blinders, have been propped wide with the pain of having to look at Really, Real Reality. My vision has been cleared, with the pandemic functioning on one side, as a sharp toothpick propping open one eye, and the planet’s dire condition as a log propping open the other eyelid. In this way, one thing that the wise Teacher said that has taken on new meaning for me is, “why do you try to remove the toothpick in your neighbor’s eye, when you have that giant sequoia tree propping up your own eye, dearie?” The Visine of platitudes won’t get the red out of eyes opened by a frightening pandemic. Vaccines against our willful blindness won’t save us from eye-popping Truth.
This morning I began my day much as usual. First, I pray my “praising psalms”, which are often third-rate words of praise sent out blithely to Someone Out There, thanking Him for all my “stuff” and achievements, otherwise known to some people as “blessings”. These days, after Someone Out There has wacked me upside the head with thoughts about what’s really going- down in the World, and I have noted another day with an increased heartrate thinking about what happens after the day that I die; my praising prayer is set to the tune of “Being Alive” from the Steven Sondheim prayer book in his musical, “Company”. I am truly finally, just so peachy keen happy to be breathing and aware, that I have to believe there is Someone Out There I should thank for that.
Then while waiting for the coffee to brew, this morning as I have had more time to do, now that I’m not rushing off somewhere every morning, I looked outside my back door, while the dog, Daisy, did her nose-led tour of the yard, and I prayed my “help my family and me” prayers. These prayers are tuneless mewls, and at 5:00 AM are silent for the neighbors’ benefit, done with the sound turned off everywhere but in my own head. Because in fact, the Help Me Prayers, that I pray to God, sound like two feral cats in heat – all screeching desire and mindless animal-need. “Gimmeeee, gimmmeeee, gimmmeeee, helphelphelp!” Finally, as Daisy saunters in, never having had anywhere to rush off to in the first place, and I give her a treat for not needing toilet paper to do her business. I have that delicious, first sip of the elixir of the gods, laced amply with milk and honey (as all Promised Land drinks should be) and I move on in my habits of seeking spiritual connection or at least a kind of solace. Now, as I think about what is going on in the world outside my kitchen, I begin the final round of my life-long attempt at “thoughts and prayers” to a God Who Hears. I begin the Cursing Psalms.
I confess, I have had many days of speaking cursing psalms to God about people I actually know. Don’t deny it, I may have done it – but you thought it. These days my Cursing Psalms are almost exclusively reserved for the World’s titans of industry and kings of nations – in other words, the Pharaohs, Herods and Pilates of our Times. I am not often as extremely violent as the Hebrew Cursing Psalmists were, being weak of stomach and low on horror fiction images. I have a hard time praying, as the ancient Jew did in Psalm 137, that the current political Darth Vaders and religious Sarumans will have their “children’s heads dashed on rocks”. However, I have found a deeply felt connection with the revenge motif in Psalm 109:8 “may his days be few; may another seize his position”. I mean, c’mon, the cursing prayers in The Bible far outweigh one misinterpreted line by a biblical Paul-wannabe who wants us to “obey un-named authorities” because then we won’t “get in trouble” and we can keep tithing and being taxed.
Like the Psalmist, the prophets, like Jeremiah and Nehemiah, also have quite a lot to say about what they would like Providence to do to the wicked, or to those people who, even if they aren’t downright evil world-players, that God would do to anyone, even the little no-named soldiers and spouses, who are connected in wrong-doings (or by their silence?) to the “powers of this world”. Cursing prayers were prayed often by saints who saw the harm done by those who instigate or just allow “bad things to happen to good people”, and by those who deny direct involvement but are implicit by their profiteering silence.
For any one who is apt to think of this idea as too Old Testament, too “old style God”, best to read the curses of that currently trendy commentator, St. Paul himself, who says of his fellow “Christians” who are foisting their legalism and religious false interpretations on others, “I just wish that those troublemakers, who want to mutilate you by circumcision would emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). Yowza! Something for those who want to rush their paying audiences back into death-trap churches and temples and mosques to think about. Or for the Biblically so inclined, read John in Revelations 6:10 or Peter in Acts 8:20. Of course, people today who want to claim some kind of belief in what is called Holy Scripture, or Torah, or the Bible, people who want to claim a kind of belief especially in that human/god we call The Son of God, Jesus, The Christ, have only to look at the words of Christ himself in Matthew 23 about the greedy and proud religious and political leaders of His time, and prophetically of ours. And of all time. To put Jesus’ words into a handy Spark-notes version, Jesus asks for and foretells “Woe”; which means Jesus requests and foretells a litany of bad consequences, for these people who were leaders and authorities in Jesus’ religion and of both of his countries. Jesus prays they will actually incur and experience a judgement and real future of “great sorrow and distress”. Woe to those humans among us who are enemies to Truth and Love. As I think about these things, I feel a personal type of uncleanness that far surpasses the way I feel having not taken a shower for the past few quarantined days. I still feel a righteous anger looking at the people I want to curse, but I also feel like a leprous dark cloud of disease, in the presence of a Holy God and a Perfect Savior. And all I want to do, is pretend I don’t know what any of it means, and that I can’t be responsible for the whole world, let alone, somehow judged for my own insignificant actions, and I just want to go back to watching a comedy on Netflix or eating my way through what remains in my freezer.
This morning, as I was winding up (or was it winding down?) my daily devotions of reading The Guardian, The Washington Post, the Bible, and some readings in mildly radical social, theological, prophetic works on spiritual realities, in other words things written by those who have explored Meaning throughout our human history, and people wiser than I who discuss “what in the name of earth and heaven does everything mean? And what is the answer to Why?”; I was once more beginning my rounds of prayers.
Let’s try again, I told myself. Okay. First — Praises for a growing understanding of God’s presence in the Universe. Praises for new insights into what it means to follow The Way. Next– some more conscience-stricken, gentle, humbled “help me” prayers. Prayer asking for the grace and health for me and mine, inside and out, to live through just this one more granted day. Prayers of asking for help that admit that though I do not know what is best for those I love, I will pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and change them in the ways they need to be guided and changed. The Serenity Prayer fits nicely here, the one that Reinhold Niebuhr so beautifully wrote and as it always does, today it moved something in me, when I recited the whole thing, including the hard parts, like the line “taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is and not as I would wish it to be”. And because I meant it, it changed something incrementally important in my own heart and soul.
Finally, I was ready to move on in my prayers to the Cursing Psalms, with the intent of simply asking that those people out there who thought they were too important to wear masks around sick people or too rich to wait in line or too smart to listen to people much smarter than they, or too free to be servants of Christ—that they would all just get the real-life consequences for their choices. I was just going to pray as the Psalmists and Prophets did, “please just let what they allow to happen which can kill others, what they do without caring who suffers because of it, what they take when they don’t need more instead of giving to those who have so little – please just be fair, God and let those things kill them instead of others; and please, God, harm their lives instead of the lives of the least of us, and just let their hoarded storehouses be taken away from them and distributed to a world in need; and while You are at, get rid of all the nuclear stuff and end the wars and if possible, stop the nasty viruses. Please God, just give enemies what they have worked so hard to deserve.” Woe, woe, woe. And then of course, that “Good Friend Jesus” of mine had to remind me, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God sent His only son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to die and live again, so we can all be cleansed from unrighteousness, and that what I think in my own heart, is what I really am, whether I act on it or not and that I am to go into every little corner of my own world and speak Good News of light, and hope, and love, and forgiveness, and faith — and once, more it all became One Thing, all the dots connected to the whole, and the whole thing of both evil and good, sin and righteousness, hate and love, cursing and praise – the whole thing led inexorably, unmovably, unignorably back to Me – the only “dot” that matters, the elephant in the room, the stone around my own neck dragging me down, the one “enemy” that has to lay down her weapons, and give in to The Unsearchable Goodness of A Good, Good God.
Over the years, I have perfected the ability to pray to myself and call it praying to a God. I have honed a sort of sing-song prayer life which is mostly like one person trying to sing a musical-round by oneself. Sometimes, though from the back seat of the Life-Car I am driving, I hear the Holy Spirit pipe-up. So, now and then, when I am praying at God or whining at the world in the Name of God, I let God or Jesus get a line or two in. It can be quite unnerving to suddenly realize that I am finally having an actual dialogue with Otherness. It is quite different than having a monologue with the various personalities that inhabit my mind from day to day. Back to this morning. Once I recognized my own need for forgiveness and change, I was able to listen to something outside of myself. And this morning was one of those times that prayer suddenly became conversation and not soliloquy.
Like a whisper across an ocean, like a butterfly appearing out of a tempestuous tornado, came the words of Jesus: “love your enemies”, and then the footnote –”because they do not live in reality”. In this barely discernable moment, shot like an arrow through the permeable membrane of my brain/heart, The Real World, of life, of myself, of other people, of the planet, and of God, was for a brief, but very sense-able moment, completely seen by something inside me that I can only call “soul-vision”.
That moment when The Presence was real, was like looking at one of those ambiguous images that at first look like a vase and then, when you squinch your eyes a certain way, is suddenly revealed to be a woman’s silhouette. The dire forecast of what I knew would be the consequences of humanity’s actions and inactions was completely turned inside out. Like the Upside Down Kingdom of Christ always does, suddenly the pandemic and all cancers and diseases, and the abusive, greedy, corrosive powers throughout history and currently running the world; and the rot of religious hypocrisies used for personal gain; and the communal ignorant destruction of our planetary home; and all the sins great and small, done and left undone; all of these were for just for an instant revealed as one big smoke-screen, one giant chimera of lies about what was and is and will be in The Kingdom of Meant to Be. My point of view – and it was just a tiny point on a long, long line of crooked and miscalculated points in my own life and worldview—that tiny momentary point was Trued, was like a little creaky craft sailing due North, was the small speck in a traced circle of new life. That moment became, not the end of the line but a chance at beginning all over again.
What I connected that little point to, was the small dot in a swirling mass of human life-thought-dots of what Jesus Christ meant when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this World.” And what true followers of Christ mean when we pray to God the Father, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. On earth. This earth. The one we have almost – but not quite– destroyed. With these people. The godlike imago Dei in humanity, that we have almost – but not quite – destroyed. His Will be done, not theirs, not ours, not mine. There is a spark of that reality still ember-ing throughout the world. We just need to stoke it back to life.
We are meant to recognize beyond the pollution and rape of our resources, beyond the racism and violence, beyond the greed and pride, beyond the carelessness and uncaring, that we live in a place like we imagine a heavenly one to be — not somewhere else, but here, available if re-created, restored with the help of other human beings – not some other kind of species, just human ones like us. We are meant to look around and get to work making a reality of our longings for a good, heaven-like place here, now, with normal people, who if we look close enough, reveal themselves as angels, who have abilities for goodness and recreation and healing, miraculous works beyond our wildest dreams. We don’t need “them” to change, we need “Us” to change, and when we all work together for a truthfully Good life, “they” won’t have any choice but to join us. When in this moment, we choose God’s Kingdom on earth as His Reality is Everywhere Else, we will live as we were meant to live eternally. Because that is what Jesus Christ did. That is what Jesus Christ does. That is what Jesus Christ will do.
Because, thankfully, other human beings throughout history, have been much more attuned to moments like that butterfly moment of mine this morning, we have the examples of certain people throughout the world’s history who have been able to live lives connecting the dots of a different sort of Kingdom, a different sort of reborn life, a different reality in a world of justice, peace, sharing, health, miracles, love, and care for something bigger and more lasting than temporal and fleeting treasures. It is to my shame, that I so easily focus on those sad, mistaken, misguided ones whose lives are lived in the false doctrines of humanistic, individualistic self-centered Team-Me-ness. Because of some small communities throughout history, and some very special women and men, there have been bold, brave, fantastical, “Heavenly” forays into the enemy camp of the illusory world of false treasures, and there have been brash takeovers of the predatory, prejudiced profiteering of the temporal wannabes, and the building blocks have been laid in the construction of that which is worthwhile because it is eternal. Some of these heroes of the world, and communities of faithfulness to The Way, are in fact, people who have given Jesus Christ the credit for their world-changing vision and actions, and others weren’t and don’t. That, though, in the end, won’t matter one bit, because what any of us really believe, will be revealed when our hearts are laid open to God.
This time of a world laid open, like a patient on an operating table whose chest is opened up for the Doctor’s exploratory, surgical intervention, will allow us to open our eyes and minds and hearts to the reality of our actions and the consequences of our choices. It is painful and scary; it is also, the way forward, if we keep our eyes focused on the flickering of a hopeful light at the end of another dark tunnel in our history.
We can choose to focus on the crashes and cacophony outside, or we can tune our ears to the calm assurance that is found in the quiet, still voice of The God of Second Chances-Jehovah, and The Creator Who Loves Her Created World – Our Parent, and the Son Who Lived and Died as One With Us- Emmanuel. That God will not leave us alone. But of course, if we keep insisting to have it our way, He will get out of our way. And despite our Enemy’s best tries, there is A Way, there is The Way, there is only One Way for us to survive, to live, to prevent the death of our planet, and if not our physical, at least prevent our spiritual death. There is One Reality.
