Do We Really?

Do We Really?

By Jane Tawel

February 3, 2019

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All the assumptions we make.  And we just take it all for granted that because we call ourselves something, label ourselves something, that these things are true.  And we like them to be true because that is what gives us personal meaning and usually a paycheck or two.  One of my favorite sayings of the current younger generation is when someone says something, and they sing-song with a bit of Socratic sass: “But is it? Is it really?”  “Was he?  Was he really?”  “But did you?  Did you really?”  With the emphasis on really, this seemingly silly question has all the power of Pilate’s “What is truth?”  I imagine if Pilate and Jesus were talking today, as they did in John 18, their conversation would go something more like this.

 

Jesus :“I have come into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth, hears my voice.”

Pilate: “But do they?  Do they really?”

 

Here are some assumptions I hear people making, and being the stickler for the needed role of an antagonist in any good story, I will present how one might wonder about the “truth”  of things people base their lives, livelihood, and even salvation on.  This of course is a partial list of just my own particular meditations today.   We can add on to these and ponder them for eternity; or rather until God’s Kingdom comes. Then the fat angel sings and it’s game over.

People say a lot of stuff about what “Christians” believe.  Here is some of my personal “Socratic” dialect about some ideas that I have been struggling with lately. As is my bent, I will open my stream-of-conscious rather bent and banged up thinking here.  I will use the second person “you” as a more colloquial version of the more proper third person “one”, meaning of course this is at heart, a first person reflection in the final analysis.

  1. We should lead like Jesus. Jesus was a good leader. But Jesus proclaims himself not a leader at all but a servant and follower. In fact, Jesus flees the leadership role that could make Him a king of nations.  Jesus flatly states that he can do nothing in His own power but only what His Father, Jehovah, does through him.  To put the final “nail in this coffin”, It is very clear that when we are judged, if we have been a leader, we will have gotten our reward while on earth.  Only those who serve as and with the least of the least will be chosen to lead with The Christ. We may all be created as equal, but we do not go through life as equals which brings us to false idea #2.
  2. All human life is sacred. There is, I am afraid, nothing at all in the Bible that implies this. The metaphor found in Psalm 139 is merely that, a personal poetic reflection on the part of the servant of God and chosen Jewish king, David. This current Western idea that each human life is special and sacred is purely a religion born out of Humanism and wealth and the warping of “Christian” thought. This humanistic, individualistic religion that we erroneously call worship of God is nothing more than worship of self, and is not a Judeo-Christian worldview at all. I could go on and on with proofs from God’s Word about this but read it for yourself from beginning to end and you will wonder how we got to believe that each human is sacred.   To give you only one indication, read the story of God and Sodom and Gomorrah and of Abraham’s plea for God to save just ten people worth saving. This idea that a human life is sacred is blasphemy in fact. There is none sacred but God, the Bible says.  We can choose covenant with God and be chosen in that way and only in that way to have a life that is more than dust.  But it is by our keeping covenant with God and living as The Son of God lived, that we become holy, sacred, eternal soul. I am afraid it is an incredibly important thing to think through in this day and age of the rather (sometimes literally) “Micky Mouse” -Americanized- Christianity-ese. It is  critically important because people use this idea of all life as sacred to be “pro-life” about the abortion of unborn fetuses, but not “pro-life” about the born lives of illegal immigrants or not pro-life about people who do not vote or worship as they do.  People support this idea of each human as sacred, in the ridiculous worldview that you can “ask Jesus to be your  Savior” and then he is because “God loves you no matter what”.  There are so many “Christian” songs that flat out say this over and over and it makes me tremble because if you read the actual tome that we call God’s Inspired Word”.  You will realize that:
  3. God does not love you no matter what you do. There is absolutely no indication in God’s Word that this is true.  Let me just give you one example: Moses. Yeah, that star among God-followers.  God was going to kill Moses and then – well, read the story for yourself of  Moses’ wife, that wonderful pagan woman called Zipporah.  Which brings me to this.
  4. God is not my friend. God is not that friend Who comes whenever I call Him to help my team win the game.  God is God.  Again, read God’s Word.  Actually read it; don’t show up to have the experts tell you on Sunday how much they love you because Jesus  loves you and died for you.  He didn’t. Jesus, a Jew, died for a Holy God, his Father, Adonai.  Jesus completed the whole cycle of being human in perfect covenant with a Holy God. Jesus died to show us that we could be reborn through our own deaths (both literal and figurative, as He did)  if we lived in covenant with Yahweh, as Jesus did.  Jesus is very, very clear that He did not come to throw out the Bible, what we blithely call to our peril, the “Old” Testament, but to fulfill and live it as it was meant. Not as the religious leaders had interpreted it but as The Christ lived it. We are meant to live it too. But it is not this wide road that is easy to stroll down because your own particular life is so sacred. Nope.  It is a narrow road that you choose, but as Robert Frost said, that choice will “make all the difference”.  I should be different because God loves me enough to make me different enough to be with Him. Which bring us to #5.
  5. God loves me. Well, yes and no.  God loves me but not because I’m me.  The Bible tells us that God loves “the World”. God made the world perfect and He made humans perfect. And then we messed  ourselves up and messed up the world and continue to do both of those things.  Read the bits in the Bible about how God “chastises and disciplines those He loves” and then decide if you want A Holy God to love you.  Because frankly most of us live like animals.  This is where those who don’t believe in God have it partially right.  We are like animals and we can choose to live like animals if we want; “eating, drinking, and being merry” for tomorrow we die. And that’s it.  Scripture implies that if we live long enough, we get three choices in this world: 1. To live for self and get as much as I can