This morning, I realized for a small moment, that I should feel sorry for people who live a fiction, a false life, a continual version of themselves as the protagonist of a show that they think of as Real, in the same way they think that what they see on Reality TV is real. I should feel pity for those who do not live the right kind of life, as I have so often not lived the right kind of life myself. I understood that I am asked to forgive what seems unforgivable, because that is how I am forgiven. This is the miracle of repentance and restoration of my own soul, that by praying for the souls of others, I am healed.
I realized that the “biggies” and the movers and shakers of the world are never going to be convinced to give up their “stuff” so that the planet will survive. But I can. I realized some people will never understand how demeaning it is to the very basis of what being human is all about when they care only about themselves. But I can. I realized that the only reason to vent cursing prayers to God, is to cleanse myself from all unrighteousness, so I can finally be still and peaceful and centered enough to hear what God has to say to me.
And someday, when the Real Kingdom comes for good, we who have tried to be like Christ, Will Be. When only the little Davids are left, and not the Goliaths; and when only those who care for Creation as their Creator does are left, and when only those who have loved others as Jesus did are left, then they will inherit the New Earth. When we love our neighbor as ourselves and love God with every morsel of our being, every moment of our day, every dot on our life-line, then there will be no more pandemics, no more war, no more sorrow, no more suffering – no more death. When the world is made right as God intended it to be, then even death will have been conquered.
So, rather than praying for an end to the lives of the bad people and an end to all the bad stuff destroying us, I had best get started on being alive. I had best spend however many moments I have left, becoming one of the Whole, part of the community of good people, and taking care of whatever I have of the stuff that will last.
I should pray for the enemies of my own silly self, and those enemies of the world, not because I think they will change, but because by praying for them, I will change. I should love the enemies of God who take His name in vain, and whose pride has led them into a raging current of hypocrisy, because I am also, hypocritical and abusive of God’s intended purposes for this world. Loving doesn’t mean being silent in the face of lies. Loving doesn’t mean not speaking the Truth boldly, even angrily, when we must. Loving does not mean I think there is no such thing as bad people or sin or sinfulness. Loving means I recognize daily that I am part of both the problem and the solution. By loving even those whom I can see for what they sadly actually are, I can see my own egregious sins more frankly. I can repent and change who I am and pray for grace for those people who are yet unchanged, and ask for a bit of God’s grace for me as well. I can focus on the “YET” not the “never”. I can live as a truly grateful servant of Christ, and as a humble, dependent child of God.
In my dialogue of prayer this morning, this is an interpretation of some of what I understood God to be saying. I let God get in a few words edgewise in my thoughts and prayers this morning, and My Parent-God said something like this:
Child, feel pity for those people who are intent on destroying the Earth– they will not inherit it. Remember that only the meek will live to see a restored creation, so be meek and learn with those who are learning how to care for the planet I entrusted your species with. Child, you must try to learn more about caring for your planet, and love those who are too foolish to know that when they die, they will receive only what they have planted- dust.
Child, feel sorrow for those who claim they know my Son, Jesus who stretched out his arms on a cross for the whole world. Feel sorrow for them, for they do not see Him in the outstretched hands of the needy, as Christ commanded them to do. But you, my child, have another day to seek My Kingdom. Remember that only if you begin to love others as you have long loved yourself, will you enter into My Kingdom. Know that only if men and women are poor in spirit, will they have the Kingdom of Heaven forever.
Child, you see the Truth when you understand that the world is full of soul-less ones, of zombies, who think they are alive when they are really dead or dying inside. You too, have spent far too many days, trying to gain the world, and losing your soul. Be humbled, and be on guard, against the Devil and his hungry wolves who prowl the earth looking for easy prey. Do not let your heart be hardened against those other people, but love them, not for their sake, but for the sake of the New Earth, and the New Heaven, that I have in store for all those who follow The Way of The Light. To be persecuted for seeking righteousness, is the Way of my Son, and if you die to yourself, my child, you will be resurrected, now, and in the future, to a glorious Reality.
Child, you must not despair, but also, you must not hate. Despair and hatred are mere illusions of something, and are in fact, only the absence of something. This reality that is full of fear and suffering, wrongs done and left undone, of anger and violence and disease and, yes even death, are no more real to God, than any evil ever could be. These things, created by us, and not God, have been passing away from God’s Created Universes, since Adam’s Fall. They will pass away from the earth, as blades of grass blown by A Sovereign Wind. All that will remain for those who will inherit a restored and healthy world, in a reborn humanity, and in the Kingdom of Christ, God’s Son, will be all that has ever been truly real. All that will remain will be “faith, hope, and love.”
And, My Child, the most powerful, lasting, eternal, overcoming, over-whelming, greatest thing that will remain – is Love. So, my Child, focus your life on Flourishing in The Way, just as Christ lived out The Way for you. Seek to Love as We Love you. My foolish Child, so full of self-righteousness and desire — Today, love Me like a small child loves her Mommy. And work harder at loving others, even when they are destructive and evil, because that kind of Love will someday destroy all the evil in the world, even that which is in yourself. Forgive people who are naughty, in the same way you want to be forgiven. And always Remember– Love Will Win. So, Love other humans, especially the ones that no one else seems to care about, in the same way you love your own children.
And then, dear Little One, Leave the rest to Me. I’ve got this. I’ve got you. In fact, I’ve got the whole world in My Hands.
And so, my morning has ended with a pause in my cursing of my enemies. And as I try to figure out what loving enemies has to do with the rebirth of our world and the future of our souls, I end my prayers and start my day, by admitting, I have no idea what it all means, but I can trust that there is a God Who does. And as the Psalmist in Psalm 139 did after he cursed the bad guys, I can pray for God’s help to be one of the good guys:
And Just Like That — We Might Finally Get That “Jesus Thing”
And Just Like That –We Might Finally Get that “Jesus-Thing”
By Jane Tawel
April 11, 2020
And just like that – — we might finally understand the meaning of the Season.
Thanks, Corona Virus.
There finally comes a time — a true, even though foisted -on -us time — when those who want to follow the Son of God in His Passion, in those final days — not the first euphoric, “this -is -fun” days — but the final ones when Jesus accepted willingly the full spectrum, the end results of human sin and suffering — now there is a time when we who are completely human, can get a glimpse into choosing to suffer as the Son of God, did — in other words as we claim that He who was human by choice suffered.
Just like that, Christians are forced to celebrate the final Holy Days that Jesus celebrated which of course were not “Christian” but Jewish Holy days. Passover. As we put the sign of the cross on our doors in hand sanitizer, and huddle around tables with those family members sheltering from the plagues, fearing what might be our final plague of viral death-cells roaming outside and destroying the world’s largest economies in the process — as we decide whether to keep throwing in our worldview with the current reigning Pharaohs or whether we will seek a whole new world by following the poor mumbling, stuttering Moses-es who would lead us to literally only God-knows-where, and possibly to a new world order out beyond our cultural norms, a world which we distrust now as what sounds like a socialist, spiritually-demanding community of equals living out in the desert with only what we can carry on our backs and a faint hope that the Promised Land will be better than the Land of the Brave and the Free.
Now in the Year of the Corona Virus 2020 — this Christian season like none other in our bonnet-wearing, basket toting, bunny-worshipping lives is actually something we might have to rethink in the same way we had to rethink playtime, worktime and now, worship time while hunkering down at home. Now we finally know what the people of God have celebrated since Moses led them out of Egypt and away from locusts and flying frogs and Amazon rivers and Michigan waters filled with blood. We celebrate another day of being spared. We celebrate the Goodness of Providence. We celebrate life — l’chayim!
Now we see our part in all that has gone wrong on our planet and in our neighborhoods. We can choose to ignore it, but not if we want to continue to pretend that this particular weekend — Friday through Sunday — has any significance at all. Now we see ourselves for the lazy Egyptians, or Romans, or Americans we have become — for the kind of people who want to claim to be God’s Chosen People but only if we don’t have to keep up our end of God’s bargain; only if Jesus keeps the covenant for us, not with us. We finally must look at our destructive abuse of God’s world and the real consequences, our destructive abuse of our own souls and the consequences, our cheap love and grace towards others and the consequences. We must own our years of complicity — in worshipping a nation, not a Kingdom, a religion and not a God.
We may understand at last, Christ’s warning to those who would follow him: “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. Yeast won’t make it to the Promised Land, any more than a religion of pride and greed will. Neither travel well. As we find ourselves in our own wandering wilderness — apart from all the comforts, separated from the parceled-out bread and entertaining circuses that the rulers sell us as nationalism and numbing panacea, as we pull back the historical and currently polarizing wizards’ curtains to see the false prophets for who they really are, those with their emerald-green worlds made by money-making machines; those that if we don’t want to stay in Oz, that too many religions will re-sell us as tickets to Kansas or Heaven.
At last we may realize that God is out there — in the wilderness, offering only the manna we need. At last we realize as Dorothy did, as Jesus did — that we have always had it within our own power to go Home. But first we have to leave Oz, leave Egypt, leave the comforts even of our own parents or community.
First, if we want to understand any kind of “Holy” time or “Holy-ness”, we have to walk the Yellow Brick Road of trials, and fears, and bad things and bad people and of suffering. And we have to fight all those soul-destroying things in others and in ourselves. We have to learn how to share love with those we meet on the journey, even if they are nothing like us — even if they are Tin Men or Scarecrows or Cowards.
First, before we can live again in a new Corona-virus-in-the- past world — we have to learn to take only what we can carry with us in this world — a few loaves of pita bread and some leftover hummus maybe. We have to have enough faith, without caring what anyone else thinks of us, and we have to use our own hands, our own abilities and put the Blood of the Lamb on the doors of our hearts.
First, we must humbly pray that this plague passes -over our family, our loved ones, the People of God, the whole world — that this ends, so we may have the chance to begin again. Passover. Then, as The People of God have always done, we must promise each other to “Never Forget” and so we have to learn to suffer more willingly in the wilderness with other human beings. We have to believe that God will provide, if we provide for each other, and that there will be enough manna for all of us today, if we don’t hoard it for tomorrow for ourselves.
We have to not only pray for immunity from this current plague, but we must keep doing those things that we now do to make us stronger, and our immune systems more effective in fighting pandemics. We must also find truth in those words and people throughout history and alive today, that make our spiritual immune systems more effective in fighting evil. We must keep doing those things that make us better inside, as well as outside. We must find the same strength to make our hearts, minds and souls more immune to hate and sin and pride and greed. Then we must re-learn how to live rightly, in fear of a Holy God, with love for the natural world of creation and a selfless care to restore it to wholeness, and with a renewed sense of love for our very lives and the lives of all others; and with a contentment we might find in knowing that we have a soul headed for a place of perfection that we can only imagine.
We must accept that God has already provided the vaccine against the diseases we all share caused by fear, and hatred, and self-centeredness. It is called The Way, The Tao– but we have to trust it to heal our souls and to insure our real lives against death by the shiny things that tempt us into soul-destroying things. We have to willingly get vaccinated from evil, for love to conquer all.
Now, perhaps, in this unique Holy Weekend, we finally know that if we don’t do the right things, we will die. We should remember that nothing has actually changed — we will die. There is no way that any single person will ever do enough “right things” so that he or she can live forever. There has only been one human who chose differently — who chose rightly — only one since Adam and Eve first chose their own serpent’s version of fake news over God– since people chose The Lie because it gave them more justification for getting more stuff — more physical, intellectual, emotional, political or religious stuff. And ever since Eden, most of us have kept choosing the intriguing complications of our lives over the simplicity of eternal life. As Leonard Berstein wrote, “God is the simplest of all”. We, however, continue to prefer the puzzles of forbidden fruit. We have a chance to realize, during this enforced simplification of our lives and an enforced simplification of our chosen means to worship God, that simple can serve us better, and that we serve God better, when we choose to live simply.
Only the Messiah, Jesus the Christ got to choose whether he wanted to die after living on this planet. The Father gave only His only begotten Son the choice of whether to die or not. This weekend we celebrate the fact that Jesus chose to die for sins he never committed, and he chose to give us the opportunity to die with him in his cause or to allow God to leave us behind in the dust.
This weekend we celebrate our free will on this planet, and we can use that free will today to ignore the cautions about what is the right thing to do to protect — save — ourselves and others, or we can offer our own wills on the altar of a God who waits for us on the other side of the Red Sea, a God who has prepared a place for us, a God who loves us enough to send His Son to live with us, eat with us, celebrate God’s provisions throughout history with us, and a Son who will choose to die with us so that we can have hope once more that Sunday’s Coming and the Tomb is empty.
Today our deaths may be due to a virus cell, tomorrow it may be from a heart attack; tomorrow we may die from our hatred gone amok, the next person might die from gluttony, and the poor we will have always dying because of our own appalling lack of love.
We celebrate a day that in too much lapsed time, too much hindsight, too much cheap-grace theology, we have dubbed “Good Friday”. But it’s not all so “good” standing alone — it certainly wasn’t for Jesus. Why do we think we can leave him hanging there for all time, saving us from our sins? Do I really think that if I live in Boston, Massachusetts, that the Doctor at the hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, or a nurse in Sacramento, California or a researcher in Wuhan, China can save me personally from the plague that has infected the world? No. I am saved only by what I am, what I seek, what I have recourse to, what I live into and by and for and amongst — I am saved by a whole lot of luck in what I’ve been given and what I can survive. I am saved by the strength of my immune system, not my sister’s or brother’s immune system, not my pastor’s immune system, not my president’s or governors, or guru’s or shaman’s. And it was long past time for many of us to realize we should have been taking better care of our health, our immune systems and frankly the health and immune systems of everyone within six feet of us. We have all become quite the “evangelicals”, during this Corona-Virus plague, have we not? Sharing warnings, sharing tips, sharing encouragements, sharing the Gospel of how to live through and after Corona-Virus? Quite the over-night prophets and pastors we all are now from the safety of our social media fortresses. Quite the love we seem to be overflowing with — from a distance. What will be our evangelical good news for a world struggling to survive the consequences of this time? Will we finally celebrate the Jewish Jubilee that Jesus claimed he came to install as God’s Kingdom on Earth?
I should have been building up my immune system all these years. I should have been taking care of my health and the health of the homeless people in my park and of the grocery clerks and the people I worked for that I thought weren’t important enough for me to stay away from when I had the flu, and then I should have been fighting for the rights to a living wage for all the people who are still out there risking their lives because they can not afford to stay home from a job that doesn’t pay them enough. I should have been taking only what I need and not hoarding. I should have been asking for forgiveness and begging for mercy all these years. I should have been loving my neighbors and my enemies enough to save us all from “what’s out there”. I should have been reaching out in love to everyone. I should have been not worrying so much and loving more every moment of this wonderful God-given life. I should have been reducing my stress and increasing my faith.
I should have been putting on armor against disease — just like God advises me to do with sin. If I am saved from the Corona Virus, it is only by a current bit of luck, because of course everyone is going to die of something. I am saved, perhaps also, by my willingness to keep the contract with the rest of the world that I should have made as soon as I could reason. The contract is that I will be a good citizen of the world and think of you all as I would like you to think of me — do for you all as I would like you to do for me. Jesus taught us this, not with words only but by deeds — “To live, you must love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and will, and you must follow this as the first rule of being a human being. The second rule is like this one, because your fellow human beings, whether you like it or not, are created just as much in god-images as you are yourself — so love everyone, just as you would love yourself and treat everyone as you would like everyone to treat you, and behave towards all, and connect to all as you would like them to be in relationship to you.” Do those two things, Jesus, says, do them as He did them — and you will find your way from the garden, to the Passover, to the crucifixion, to the tomb, to the Resurrection, to the Promised Land, to Christ’s side and to the completely healthy, virus-free reality of God’s Kingdom.
And now we see that we have been worshiping a Golden Calf and we better once more let Jesus into the temples and churches and small group Bible studies, and hand Jesus the whips of rope to turn over our money tables. Those tables of those that sell cheap salvation for a price, who have too long been blocking us from worshiping the True God in spirit and in truth.
And now, as we live in our own tense, stressful, worrisome, Garden of Gethsemane, we see how fearful we are that Jesus can’t really pull it off. We are finally aware, perhaps, of how tired and drowsy we are. How lazy. How cheap we think prayer can be. How happy we are that Jesus is somewhere else, somewhere back there, so we can rest. Now we see we have fallen asleep. We thought we wanted to follow Jesus to Calvary but we can’t even stay awake in a Garden, long enough to pray with him. We don’t need to wait for the rooster to crow, we have betrayed him with our willingness to believe God’s grace is Walmart-priced and Christ’s plan is for us to relax while he does the heavy lifting.
And now we see that the Saturday between the Friday of Jesus on the cross is the longest, longest, longest day in the whole world for any one who thinks they want to follow a crazy rabbi who claimed to be a Jewish Messiah and who finally claimed to be The Only Begotten Son of YHWH, but who on a Friday, before the Hebrew Sabbath could begin — died.
And this King of the Jews died of the same thing that we all die of, no matter what our beliefs. He died because of what we have done to the world and the earth and to each other. Jesus died, as we will, because of our choices to pretend we are not responsible for the ills of the world; because of the evils of pride and greed that we have let infect our most profound human ideas — those that make up our religions and our overseeing, ruling governments. Maybe we are those nationalists, those who want to make ourselves “Great Again”. Maybe we are the religious groups, who like those of Jesus’ people who were only too glad that Moses went away for a while on the Mountaintop with G-d, so we can deal with Aaron who will give the people what they want to believe they can worship and so that Aaron can keep his job.
Maybe we are glad to believe that Jesus has gone away for awhile and we can do whatever we want until He returns? Maybe we don’t believe that Jesus will come down from the Mountaintop as Moses did, and be as righteously angry as a God to find us worshiping gold and cheap entertainers like Aaron was — like too many of our leaders are? Maybe we don’t believe, just like the Golden-Calf-worshipping, bored with God’s provided- manna, unwilling in faithlessness Hebrews didn’t believe, that we will really die because of what we choose to do? Maybe we’ve given up on walking for forty long years and we don’t want to relearn what it takes to be the kind of human being who will be useful and happy if they someday live in a perfect land of milk and honey and community and love? Maybe we’ve forgotten that not everyone makes it to the Promised Land, even if they say they “believe” in Jesus? Just like everyone who hid at Passover behind the Blood of the Lamb didn’t make it to the Promised Land, Jesus warns us that “not everyone who comes in my name will enter my Heaven”. Maybe we can, in our sheltered, quarantined time away from the world out there, remember that Jesus knows only those who “do unto the least of humans, as if you were doing it unto The Christ”. That’s scarier than a pandemic to my mind.
Maybe our enforced sobering in the face of a pandemic, and the joy we find in living in this different kind of life we have right now — a life forced on us by the plagues we have fled –a joy that comes not from getting something new or more, but from being grateful for having what we need just for one more day — Manna — “this is my body given for you, take, eat in remembrance of Me” — maybe all this will sober us to find joy in a message that we can start living, out there — and not put our lives and love back on a shelf with our other scriptures and self-help tomes. Maybe we will defy death this time so we can go about life as if we really have been Reborn to New Life.
Jesus died because we grow easily bored, and restless with simplicity, and we prefer to be a palm-waving, cheering participant in the mass hysteria of the people who want to make Jesus a Reality TV Star. “Go, Team!” is so much more acceptable than “Repent!” “We Win!” means someone else — the other team, the other gender or color or creed or socio-economic strata — “They Lose!” So, what do we do now without teams to watch and cheer for; without churches whose doors are either open or closed to us depending on who we are; without even wars to continue to fight “safely”? What do we do now that we have proven, albeit without our consent, that we can live simply and in peace and by sharing more with others?
The scary truth, is that the veil has been torn — and we see people hoarding, disobeying God’s law of love, ironically, there are those who are still convinced they have to go to church to find the right God, even if they kill their neighbors for it. The torn veil shows us a world sorely lacking in not only protective gear for sacrificing health workers and life-saving medicines for poor people, but not even the right antidotes for price-gauging drug companies, and not even enough expensive ventilator machines for the famous and rich who have always assumed that only poor homeless, worthless, 401k-less Lazarus-es lie at their doors with unhealthy sores and cells; we see that no one escapes, and that even the very wealthy, with their rich warehouses of stuff can’t save themselves from death.
People are all for freedom if it means they can do whatever they want to whomever they want. People don’t want freewill in a Kingdom with a suffering, truth-telling, overly-loving-of everyone Savior. People don’t want the King who says he belongs to a “kingdom not of this world”. We want a King like the one we elected on Palm Sunday — the miracle-making Santa Claus King that we can cheer for, while we stand on the side of the road to Jerusalem; we don’t want the King Jesus really was — is — will be — we don’t want to have to carry our own crosses beside Him while we walk with The King to Calvary. And if Jesus won’t bow down to our expectations, why, then — we will find someone who will. And we will call him, not Jewish Messiah, not Old Testament Son of God, not present King and coming Ruler — but we will make our own images of gold, and will cheer those who are only too willing to pose as our god-substitute sacrifices for us. If we leave here, lucky enough to be Passed-Over, then we may find our way back to Jesus as God-lite. But we will have a new choice — a new Egypt to leave — a new wilderness to cross — and a new Savior for a new day to follow. We can as Moses did, ask God to show us the future — the Promised Land — a healed and healing world — that we are meant to carry our brothers and sisters to live in — along with us. We can as Jesus did, pray that we don’t have to die from this death in particular, that “God takes the cup from us” in this time of pandemic, and allows us to live with our friends and family and in the joy of a wonderful world for a bit longer. But, as Jesus did, we can also pray to endure, to suffer willingly even to the point of death, to walk the road, and enter the tomb even if we don’t feel God’s presence at all. We can with only a tiny bit of hope and faith, pray, “Thy will be done and into Your Spirit- Father Hands, I give my life, my soul, my all”.
So, we live not as if Jesus is still on the cross, and as if we are wandering afraid and alone in the wilderness of this world, but as if it is always Saturday and Jesus is still in the tomb. Because tomorrow, that day of Easter we are so anxious to celebrate, should be the really scary, sobering, choice-inducing day. Tomorrow, when Jesus rose, is the day we have to decide whether we are going to leave Egypt once and for all or not.
Tomorrow is the day when the disciples of Jesus were still found huddled in terror behind their closed doors, afraid of the death lurking around every corner — death by Roman empire, death by religious leaders, death by unemployment and lack of the most basic of necessities or funds. And so today, whatever day it is now, as we huddle behind doors, and tomorrow as we, as the early disciples did, must continue for our own safety to huddle behind doors, we must not think that because Jesus chose death, that we won’t have to. We will.
This year won’t be like other Easters for most of us. It won’t be a Passover for Jews like it usually is, although the Jews of this world are much more acquainted with short and long term suffering than most of us, which says a lot about why Jesus chose them as His People. And so –
On a day like Easter, after giving our token-worship to a Savior that died on Friday, Easter arrives like a party-day, one that we usually see as — Oh, yay, rah Team Christian! — here we go, back to the Egyptian — I mean, American — values of Easter bunny-idols, and exorbitant amounts of moneys spent, not on God’s work of caring for the world, but on candy and fertility-rite egg hunting for children, and salaries for public speakers in robes behind lecterns, and large dinners at home or at fancy restaurants; and in a belief system with a manufactured, fake grace so small and cheap it can fit inside a brightly-colored plastic Easter egg. But this year, tomorrow — if you are a good person, and are truly following Jesus, and not following some preacher or rabbi more worried about their career than about your health and safety — tomorrow you will have none of those trappings of “celebration”; none of those rites of religion or rites of Spring; none of the passing pleasantries of friends and family who come and leave again after a rich meal, loved ones who may leave you without leaving barely a trace of what is still missing, hungering inside them. Tomorrow there will not be those who are gone away from your home without filling those universal yearnings for a love that lasts longer than a large hollow chocolate bunny. Tomorrow, we will all still be behind closed doors, waiting for a Savior. Tomorrow, we may simply be celebrating being alive for one more day.
But, finally, tomorrow, this year of 2020 Worldwide Pandemic “Resurrection Sunday”, might just actually feel like what it felt like for the disciples of Jesus. Tomorrow we might wake to the sorrow and sadness of another day behind doors closed in fear, doors locked in vain attempts to keep death out. Tomorrow we might feel an aching loss of a loved one, that we will not see in this lifetime again. Tomorrow we will wake to less extravagances, to another day of only the food /the manna we can “carry”, the things we need just to survive. Tomorrow we will look outside and feel the kind of fear and anger we should have of those powers and rulers who play with our lives so carelessly. Tomorrow we will realize that this is what God intended every Sabbath to be — rest from labors, and maybe it’s time we stopped working at the idea of working, and started working at the stuff the whole planet and everyone need to live well. Maybe tomorrow, this year, we will be content to do nothing, and to let our Sabbath be a time when God actually meets us right where we are.
Tomorrow we will realize that we have all that any of us really need, if we truly want to worship God right where we are. We will wake to an understanding that He has given each of us His Word, the Truth, the Light, and while it has always been nice to expect someone “official” to bring us to the Promised Land, and to hear nice music, they aren’t with us now. And really, in the end, it’s always been about my choice, my life, my decisions, my relationships. In the end, even after all he did for the People of God, Moses didn’t get to leave the quarantine alive. I think now that that was the most loving thing God could have done for Moses — to choose to protect Moses’ soul for God’s Eternal Promised Land, over what had become Moses’ self-centered dreams of ruling the Hebrews in what could only be a temporary way-station, anyway, a nation that would at best, be a passing illusion of what God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven would someday be.
If we leave these upper rooms of fear and hiddenness, like Jesus’ disciples did days after Jesus rose from the grave, we will always have more choices, more decisions, more moments to live as God’s People in God’s Worldview. We must walk-on in our own strength and paradoxically only with strength from outside ourselves, we must journey on toward the Promised Land. The Good News about Jesus is, He came to show us how by doing it himself.
On this Easter Sunday, when we will not yet know what it means to be resurrected from fear and loneliness, from sorrow and pain and disease, from sin and death — this Easter — we may realize that this sense of waiting and watching that has become our new normal in the time of the 2020 Plague of Corona Virus, this watching and waiting was always supposed to be the life-enhancing philosophy of the People of God. From Job to Abraham to Moses to David to Mary to Jesus — the long arc of the Messiah is the arc of watching and waiting. Watching — our Salvation is at hand. Waiting — the Kingdom of God is among you like a pearl hidden in a field — Seek and you will Find!
The disciples of Jesus ran away from him on Thursday, betrayed and denied him on Friday, despaired and doubted everything and everyone, especially their God, on Saturday, and on Sunday, the disciples hid and regretted their decision to give up their jobs and families — to give up everything to follow Jesus. On Sunday, when Jesus was dead, his disciples hid together or alone, and tried to figure out how to deal with an uncertain tomorrow but a tomorrow that would one day, certainly mean their death. They behaved like we do, like we are, at least now. They behaved as we do, because they didn’t believe that what they had been watching for, the One whom they were waiting for — Messiah, Savior, Son of Living God — would ever come.
Jesus was dead.
And then. . .
Not because the disciples had the right theology. Not because they were faithful. Not because they were pure and loved well. Not because they had a great heritage. Not because they went to temple or church or tithed or were baptized or prayed the right prayers. And not because Jesus had died in their place so they wouldn’t have to. And then, not because any of us had followed the right rules, or practiced the right rites, or believed in the right Constitution. And then…
On Sunday, after the Jewish day of Rest, Sabbath, and very early in the morning, and just when some that the world considered tainted and useless, some grieving women came to Jesus’ tomb, and those women who were also afraid and in despair said, “Nonetheless, we will persist”. And these women went to care for a dead body according to the Jewish burial customs because even when someone we love dies, we keep their memory alive and we care for their legacy as best we can. “And when they came to the tomb, the women found it empty with someone who was maybe a gardener and maybe an angel nearby, and they said with agony, “Where is the body of our friend, Jesus”. And the angel, who might have been just a man, said: “Don’t look for him anymore here where dead things and dead people are. He has overcome death by dying, and he is risen just as he promised you, and he is waiting and watching for you to come to Him today.”
And then on this day we celebrate on Easter, all these years later…
And not because of us or anything we can achieve…
But because of God’s great love for His Child, who we call Jesus…
and His great mercy on His children, who are all of us….
— the whole world shifted.
Even though we may follow all the right sanitizing programs to protect us from COVID-19, there are no guarantees. And it will not be merely because of anything we do or believe that we will be saved, or that will ensure that we will have an eternal life in a new earth and new heaven — a Promised Land. And yet, our very souls depend as much on our inherent spiritual immune systems as they depend on the health, the need to consistently sanitize our worldview, and the rules we follow to live justly with others and walk uprightly before our God, and of how we love others. Our souls depend on what we do and believe just as much as our physical health depends on it at this time and throughout all Time. That is the paradox, the mystery of the Passion of The Christ — it all depended on what He did, and it was completely out of His hands to do anything. “Father, you know I can do nothing apart from You.” “Father, you and I are walking in this world as one.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why must I suffer and die?” “Parent -Mother-Father-God — into your very enormous holding hands and loving Self, I give you my all.”
We will be saved by the Blood of the Lamb that WE choose to identify with, even behind closed doors. Our world will be saved by how we choose to die. Will we die trying to take as many toys and chocolate bunnies and plastic baubles and rolls of poop-wiping material and armaments and experiences and mansions with us when we go? Or will we die trying to do unto others — to the least of the least on this planet, in this world, in this nation, in this neighborhood — as we are hoping other people will do unto us? Isn’t it when all is said and done, sacrificial Love, that is the real “Jesus-Thing”?
Will we die for the same things we have learned to live for in this time of sheltering in –for something, even if we can’t see it now, that may well count for something bigger, more important, more lasting, and beautiful than our own small life?
Jesus was just another small life, after all. A nobody, a poor despised Jew, a person who didn’t follow the unhealthy, unloving, ungodly rules of the Pharisees and Sadducees and Roman rulers; but rather followed the rules we have all been given to keep the planet healthy, to make people truly believe and know that there is hope and love and help along the way, and Jesus followed the rules and The One Way that God has given us in order to keep our very souls from death. Jesus died just like we all will, and from the same thing. Jesus died from what we have done to the world, not what God has done for it. And then Jesus rose from death, so God could show us what He is still able to do for and through and in us.
And so Saturday, is our day. A day to decide if we will watch and wait or if we will hide and despair. Because tomorrow is the day that Jesus comes back from The Promised Land to invite us to let Him help us find our way to eternal life there, too.
Tomorrow is the day Jesus had the biggest Surprise Party of all time. Jesus walked into the room where the disciples hid frightened and angry and lonely and lost and yelled, “Surprise!” Easter is the Surprise Party Jesus throws each year in God’s honor, and yet — though all are invited, not all will come.
Tomorrow is the day, that disciples had their whole worldview turned upside down on its head. Corona Virus has done the same for many of us in the world living today. Tomorrow is the day of “Shock and Awe” when Jesus shows the world that Love can win over hatred, that peace can win over violence, that meekness beats pride, and truth destroys lies. Tomorrow is the day that Jesus shows us that He lived as “the way, the truth, and the life” and that that Way can lead us to God. Tomorrow is the day that Christ’s Life defeated Christ’s death and that God’s Love defeated the World’s Pandemic.
But Today — this holding-pattern day — is the Everyday of not just our new reality behind the closed doors of Corona Virus sheltering-in. Today is the Every-Saturday of Holy Week. Because every day of this lifetime, is the day to choose whether we will die with Christ, in order to be resurrected into His Kingdom.
And just like Jesus instructed us to go into the world and wash each other’s feet, so today we choose, again and again and again, will I wash my hands to love my neighbor? Will I humble myself enough to let God show me how dirty my feet are because of how I’ve chosen to walk in this world?
Will I choose today to live as if Jesus is no longer dead, but is risen and alive in this room where I am still trying to hide from fear and still trying to hide from Him? Because The Kingdom of God is now. It is here. It is both here and also that for which we watch and wait. Just like my life today, when I am seizing this moment with grace and gratitude as all I can be really sure of; while also longing for the moment we will be reunited with the ones and The One that we love.
Jesus spent a lifetime dying to himself, and living for His Father. I struggle with even a day spent dying to my own wishes, yearnings, grubbing, or worrying, or self-care preening or just giving up getting out and about. During this time of Corona-Virus, I have learned how pointless so much of it has been and how much of what I have done or who I think I am, is useless here and now. I am not even strong enough to “stay awake” and pray for those truly in need. As never before, I am afraid of dying and also more aware of my own impending death. But I am also, as never before, more aware that I am not alone, and that no matter what I go through or what happens to me, there is a Savior who has gone before me, and is here to help me take one more step forward in His Way. Christ bears the Lion’s share of what ever yoke or burden I carry today.
Today, I am grateful, to be imprisoned in this living tomb of worldwide plague, because I am given another chance, a new choice, another opportunity, and a seedling of hope. I get another chance to truly listen to what Jesus means for me when he calls: “Follow me”. They are hard words, but Jesus promises that although “With human beings, this is impossible, with God, all things are possible”.
Because it is finally oh so very probable for me to believe in the inevitability of my very own death — It might even be possible for me to believe in Resurrection.
And just like that — death’s victory is hanging in the balance.
Seeking can never be static. The essence of seeking-ness means not so much the idea of constant change, but rather porousness. Like a sieve or sluice, our souls are best when there are many small openings in them. The way to seek is to move, flow, and be in a sort of “squiggly-lined” process. Searching is about newness, rebirth, creation; taking old and ancient things and realizing they are eternally refreshed and refreshing in the lives of new human beings. To seek is to hope to find, and find again, and seek again, and afterwards, find again, and then seek — in an ever widening circle of individual and shared lives.
The idea of seeking for truth or answers or help or morality, though, in a worldview of stasis is a modern-day tragedy. It is where many people go wrong when they say they seek their answers in a book. Many people in the world today, claim especially to seek ideas about living from a book called The Bible. But alas! a book is a static thing. Books are wonderful things, and to many of us, books are one of the most treasured belongings we have. But they are belongings. They are wonderful when we are in their “presence” but otherwise, they sit on shelves or in Kindles, and don’t do anything except miss the good old days when they were read as relevant, or long for a future when someone else will cuddle them back into life.
What is not static are the people the stories in the Bible are about. Stories about the past and human lives now passed, are not static if they are remembered or influential in even just one life of one living human being. What is never static in a book, or speech, or plaque, or any “dead” thing, is, what we might call The Truth or The Greatness of the Human Spirit. This is why writers who write truly about man’s search for meaning are said to have been moved to write by something we might call, the “Holy Spirit”. Holy in this case means something above the mundane, day to day human existence. Spirit in this case means something beyond animal or purely physical existence. Which brings us back to the idea of Seeking. To seek is to accept my own smallness in the Universe’s Vastness. To seek is to want to believe there is something More, perhaps Someone More. To seek is to never arrive, but to find great joy in The Journey. To seek, is the Universe’s great irony, because only in continually seeking that which is unknown or unknowable, can a person ever find wholeness.
In C.S. Lewis’ short compilation of lectures, entitled The Abolition of Man, he is both prescient and profound. He is prescient in the sense that Lewis foresees how the very idea of what it means to be human can be lost and destroyed if we give up on the belief that we have been created with inherent consciences and an eternal need to find meaning and purpose. The Abolition of Man is also profound, in that this well-known very Western, very Christian writer, Lewis, calls the right way to live not Christianity, not even what early Christians called their belief system when they called it simply The Way. Lewis calls right living by its Eastern Spiritual / Religion name — Tao.
There are many important reasons that C.S. Lewis chooses the term Tao to describe the right way humans should think and live, perhaps not least of all because his very own Christianity was a morphing of an Eastern religion called by its early adherents, Judaism. Today these belief -systems, what we may today call Christianity or Judaism or Islam, are all those who follow a book for their understanding of how to live, and so are often called “People of The Book”. However, the God that all of these religions claim as their own, simply says, that if anyone wants to live as He created them to live, to worship Him, or to belong to the worldview He taught Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, then what that religion is to be called, according to this God, is “My People”. And the wonderful thing about belonging to something not called Christianity or Islam or even Buddhism or Taoism is that People are never, ever, ever static. This idea is inherent in the term Tao. Tao, like a chimera of light, is always flickering always just outside our limited vision. Living into and from within Tao means you accept the River is much bigger than you are and you have given up the need to step twice in the same part of that River. Tao means that God is the River and that She gives us the choice of whether we want to jump head first into that baptismal flow, not sure of where The River will take us; or we would rather sit in stasis on the shores, where we will more easily return to the dust from which we were created.
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis explains Tao beautifully (and better than I), and it is a book that everyone should read many times, along with almost everything else Lewis wrote. Although his books may be shelf-sitters, once read, and read again, Lewis words will leave his readers anything but the status-quo. But what I am mainly trying to unravel here, is Lewis’ idea of Tao as it relates specifically to the idea of seeking. Because that is what Tao is. The bottom line is that Tao is both ultimate Reason and ultimately beyond human reasoning. Tao is both the embrace of the minutiae of my day and the embrace of the sublime in the galaxies. Tao is both the acceptance of my mortality and the journey toward immortality. Tao is what I know in my very inner most part to be true and real, and that which I accept I will never know and can be unsure of is even real at all. Tao is The Way forward to Heaven, and the way back to The Garden. Tao is the essence of all life.
Lewis calls Tao, “the ultimate foundations of theoretical and practical reason”. In other words, living a certain way is actually the only way to live that is not lunacy. However, intelligent, reasonable, practical, scientific, or however, theologically correct or spiritual or moralistic a person claims to be, if he or she is not constantly aware that humanity is only “human” when it is seeking and flowing; that is, when a human being is walking along The Path of Enlightenment, seeking and journeying in The Way, or flowing back and forth in the current of Tao, only then is one at all what humans should be, can be, must be, to thrive or even survive. One is perhaps not really even fully human without a sense of true Tao, and humanity will become more and more zombie like than what we were meant to be — the sons and daughters of “Holy Spirit”.
C.S. Lewis calls out and rings the alarm bells on America’s own current and particularly frightening brand of zombies, when he calls people who do not live according to virtue or The Way of Tao, “men without chests”. “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst” (Lewis, 11). Try doing anything like walking or swimming without a chest and see how far you get. Without a core of true belief or what we might call “a soul”, a thing within us that creates virtuous action, a human being is like a zombie with a functioning mouth in its head, but with only a rotting, decaying heart where a chest used to be.
Tao. It is defined as: “the unconditional and unknowable source and guiding principle of all reality as conceived by Taoists. It is the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony” (Merriam Webster). So, while an understanding and commitment to Tao is important for anyone who wants to live well, it is an especially critical idea to embrace by anyone who wants to claim that a book is “God’s Holy Word”. If Tao is The Way, then “De” is the Spirit. This word De is interestingly similar to how we might use the term “De” in the phrase, “Imago Dei”, denoting “ Mirror Image in a Human of The Spirit-God”.
De is what some might call virtue or essence, but it is more that that. In studying a bit about this idea, I would maybe call De something like “good-soul” or “healthy-humanness” or “righteous-being-ness”. But all of these have the same problem. When I define something, I make it, at least for that moment, for that purpose, “definite”. I make it static. The thing about Tao and De, or The Way or the particular religion attributed to the Hebrews and Jesus, the Christ, is that they are all about movement. None are about forward “movements”, which is where religions and societies have often gone so very wrong, and why leaders like Jesus refused to be caught up in movements or what many would call “advancements”. Jesus knew that The Way is not progress but a yin and yang of past and present (“I come not to destroy The Law but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). Lewis rightly points out that Jesus does not mean The Law as in the misunderstood rules that his own brand of religion had not only failed to follow but were now abusing to gain power and wealth. No, Jesus understood The Law to be what Lewis in many of his writings calls, The Natural Law or The Law of Nature or sometimes The Law of the Heart. In other words, there is a sort of set of rules that has existed within human beings since the beginning of our existence on earth and it is a set of rules about living well, living together, caring for the things that grow and live around us on the planet, and rules about being human that we go against to our own and to our species’ peril. The Law of Human Nature is as real as the Law of Gravity and just as destructive to disbelieve or to flagrantly test. (For more on this idea of what Lewis means by Natural Law, read the first chapters of Mere Christianity.)
True Tao is about ebb and flow. It is about constant movement, but not forward like a march, or passive like a sit-in. Living into The Way is about eyes wide open but it must also be about heart wide-open and hands-wide open. We must use our eyes, our senses, to seek in Nature and in other humans, that which is flowing, moving, changing “holy spirit”. We must read books, listen to podcasts, sit at the feet of rabbis or gurus, and meditate or pray in order to be taught and refreshed and to resume our active participation in The Way and to ourselves be “filled with holy spirit”. We must both participate in preparation for the journey and release ourselves from a static determining of where the journey will lead us. This is the yin and yang, the give and take, the less as more, and the last as the first and first as the last, of living as we were created to best live.
One intriguing passage on this idea of moving De or flowing Tao, is one that you won’t hear much from people who want their Bibles to stay static. In John 3:8, Jesus compares the De or Holy Spirit of God to a mercurial and uncontrollable wind, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” We are not meant to control God, nor people’s access to Him, and even if we think we are in control, or we fear losing control and so try to control others who do not believe as we do, we will find that where the Spirit Wind is blowing, one had better learn quickly how to stop being a stubborn stone and quickly, humbly become a kite or a sparrow.
Jesus came to show his disciples Tao, and in fact, he calls himself, as that uniquely human being who was Son of Man and Son of God, “The Tao”, or “The Way”. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims his philosophy of how to live as that of becoming one with the spirit of “living, flowing water”. In John 7:38, The Christ says clearly that the Tao of God is never to be made stationary or static and that, “Whoever believes in me, rivers of flowing water will flow from within them.” Not only is Jesus here pointing out that the new life he offers is like flowing water but that there is a yin and yang heart within his followers, a heart that flows from and a heart that flows within.
And so, I humbly submit, that anything worthy, anything really real, anything that will not only stand the Test of Time but perhaps the Test of Eternity, must be understood to be beyond the comprehension or theorems of even the most intelligent geniuses among us, beyond even the kindest most loving among us, beyond the most spiritual or religious among us, and beyond even the most strong, wealthy, beautiful, or creative among us. If living into Tao was even beyond The Christ to completely understand and beyond even his great abilities to completely explain to those who would desire to live as he did, then it is certainly beyond me. The Good News is, we do not have to understand everything — because we never will. The Good News is The Way can be found by all who seek.
The problem with anyone’s explaining and understanding, including my own feeble morsels of thought here, is that in the first place, a word on a page (any page, even a Biblical page or Dali Lama page or a page out of the Koran) is static. At the same time, a word out of someone’s mouth, is like a breath — once out, it is gone into the atmosphere and cannot be retrieved. This is why we call particularly meaningless words, “hot air” because they dissipate without leaving a trace of useful meaning or intent behind. It is also why the post-recorded words of gurus and rabbis and Messiahs that were only given to others orally, can not ever capture the complete meaning, but only the deep intent of those words once spoken, not written. It is easy to be caught up at this point in something very like cynicism or that of the eccliesiast when he proclaims all things on earth, “vanities of vanity” and all that human beings have, are, or have ever done, worth nothing more than a “vapor or a breath”. If someone has reached this point in life, I doubt very much they are still reading, nor that they have any desire to live a better, fuller, more meaningful life. And yet, The Holy Spirit, can fan an ember into a fire with one powerful breath. And yet, those of us who do seek Tao, De, The Way, Meaning, Essence — we must reach out our hands to those who sit on the shore in their cynicism with their stuff, or to those who are treading and afraid to go further and deeper, and we must reach out our hands especially to those who are determined to swim upstream or who are drowning. Because we are not truly in The River of Life, The Tao, if we think we can enjoy it or go it alone. So if you are someone who needs a lifeboat or lifeline today, reach out, and a Hand or some hands will appear. And if you are someone who has reached a point in the River because a Hand or many hands have helped you, reach out, and give someone else a helping hand.
My own best and surest source of spiritual guidance has this to say about living in The Way, following the De, and practicing and believing in Tao:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (The Tao of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah as set down in writing later in the book of Matthew, Chapter 7).
So, I ask myself (and perhaps you?):
· Am I content with floating down the wide, lazy river of life without meaningful purpose, lacking the virtues and good-soulness of De? Am I stuck on the shore, afraid to let the Current take me further from what I was? Is the wide gate of ever widening consumerism and self-centeredness what I believe to be best humanity has to offer? Am I willing to get wet, perhaps even to drown, for the joy of being fully in The River?
· Do I want to take, as Robert Frost might say, “the path less taken”? — knowing that I will be sometimes more alone, sometimes more unsure, but infinitely more alive to possibility, eternally curious to find what lies “in leaves no step has trodden black”; and faithfully, hopefully pursuing that which will “make all the difference”, today, and perhaps, even in eternity? Will I take Christ’s narrow path? Will I walk the tightrope of Tao?
· Am I aware of the ebb and flow of my own soul in this very moment? Can I allow the movement of the holy spirit that is alive in all things that are true to The Natural Law, the De, The Tao, to move within my own spirit and soul?
· Will I submit to a Power more strong than Reason that is alive in the Universe? Will I be consumed by a Love more real than any of my senses, more lasting than anything I have ever felt? Will I have faith in a Reality that is ever moving, but never changing?
· Will I seek, not in order to own, but in order to live more meaningfully? Will I journey not to succeed but to experience? Will I seek those things that one man described as so beyond, so “holy”, so true and right and spiritually human, that he calls them “things above meaning” (Colossians 3)? Will I seek a Tao that leads to that Reality beyond Reality, that is a fuller, deeper, real-er Life, and not live my life merely stockpiling stuff and ideas in order to fight the fears or numb my understanding of my inevitable death? Will I begin living the eternal life in the temporal confines of my body? Will I let today be enough and no more and to also be everything and always?
The Great Guru, Jesus, recommends that to find Tao, to live De, after so many centuries, is difficult, strange, almost counter-intuitive after so long of denying our intuitions of God-given virtue and wholeness. To live Tao, in this world, one must be “born again”. To be born again, daily, over and over again is to seek like a baby seeks. A baby reaches out her hands, not knowing what they will touch. A baby gazes at the world, smells the world, listens to the world, not caring to define what she sees, hears, or smells, but merely to experience it. Not everything a baby experiences is joyful or pleasant or happiness-inducing, but all that she experiences teaches her about the way human beings are meant to live. And there is nothing more true about all human beings ever born than that in the beginning, we all want to learn to live well. The only question that remains is: Do I still want to learn to live well? Or do I need to be born again?
My hope is that in any moment I can seek The Way, and that in this time granted to me today as gift, I will journey further in Tao. May I seek The Way without a static determination but rather with a hopeful joy in the journey.
The River of Life is something we are all born from, The Womb so to speak. But we do not all stay in that River. We have the free will to leave the River, and remain static on some foreign shore, foreign to the right way humans are meant to live. May I swim and float and rest and get help as needed, in the ever-flowing River of Life. I will be often buffeted, my flesh torn, afraid of the Thunder overhead and the lurking demons swimming below. And at other times I will find great, deep contentment, not in my accomplishments but in the sense that the River will hold me and that the River will never end. There will be times when I allow my soul the joy of peacefully floating in the holy spirit of True Universal Water, and there will be times I must swim hard against the current, battling my own lack of nerve or my own decaying virtue or rotting sensibilities. There are times that the virtues of the Water will seem faint or quaint, and I will need to fight my desire to vegetate and not meditate or activate. And there will be times when suddenly around the bend, I find an uncommon, unexpected fellow-swimmer, and we will help each other go further along and deeper in.
There will be many moments when I want to leave the River and build a nice little static mansion for myself on some passing and paltry kingdom’s shore. There will even be horribly selfish times that I myself help the Evil One dam up the River that wants to flow “from within” every human soul. There will be a lack of resources and many weaknesses that I wish I didn’t have, and I will mourn not being better prepared from my youth for the long, hard swim to reach the River’s End. I will survive by using the only words that are never static, the words:
For in “if” and the eternally unanswered “why”, there is the Tao, The Way. “If” — means there is an answering, “Then”. And to wonder “Why”, means there is a Someone who will one day answer “Because”. “However” means that I don’t need to know how I will get somewhere, I just need to take the next step. And the “buts” are the conditions that warn me, that there are other choices, “But” there is only One Way.
Seeking. Like becoming a baby again and again and again. To seek Tao is the only ever- fulfilling, ever-meaningful, ever-lasting journey. It is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
Hi Friends, I hope you will take a bit of time to read my latest on Medium.com. I have shared the friend link with you here, so you can access it without impacting how many other free stories you can read on Medium. Just click on my name in the picture below. This is a longer read about making small changes, including my change from wearing a cross to a Tree of Life necklace, and my changing-up my need to hang on to a hurtful past in order to have a more hopeful future. Here’s to Hope that makes us hum and smile more. Peace, Jane
It seemed like a good time for me, and maybe you, if you are reading this, to re-post the very first Christmas season post I wrote for this blog. Whatever you believe, this post is about being and being-ness and not doing and doing-ness. I am personally practicing more, different, and various forms of centering and breathing, of embracing the Now, and accepting who I am and the paths I have taken, as well as trying to understand who other people “are”, not so much what they “do”. I hope you might wrestle with me on some of the thoughts I posted in 2015 in light of all that has changed out there, and in me and maybe in you, in 2019.
A Christmas Letter on Being-ness
by Jane Tawel
December 24, 2015
A Christmas Letter is about all the stuff one and one’s family has done in the past year. It’s an accounting of achievements and that is as it should be since that is what satisfies the recipients’ curiosity. There is a saying people toss around when they are telling one not to stress– “We’re not called human doings, we’re called human beings“. As I age, I am distilling into more and more myself, which is (I’m often told) — impassioned and weird. So once again this season, I write my traditional odd and intense Christmas letter, not because that is what I do, but because that is what I am — odd and intense.
Sometimes you shouldn’t stake claim and insist on being what you naturally are — being is like writing– it is important to understand context and connotation. In writing as in life, know your context and if necessary dial down your weird and impassioned. I’m a bit spotty on successfully doing that, I admit. But I am learning that it is often okay to accept one’s particular self. Each of us is created in a unique way to reflect the image of our Creator God. I serve an odd and intense God — an impassioned God, a strange one-of-a-kind God, who unlike other gods did not tell us to worship Him for what He had done or would do, but told us to worship Him for what He is: “I Am”.
We “Beings” are the only created “Imago Dei” of that God — imago means “idealized concept” — which fittingly has nothing to do with “doing” but means “a better than in reality idea”. That’s what we will be again someday — our realized ideal self. Meantime, we work at it. This time of year we celebrate the fact that while we were formed from dust into God’s image, because we rejected that image, God chose to be created in our image–ad imaginem hominis. We were given the perfect Being to model — Jesus, the Christ. As the hymn goes: “Amazing love, how can it be that thou my God, should (be born) and die for me!”.
I get all my strange random thoughts out of my head in a blog where you can also find this letter (janetawel.wordpress.com). I am reading a lot of C.S. Lewis. One cannot spend time with C.S. Lewis and not become at least a wee bit changed. Lewis has such a high view of human beings –that is if humans choose to sacrifice completely the sense of self to the sense of imago dei– through relationship with the living God and in the manner of the Son of God. It is a fearful thing to ponder that one day we will become what we have always truly been judged to be, with no regard to what we have done. The bible calls it God’s view of the true heart of one’s soul.
We are easily confused and disoriented by the distorted mirrors reflecting what is truly “us”. There is none good but God and no goodness in us but our Godlikeness in Christ. One can live in a state of stunned awe reading a lot of the Bible and Lewis.
I learned more about reading and writing with my 15 Azusa Pacific University freshmen. One of the things you try to help students with is that when writing, stick to the same verb tense. The other thing is that it is easier to write consistently in present tense than in past tense. I think it is easier to LIVE consistently in present tense as well — easier than living in past achievements and problems or living in future dreams and worries. Occupare Momento!
With my “at least on paper grown-up” kiddos, I am failing but trying to transition from “doing mom” to “being mom”. This is the necessity if you want to be friends with your adult children — you will always “be” their mom, but you don’t “do” mom any more — at least I imagine you can’t until they become parents and then you can do “grand” mom. Being mom means you let them all be who they are becoming and you just be there for them. Whatever you do, don’t let on that you are still doing stuff for them. Except doing the occasional bill paying for them. That’s ok. This morning the best part of still being mom, is being with all my chicks and my hubby under one roof — even if only for a short amount of time. They all keep asking me what I want for Christmas — isn’t it obvious? — just to BE– together. There is a great old Peter Seller’s movie called, “Being There”. Chauncey Gardiner keeps saying, “I like to watch.” I “like to watch” my children and husband bloom and grow. So, I am watching my family being: Hard workers. Risk takers. Creators. Friends. Students. Travelers. Dreamers.
Christmas is a time of traditions. Traditions are not things one has merely done in the past but they become traditions because you keep doing them–in the present. We, as perhaps you, are in the midst of our many Christmas traditions, like fudge and cookie making, driving around to see the lights, singing carols, hiding gifts, and snuggling together watching Christmas movies. Our traditions are mostly about being present in the season.
Advent implores us to live fully in the present reality while anticipating the future reality. As Christians we lean our frail earthly weight into our calling to be “on earth as it is in heaven” – which will merely BE timeless present in God’s presence. Advent is about Christ with us, in us, and Christ to be. The church liturgy helps ground us in the present of Christ’s presence, not by having us think on what He did — “He was born”– but by celebrating what His Being continues to mean daily, in this very moment, in the present eternity of our souls –“He IS born.” “He IS Risen”. “He IS coming again”. He Is I Am.
This Christmas perhaps we First World human beings, are more aware of our frailty and transitory state as the Evil One rears in his death throes of ugliness, unnaturalness, violence, and hatred. Today increasingly seems to gain better odds at being my last day. While Eternity becomes a more present longing, it is yet good to be thankful for another hour to be present here.
We spend a lot of time doing good things that care for the body and mind. But what of that which is our innermost being? How shall we live to be Souls rather than Bucket Lists? We are called to improve and to love this created world and God’s created people– as our skills and callings and dreams allow. But the soul can only be bettered by the One who created it, so that the true self can be made into that thing which is all that will eternally remain –Faith, Hope and Love.
The soul is our being-ness. It is only in being known by our Creator, by knowing our Creator, and by allowing that humbling, undeserved but delightful relationship to God to inform all our human BEING relationships, that we truly become who we are meant to BE– Little Christs– poor imitations but striving imitators nonetheless, of Him of whom the angels sang, “Glory to Him in the Highest”. And by giving Christ glory, may peace on earth and good will be to all souls. Hoping that in the New Year that you and yours, may BE all that you are meant to be.
Jane — December 2015…. and……. Jane, December 2019. Shalom.
“God’s love is like water: it seeks the lowest place. Yet we cannot make ourselves humble and lowly in our own strength. We can see ourselves for what we are only in the light of God’s omnipotence, love, purity, and truth.”
And so I ask myself, “Jane, how low can you go”? How low must I go, to see myself as God sees me, lowly but somehow still, loved? Not loved for who I am, which is but a being made of dust and blown in the wind, but loved because of Who God Is. And the answer comes as a still, small voice: “Jane, you must get lower.”
When God goes so High, I can go lower. I must go lower.
Remember playing limbo with your friends? It’s that game where you only win if you can bend over backwards and get down the lowest to the ground as you possibly can. That is how God says His Kingdom on earth is — the one who gets down to the lowest of the lows, the one who bends over backwards in order to move forwards, wins. In God’s upside-down Kingdom, the lowest of us will win. The humblest becomes the most praised; the weakest becomes the strongest; the first becomes the last.
How low does a human need to go, to truly understand how high above all things is The Lord God? We do not go low by suffering; all people suffer. We do not go low by thinking that we are “servant-leaders”; we are called not to let the “right hand know what the left hand is doing”. We do not go low through “thoughts and prayers”; for “without love, we are but sounding gongs”, and as the Son of God asks, “Why do you call on me, ‘Lord, Lord’, but do not do as I do?”.
We are called to fear God; to fear the trials and temptations; to fear our failures as human beings. And to somehow, despite our great fear, and low nothingness, to “love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength”. It is only when we fall upon the mercy of God, that He can lift us from the muck and mire.
And here is what I am incrementally discovering after all these years. The less I think of myself, the more pure gratitude I am suddenly surprised by. The more I die to my self-centered-ness, the more love I feel for being alive as myself. The lower I go, the closer God Is.
We awake to another day, another opportunity, and we play God’s Great Game of Limbo, while waiting in this current Time’s limbo. We can play lots of games in this life, you see them being played out daily by those sad fools who think they are winning. But God is clear that The Game of Life is won only by losing; that God is found, not by our hiding but by our seeking; and that hate is conquered only by loving others in the way God loves us. We do not even “pass Go” if we are not caring for the Earth as if it were our own, when in fact it is Our Father’s.
We can only understand “how high, how wide, how deep Christ’s love is” by going as low as He did. We do it by loving those who drew the short straw, the lowest of the low in the world’s point of view, and by loving all those we come into contact with in the same way we want to be loved – with “God’s strength, love, purity, and truth”. We get down low and we get down and dirty. We seek the level of God’s water.
And so we are called to pray not “dear god, bless me”; but “Dear God, we bless Your Name! Save us from our selves. Save us from Evil. Glorify Yourself. Show us Your compassion, on earth as it is All-Places Out There.” And if you are at all like me, you will understand, when I simply pray, “Help! Help! Help us! Help me! I can’t go lower without You. Help me.”
Note to self: Today: Must go lower. Must go lower. Must go lower.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Simon and Garfunkel have this great old song in which they preach to their listeners that they would “rather be a hammer than a nail” and they would “rather be a sparrow than a snail”. Good sentiments, sort of along the lines of Ghandi’s ubiquitous “Be the Change” exhortation. But you know, the problem is that most of us can only manage to fly like a bird for a very short time, and then we tire out. And being a hammer eventually just makes you an overbearing, hard-nosed, abuser of your power against all the little powerless nails. Being a hammer might be a Samson-like calling in the moment, but eventually all hammers hit too hard, just as much as the powers do who currently hold the hammers. We dare not forget the ends of stories like those of Icarus and Samson.
I have learned all of this, mostly from literature and other forms of great writers’ artistic endeavors. Stories and poems and authors like Homer, Tolkien, Rowling, and the writers of what we call The Bible, contain what C.S. Lewis calls, True Myth. These stories about hammers, or powerful heroes, or sparrows, high fliers, often end tragically or at least badly for all the little nobodies – that is for the nails who get wacked by the heroes or the people below the high fliers, who get pooped on from those soaring above the fray.
This is the truth that Orwell and Dickens meant to teach us when they wrote about power and revolutions against that power. Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities to help people understand that even a great cause, such as the French Revolutionaries had, will eventually fall by the way side when the weak become strongmen, and the powerless become power-hungry rulers. And I always loved to teach my students that Orwell was quite clear that Animal Farm was not simply about Soviet Russia, but also about Fascist Spain and Capitalistic America, and well, about all of us, everywhere, always. We have been warned—all humanistic, prideful power eventually is corrupted from within. One only has to look to the powers that those who claim God’s favor, ie all religions, but perhaps today, especially what we call “Christianity”. We have only to see what those in the name of religion or God have stolen, dictated, grasped, and abused, and continue to grasp and abuse, to understand that humanity is always falling prey to either an immoral sense of entitled faith in someone else doing the moral, salvation bit, or prey to a self-righteous sense of doing for God something that He refuses to do miraculously for our own entitled sense of greed or benefit.
I very often feel guilty and helpless and humiliated, that I am not out there hammering and soaring and fighting and shouting and pledging and contributing and warring and protesting and well, flying. It has helped me to read great story-tellers, who believe that getting rid of one power to be replaced only with another power will forever condemn history to more greedy and power hungry rulers. If you say you believe in Jesus, you should have no doubt that he believed this, even for himself, and he had the edge in being the Son of God, so….But we are not allowed to believe that we are to do nothing; that we were put on earth merely to save our own measly excuse for an individual soul and hightail it to a “Heaven” somewhere out there without all the mess we’ve created here. We are supposed to believe that we were put in charge on this planet, of these beings, and plants, and animals, and volcanoes, and lakes, and rivers, and children. We are meant to believe that there is a way humans were meant to “do good” and “act rightly and righteously” and to make this planet and world and other communities of humans better, more the way we would all like it to be, and that is what Jesus meant by telling us our job was to make “God’s Kingdom real here on earth, like it is in other galaxies, and places we can’t even imagine, ie, the “Heavens- Out-there- Where God is”.
So we seek metaphors, and stories, and poetic allusions to figure out how we are supposed to do this thing called “living”. I struggle at my time of life with seeing myself as a soaring eagle or a powerful tool of politics or religion. My nickname in my family is “Chicken” for good reason and I am definitely mechanically challenged at the best of times. Not sure any one wants me wielding a hammer, though I am prone to the occasional use of the metaphoric kind in conversation. The best metaphor I have recalled lately, for how I might make changes in the world as only one of the little people, a minor character in the plot, is the metaphor of the stone.
I think about that great line in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” spoken by a man who suffers death for the sake of his wife and other women, who back then were considered property, and who are accused and condemned unjustly by the over-powerful, over-zealous self-proclaiming evangelical politicians of the time. These abusers of power in Miller’s story, much like the regimes of Orwell’s Animal Farm, or the monarchy of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities are up against, hammers and sparrows, and doves who carry secret messages, etc, but in the end the righteous refusal to budge on an ethical, moral response to wrong, badness, and evil, usually comes through those who simply lay down their lives, like a stone in the road, refusing to be carried away by the justifications of those who will not see the Truth behind the lies of the corrupted. Much like many of America’s past and present abusers of power, such as the current configuration of those like President Trump and Senator McConnell and Franklin Graham’s oligarchical Administration, and the Red Scared three-headed beast once seen in the U. S. Judiciary and FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy during that Make America Great Administration, and the “Evangelical” Protestant Witch hunting White Settlers in the Administration who populate Miller’s play. And so, knowing that he would be condoning evil and doing wrong, by choosing the “lesser of two evils” and thereby, abusing his own power as a conservative, religious man who only wanted to save himself, Giles Corey, submits to being unjustly charged as a traitor and not Christian-like and is put to death via capital punishment by the state and modern inquisition by the Church. The Puritans did this by the placing of large, heavy stones laid on a man until they had crushed his chest into his heart. As the weight of the stones placed on Giles Corey, one after another, seem too impossible for his body to survive, and the political and religious leaders think surely this man will give in to their way of thinking and behaving now; Corey tells the “Christian” executioners that no, not only will he not join them for any reason but that they must add, “More weight. Add more weight.”
Add more stones. Arthur Miller, the playwright, would later, be a Giles Corey character in real life, when he refused to tattle to the corrupt “Un-American Activities Committee”, who after all were only trying to “make America great”. Again.
Dickens writes about a Christ-like figure who is innocent but allows the state to kill him in order for someone else to live. Orwell, however, has no such hero. In Orwell’s dystopian worldview, the Christian leaders, in the character of a black raven, symbolizing death, flies off with his share of the goodies; and the politicians, one after the other, are revealed to be not just literally pigs, but archetypes whose greed devolves them from being animals to, you guessed it, game-playing, powerful, greedy, over-fed humans.
And again, and again, and again and on it goes. No wonder we can feel so helpless and hopeless, and that we keep trying to tell ourselves that either someone like Jesus, already did all the work for us, and that the world can go to hell because we personally will be “saved”, if we only have a mindful acquiescence to some historical god’s reality; or that someone else, like a president or prime minister, or a Gates or Gandhi, will come along and be our world’s savior, and all we need to do is “pray” for them.
As for little old me, I do believe in the kind of Judeo-Christian worldview in which humans matter and that there is a God that cares about our world. I try to hang on to a belief that I find not just in stories from the Bible, but in the history books, and in Nature and even in other humans I meet now and then. I believe that Love matters most of all and that the small actions of small people matter. And that little actions done with love by little people can not only change the world, but that somehow, they have a larger meaning in light of God’s Kingdom and in some as yet, unrealized idea of Eternity.
I do believe that there is judgement and reward, for what we say, think, feel, and especially what we do or do not do. It seems clear that the consequences of one’s own life, and well as the tides of time and history are ultimately determined by those dueling sins of omission and commission that tug us as individuals, sometimes confuse us as they pull us in different and seemingly contradictory directions. I believe we all sense the truth, that in some way, we have messed up what is fair and good, and this is true whether we believe in a reckoning in a God-futured heaven, or the more easily apparent judgement that Jesus did rightly warn us of. Jesus did warn his fellow humans that there is an inherent judgement in life that is an ever present danger. This danger comes when any one, any people pass the point of no return on earth by “losing our souls, losing what this life was meant to reward us with as individual human beings, and when we seek only to gain more and more for ourselves at any cost”.
Surely even the most foolish of us sometimes awakes in a terrified sweat to the recognition that we are becoming less human, less of what we want to be, more soul-less, and zombie-like. Surely even the most religious of us must stand aghast at what we have allowed to happen on our planetary home, as children kill other children, and farmers starve on what used to be their land, and the food we eat to nourish us causes us deathly illnesses, and whole species of animals die out, and people wear gas masks to breath, and fires rage, and sea levels rise, and those who are supposed to unite us, divide us for their own gain. Surely, even the most atheistic or immoral of us understand that there is something horribly, horribly wrong on our planet, in our species, in the inner most parts of who we are?
And like me, you may feel angry, depressed, frightened, sad, and helpless and hopeless. After all, what can you do? What can I do? What can we do?
It came as a consolation and a warning and a judgement and a prophetic goading to me, this past week to re-read the part of a story I was reading. I will share great swathes of it with you here, but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself. This is from C.S. Lewis’s Science Fiction Trilogy, and specifically from Perelandra. In it, the character of Elwin Ransom, a human being, has gone to another planet which has just been created by God, who Lewis calls Maleldil. On this planet, there is a sort of new Garden of Eden set-up, and there this traveling spaceman, meets this planet’s archetypal “Eve” character. Ransom also meets up with the only other fellow human, a man named, Weston, but who according to Lewis, has become an “Un-man”. Weston has allowed evil, “Satan” to take over his mind, body, and soul, but it happened incrementally over the course of time and Weston did it for all the right reasons, much like people today claim to do. The story’s conflict lies between these two humans, who have a different worldview of what God wants from us, although both claim the Bible and God as their source. They also have different ideas about what is the best way to make the planet of Perelandra and her inhabitants, “Great”. Oh, it is truly relevant, is it not? I encourage you to read the story. But what may encourage you today, as it did me, is C.S. Lewis’ own wrestling with his conscious and the pleading voice coming through in the character of Elwin Ransom. I have taken the liberty here and substituted Lewis’ name for God, “Maleldil” for the more earth-friendly one, “God”. Ransom is at a loss for how to stop the evil and “bad stuff” happening around him. He has tried and failed so far to save The Lady and the planet, and time seems to be running out. Now he is feeling helpless, and thinking dark thoughts in the darkness, thoughts and feelings much like mine at times. Perhaps much like yours.
Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first time he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why God should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person… Suddenly and sharply, as if the solid darkness about him had spoken with articulate voice, he knew that God was not absent… had never been absent, that only some unconscious activity of his own had succeeded in ignoring it for the past few days…. But where is God’s representative?
The answer which came back to him, quick as a fencer’s or a tennis player’s riposte, out of the silence and the darkness, almost took his breath away. “Anyway, what can I do? I’ve done all I can. I’ve talked till I’m sick of it. It’s not good, I tell you.” He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom could not possibly be God’s representative… And then—he wondered how it had escaped him till now—he was at least as much of a marvel as the Enemy’s. He himself was the miracle.
Yes, we too often forget it. My life itself is a miracle. But we must be careful, for like Ransom, many of us who believe this today, stop there. Ransom tries to convince himself that this belief, this “faith” in God and in goodness and in his being in “God’s hand”, is enough. He pats himself on the back that he really has done “his best” and that “God would see to the final issue”. But Lewis, knows that really, honestly, this is not true-Truth, not even on a mythical planet.
Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false. His journey was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in God’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours. They could, if they chose decline to save the innocence of this new race, and if they declined its innocence would not be saved. It rested with no other creature in all time or all space. This he saw clearly, though as yet he had no inkling of what he could do.
As Ransom realizes, we must realize that God cares through Us, not just for us. We are each, each day, standing alone on the precipice between the salvation of the world within and without and the death of all that is in both me and the planet, all that is Good and Right and Healthy. I am the only person right now who is utterly responsible for what happens in my own soul, in the souls of others, and on the planet. This is not the vanity of the powerful nor the hubris of the hero, this is the reality of what it means to be a created human being, created in the likeness of a God. Ransom, however, can not accept this blithely, just as I can not do, maybe as you cannot do, and Lewis through his character, rebels and protests these thoughts.
The voluble self protested, wildly, swiftly, like the propeller of a ship racing when it is out of the water. The imprudence, the unfairness, the absurdity of it! Did God want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself? And at that moment he now could not help remembering that men were at war and awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions; and far away in time Horatius stood on the bridge, and Eve herself stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision. He writhed and ground his teeth, but could not help seeing. Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it?
A stone may determine the course of a river. He was that stone at this horrible moment which had become the centre of the whole universe. The angels of all worlds, the sinless organisms of everlasting light, were silent in Deep Heaven to see what Elwin Ransom of Cambridge would do.
And so each and every day – perhaps moment by moment– one must ask oneself: Will I be a leaf, blown this way and that by life’s ebb and flow, to eventually be nothing more than the dust from which I grew?
Or will I be a stone? A pebble in the shoe of the king, can irritate him into stopping and perhaps, in that way, the pebble will upend the powerful forces marching towards destruction. A rock in the road, can cause the jeeps and tanks, to perhaps change direction, and in that way, change the direction of a war. All the little bits of gravel, can build each other up, and change the course of the mighty seas of history, damming the floods of greed, pride, and injustice, restoring the waters to their intended nourishment and life-giving abilities. And one little pebble found in a righteous slingshot, can slay a Goliath.
The Cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, proclaimed, that should we fail to be the stones of God, that God Himself could easily raise up actual clods made of dirt and minerals. Should I fail, God does not lack for hands and feet and wings and claws and trunks and even pebbles; for on Ransom’s Earth, on Lewis’ and my planet, a man once came to show us how to live. And this Son of Man, proclaimed that even “the rocks themselves can do our job of crying in praise, ‘Hosanna’! Blessed is the one who does God’s work on earth, as it is done in all the Heavens and in all the Cosmos!”
If I have delayed in my life, ‘til now, skipping a rock on a lake, or dropping a pebble into a pool of deep water, I must delay no longer. I can not know whether my little stone of an action will create far-reaching ripples, the consequences of which I shall not know until Judgement day; or if my little stone will sink to the bottom of our raging waters, and there, perhaps, small and still as a god’s voice, will change the course of the tide, at least perhaps for someone else.
All I can know without doubt, with fear and even sometimes loathing, is that I must be the stone that God has created me to be. I must use the hands God gave me, the feet God entrusted to me, and the voice God expects me to use. And so, like a good stone, I cry, “Hosanna! Good news! God is with us. And the Gospel is –We are the saviors. We are the ones that God created us to be as the makers and caretakers and workers for Love on our planet. We are the Christ.”
We are not called to be innocent bystanders, like dumb rocks by the wayside. Because bystanders, are not innocent, they are just dumb. We neither are called to be dumb as in stupid nor dumb as in silent. I may be just a stone, but I am a stone that is resting on the Cornerstone, and that Cornerstone, called The Christ, Messiah, Risen Lord and King, has changed the whole course of Time and History. On Christ the solid rock, I stand. Or am crushed. My choice.
The next time you are out in the world, stoop down and pick up a little grey pebble. Is it not truly a miracle of creation? Each of us, too, can be that small little stone that is in Truth, a miracle.
Will I be a leaf or a stone? Daily, moment by moment, I choose. And though, I am not all that important in the great scheme of things, I am the only miracle I have today. But then again, I am the only miracle, I need today.
And in the end, after all, as Elwin Ransom realized, as C.S. Lewis, and George Orwell, and Charles Dickens realized, and perhaps as you have realized, accepting that I am the miracle God has sent is not only enough, it is everything. My being a small stone is everything. In fact,
A friend shared yet another article by yet another writer who claims we should not argue with each other. This writer is of the persuasion that it is not a likable trait and especially (and here he is wielding the reformulated but age-old weapon beloved by those of the Inquisition), that it is not very “Christian” to argue or disagree, especially in public forums. But no matter Christian or not, I think many people in my own country at least, and no matter their religion or lack thereof, think that it isn’t completely kosher to argue with each other. Of course, if you know me, you will know that I am always dumb enough to think I owe it to other people to jump into the ring. I really have to argue with people like this who make me feel bad for arguing with people like this. Especially when they want to play the moral tone card.
I have long wanted to make and sell t-shirts that read, “Jesus was not nice, but then neither is God.” Niceness, I’m afraid, isn’t really the point of a god or of a savior. Christianity, at least all too often over here under this flag, has turned God and his supposedly chosen people into self-serving cultists who hide behind tax-free shelters being nice to each other and anyone who agrees with them. Americans, especially, have met so little resistance to our own crusades and imperialisms that we have had no reason to listen to or debate with those from other countries. The United States has had no valuable practice in debating our desperate need to seriously rethink the beloved institutions and historical documents we have enshrined and idolized. And neither church nor state spokespersons understand why, Rodney King fashion, we all can’t just get along– as long as you agree with my point of view, that is. Janis Joplin might rejoin that our freedom has become just another word for we don’t argue, so we can’t lose. But not losing, doesn’t mean we haven’t lost our way. Thinking we are being nice by not arguing won’t help us find our way, either.
Niceness is highly over-rated, unlike courtesy or kindness, or sacrifice in the name of love, all which seem to have become virtues we have put on the backburners, along with truthfulness, humility, and restfulness.
Ironically this latest article posted by my friend, was shared on social media and the article was about how we shouldn’t argue with people on social media. Oh, Irony, how I love thee! But then irony seems to be too argumentative a viewpoint for some people today; people who would rather drift along without anyone arguing against hypocrisy, foolishness, wrongness, or the ubiquitous, “that’s just what I think”. The worst are often people like this author; those who claim the Bible says it or some famous person they quote said it, or an historically specific philosophy says it. The worst are those who use that gigantic, greatly misunderstood and little read collection of genres, which is The Bible, and who then make these bold arguments and stunt any dissent; and they do so by cutting and pasting some quip or commentary or verse taken out of the whole contextual mass, or by one of the later day additions to what some people think of as “The Word of God”. Not that you can’t do that, but if you do, please realize that by doing so, you are, in fact, actually inviting people to argue with you.
People like this author make their sweet-sounding, oh-so-rational and unemotional bullet points about how we should interact, or rather not interact, and that is usually by not arguing with people on social media. Then they get excited that people repost them on…. social media, where …no one can argue with them. Ha! However, it is not just on Facebook or Twitter that we are unfriended for dissent; we are also strongly cautioned that we are never to debate and argue in the marketplace, or at home, or in the classroom, or in the halls of government, or at work, or at temple or sanctuary or mosque. God help us! Personally, I would rather you give me instead, any day, the angry, prophetic, justice-seeking disagree-ers like Greta Thunberg; or the friendly, wrangling sages like Kathryn Schultz, who argue about the very basis of our thought processes and our foibles because of our fear of being wrong. Let me read the stories about those crazy old, raging prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah. And I love to sit awhile meditating on the debates among friends like Frodo and Sam and Boromir and Gandalf, as they argue over which way to go and what to do on their journey of immeasurable importance. It is because the characters argue and discuss and point out to each other their different strengths and weaknesses, that we know that one of the deep truths that the author Tolkien is teaching us, is that though each of us must ultimately make his or her own way, the journey is more “Good” and much better if we all try our best to help each other. Even if they are wrong, it is good to have companions who will disagree with us on the way, and those who will try to shed a bit of dim light whenever they think we might trip and fall. When you have a Balrog on one side of you and orcs and trolls on the other side, then losing an argument is infinitely less important than making it safely across the bridge.
Don’t get me wrong, there are simply many ideas or statements or point of views that are not worth arguing over, and argument for argument’s sake may get the juices flowing in some people I know and love, but not in me. I have an uncle and a few friends who quite often strongly disagree with me and I with them; and we banter publicly when necessary and privately when possible, but we don’t unfriend each other. I absolutely hate any argument with my children, but I would hate even more, not loving them enough to speak my mind about something I fear could hurt or misdirect them. I love and trust these people because we can keep (sometimes) arguing with each other and we can still keep loving each other.
And as much as I really do hate conflict, I also want to be able to look at myself in the morning, knowing I tried my best with other people to make bridges, not walls. I don’t sleep well at night anyway, I may as well lie awake regurgitating someone’s arguments against my complacency or fuming over a point of view that I don’t understand, or trying to think about whether I have been wrong –maybe wrong yesterday, maybe wrong this past year, maybe wrong for most of my lifetime. Or I might wrestle with an argument and be even more justifiably and peacefully confident that I am even more right today than I was yesterday, because someone had the chutzpah to disagree with me. With that attitude, I may not like argument, but I don’t fear it. I may avoid it if possible, but I won’t avoid it if preferable.
If I have the time and need to say something, then I also have the time and need to listen to someone’s argument about what I said. I may as well try to learn something from someone, even if I continue to disagree. I would rather someone take me seriously enough to not like something I post or communicate and to argue with me, (unless they agree with me, of course, which is why most of us speak out, usually, right? — to gather the like-minded troops with our rallying cries.) I would rather share an exhausting volley of words, than I would like to take time to punch one more “like” button on one more picture of a cute pet. Although, I do really love those cute pet pictures.
Arguing with someone doesn’t have to mean I am shutting her out or putting down his ideas. No, actually, it is not imitation, but argument that is the greatest form of flattery. Argument means that I take you seriously and that you are worth thinking about. You are worth my time, not just to hit the “like” button, but to engage with, to converse with, to learn with. Arguments don’t have to mean I want to tear down someone, but rather I want to build something with someone. Just because we are now on opposite sides of a chasm or gulf, doesn’t mean we both can’t work together. I am piling up stones on my side of the chasm or river, while you pile up stones on your side; and I hope that one day, we will meet in the middle on a completed bridge of deeper understanding, and open communication, and real community.
Of course, everyone just wants everyone to be nice and to let the people we may call our “brothers and sisters”, or our “peeps”, say whatever they want to say, post whatever they want to post, whether it is true or not, whether it is good for them, or us, or the planet or the church or the school or the workplace or the family — or not. And so, we don’t argue with them. We also don’t argue, because we hate being wrong, and if we don’t allow other people to debate what we think, well, then, there is little to no chance we will ever be proven wrong. Staying silent seems nicer and safer.
And we let ourselves forget that silence means acceptance. Silence means you are letting someone else control your narrative. We forget that it isn’t only words that hurt, but wordlessness hurts as well. We forget how much it hurts when someone we care about gives us the “silent treatment”. We forget that one of the very worst things that other humans do to each other is to stay silent in the presence of great wrong. We forget that the thing we hate most about God, is His silence.
It is rather clever of this author, and so many like him, to take this stance against argument. It is, however, especially disingenuous to brook no argument if you are in a position of leadership, like those in pastoral or “Christian”-speakership roles, or like Senators or CEOs, or teachers or coaches or parents. These powerful people can speak out or write articles or post things about how we must avoid argument, and since no one can argue with them after reading or hearing it, they have by default won the argument that they won’t let us participate in because we should not argue. Ha!
Brooking no debate, is of course, one major way especially in the current versions of Christianity and perhaps other religions as well, in which religious peoples have long erred and gone so very wrong. We have accepted the strange and unspiritual corporate structure and marketplace attitudes that have infected groups of human beings since the beginning of shared space and spiritual yearnings. We have become a group of sheepish followers who do not debate or struggle with truth or meaning. We accept the false doctrine that “church” or “community” or “education” is supposed to be made by having a man who stands in front of the rest of the congregation or a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, and who gets to say whatever he or she wants to say while no one else can ask questions or disagree or argue or “teach back”.
And this is where we have come as a country as well, this rotten acceptance that democracy means that with whatever power and freedom I have, I will do what I want to do and I think what I want to think and if you argue with me, you are not nice and I will not continue to discuss things with you or try to work out some solutions to the problems we share. Because like it or not, we all share the same problems on some level or other. Our problem is, we are told that we shouldn’t want to share the solutions. And then, to feel safe from each other, and self-important, we end up creating and accepting a world with overly powerful leaders in the whole triumvirate of powers, the three- headed beast of state and church and marketplace, and we let these eventually Orwellian-styled rulers apocalyptically write our narrative because they do not have to be nice and they can no longer be argued with. That person who will encourage you not to be argumentative, is, after all, your pastor or priest or mullah, or CEO, or President, or Prime Minister, or owner, employer, or principal, coach, or mom. And it is why, like that violently arguing prophet, Isaiah said, “all we like docile sheep have gone astray, and each of us has turned to our own way.”
If we want to look at just one great human being who wasn’t nice and who argued with the best of his argumentative Jewish brethren and who ever since he lived, people have said you should imitate and follow, we could look at Jesus. If you actually read about Jesus, who supposedly all these churches have been set up to honor and follow, he and his followers were little to nothing at all like we tend to think of them today. It would be instructive to look at how much Jesus argued with people who supposedly believed in the same God He did, even just the bits noted in the slight records we have of Christ’s remembered life story. It would be wise to look further at Jesus as the brilliant rabbi, a debater in the temple, a teacher who listened and pushed back and lost as many arguments as the ones that he won. Even from a young age, when Jesus talked back to his parents, dismissing their viewpoint about him as their son, and when a young Jesus questioned his own teachers, he was a man who always wanted to learn more and grow more and open the door to debate to rich and poor, believers and unbelievers alike. Since oral communication with others was the primary way of learning and teaching, the greatest man and teacher and King who ever lived, did a lot of verbal sparring, open-ended debating and question-induced conversing and yes, Jesus did a lot of arguing. Arguing proves someone is listening.
It might also help some people, like this author, who look to a collection of books they call “The New Testament” and “The Old Testament”, to open-mindedly read what the people in those stories were really like. And I mean, not only Moses who argued with God, or Jacob who wrestled with Jehovah, or Leah who kept nagging God about things from her point of view; but the very people who claimed to know and follow Jesus when he lived here with us for awhile, as a human on our planet. It has been instructive for me to see the saint, Paul, as the irascible, argumentative commentator he really was; a man struggling with making sense of a new form of Judaism, and a worthy opponent who was not always right, but was always up for a good heated back and forth with the others in the ecclesia. This author I am ragging on today, happens to quote Saint Peter. Well, let’s not even go there. If we want to talk about someone, like the disciple Peter, who never waited a nanosecond to make sure he was right or knowledgeable or nice before he spoke out, and who argued with Jesus and the other disciples so much that it’s a wonder he was able to keep silent when the rooster crowed three times. We are talking about a man, who was nonetheless, specially chosen by Jesus Christ to further the Gospel by continuing to argue with others and for his beliefs, even after Jesus was gone. Jesus must have been howling with ironic laughter when he said, “By this hard-headed argumentative foolish Rocky of a pugilistic guy, I will further the future of my community of chosen ones.”
The current community of the saints was built on centuries of argument and debate, beginning with Jesus and slogging sloppily on through the wrangling of Peter, Paul, and Mary (who had lots of great “hits”, but not a theology nor seminary degree between them). The community of the saints has driven forward rather erratically but it is headed towards home only by the trial and error of argument and debate among those courageous enough to be wrong and loving enough to engage in discussions. The Good News that there is a way that we humans can know truth and love is because of writers, and prophets, and arguers of all sorts and stripes. It is because of people who dared to speak out, speak up, speak against, and speak to others, that the ideas of Jesus and his followers, and with some later-day help from Augustinian Confessions, Ninety-Five Theses arguing against a closed door, and even some wee hobbits and folks in Narnia, have thrived. It is because of people talking with each other, that the ideas that Jesus left us about how we should live are still with us, to argue about and to, first and foremost, seek and yearn after. And if you don’t believe in Jesus, look to your own best man or woman, and try to follow their arguments for engaging in meaningful dialogue with other human beings.
Instead of arguing for more understanding of the whole of anything, (which none of us can claim complete understanding of, nor can we through soundbites, bite-off all of the whole at once), most of us prefer to keep cutting and pasting ideas or philosophies or Scripture verses or newspaper items, or unrelated facts into manageable two-by-fours which we use to either whack the competing voices with or use to build a foundation for our individual towering house of cards that we have already decided to live alone in until it teeters down on us. We take the bits of ideas that we like and have secured safely, or so we think, into our warehouses of ideas, (gotten there ironically, only by the arguments of willingly or unwillingly hotly debated truths of people who have come before us), and we clip and glue small parts of the whole, taking some one single thing all out of the context of the entire arc of the whole story.
By telling others how to argue (or not), how to talk (or not), how to be (or not), we are not only losing the point of this planetary experiment, we are losing one of our best human qualities besides. Especially for anyone who claims to believe in democratic communities or in a God, we must be willing to argue, for “Pete’s Sake” (pun intended). Because if you read the stories, or if you believe even a modicum of religious thought might be true, then you must accept that even God Himself, has some super good arguments on record, some of which He loses! A God who would create a human being, must have debated long and hard with Herself, before giving that creature free will. Who are we to notargue with that?
I personally hate conflict and argument, but I hate even more the strange place we, at least in my country, seem to have gotten to today. To encourage someone how to be like Jesus, is to inherently have debate about who He was. And please, can we let the record show that both Jesus and God even called people names. They name-called people! and it wasn’t usually funny, like it was with Peter. Try having Jesus, in an argument, call you a “dog” or a “viper” and see how you feel. See if you still think Jesus is nice. See if you decide to take your feel-good Facebook posts and go home. Check out some of the adjectives God uses for us, “obstinate”, “arrogant”, “hard-hearted”; or God who in His many arguments with His children when He calls us “chaff”, “fools”, or “dust”. For a great story about God talking back to humans and arguing, check out His argument to the man Job in the book of that name, beginning with chapter thirty-eight and going on and on and on. And here’s the kicker, at the end of this great myth, Job gets rewarded, unlike his friends, because he respected God enough to argue with God but never stopped worshipping or serving or loving God.
Of course, I do not recommend name calling as a persuasive technique unless you are perfect yourself , as Jesus was, or unless you are God. But today, considering how many small-minded men think they are God or The Chosen One, perhaps some of us “nice” people need to throw around a few names after all; names like “hypocrite” or “vipers” or “fools” or “foxes” or “stiff-necked oxen”. For those of us who hate to argue but do it anyway because we think it is the right, honorable, loving thing to do; please let the record show to those of us who want to be “good” or “loving”, that Jesus, the “goodest” and “lovingest” of all, was in an emotionally charged conflict so often, that he had to literally flee from other people, even his family and friends, and escape somewhere alone to chill out and recuperate from the emotional and spiritual toil that his conversations took. As our mothers used to say, “choose your battles wisely” but as our fathers used to say, “tell that kid you will meet him on the playground after school because you respect him, and yourself, enough to fight him”. If only people would spend more time competing with ideas and throwing around words, than they did competing on sports fields and throwing around balls. If only we would spend more of our lives wielding honest discussion and loving passionate debate, than we do wielding remote controls and loving passionate fictitious soap operas, we might actually make a go of this thing called humanity.
I think that we have to keep trying to point people to the truth and to the best ideas and ways of thinking and living that we can. But I can’t assume that because I think it is the best idea, that there isn’t room for argument. We can’t be truly our best of either this or that by only posting, tweeting, writing, and gathering “likes”. We have to wrestle, even if we end up with bruises and sore brain muscles. We have to be willing to walk the narrow road of seekers rather than the wide avenue of controllers. As much as I prefer hiding my thoughts and keeping to myself, I write because I want to learn. I wrestle with you, because I wrestle with my own ideas and beliefs and feelings and choices. And I want to learn as much as I can, even from those I disagree with.
I would rather have to take down a whole lot of the weak, faulty, un-trued lines of rocks that I have built on my side of the gap between me and you, than I would to keep stacking up my ideas into a wall that no one can assail. I would rather you argue with me even if I get hurt, than I would to never reach the middle of a bridge between your side and mine. And I can only do that by looking over at what you see from your side of the chasm between what I think and what you think; and by together building something strong, and beautiful, and worthy of our humanity.
Because that is after all, why Jesus came to our planet to argue with us; he wanted to give us a shot at making ourselves better at being human together. Believing all that seems a rather foolish theory, I know, but I would still rather be a fool seeking God’s Kingdom, and to open my mouth and remove all doubt when I argue with you, than I would to wait in silence for whatever happens at the end. That is my Pascal’s wager in praise of argument.
People like this author that sent me into this multi-sided and rambling debate with myself (and maybe you), make “good points” that we all “want to agree with”; and so we erroneously neglect the true theme, the more devious purpose, and the bent point of view of people like this. They want to wield their own power of communication without giving their audience that same power. They control the narrative. They control the “conversation”. So, while they encourage you to give up and be nice, or learn a bit more before you take a stand, they speak or write as nicely to you as all dictatorial bullies do and without themselves, giving up an inch of their stated “expertise” or power. The opiate of the masses has long been, not religion, but the idea that we should all be nice little sheep who don’t argue with authority, whether that authority is your Pope, your President, or your BFF on Facebook.
I used to teach young people, you can’t control or craft how you write or debate something, until after you learn what it is you want to say and most importantly, why you need to communicate it. You must write and speak freely, feelingly, unafraid of error, but also unafraid of others who may come along later and point out to you that you might be wrong. We need not only freedom to disagree, but also good conscience to listen to other people’s arguments, and to accept other people’s ways of arguing, even if they argue with passion or emotion or even with wrong facts. When did we start thinking that by listening, we had to agree? When did we start thinking that we learn best by sitting still and shutting up? Or that it is better to never risk being publicly wrong because then we never risk being publicly right?
If we continue to unlearn how to argue, and go on disconnecting from discussing, debating, arguing, sometimes fighting our ideas even heatedly, pigheadedly, foolishly; then how will any of us ever learn which of all the doors ahead that we can open are the best ones? Sometimes, while we are standing, looking up and down the roads one might take, we need a good friend to argue with us, about the different directions one might use on this path called life.
If we are unwilling to argue with each other about important things, belief-type things, planet-survival type things, love thy neighbor type things, then we will not be remembered as smart, or wise or “Jesus-like” or likable beings on this planet. We will, if we somehow survive to be remembered by anyone at all, be remembered not as nice, but as lost.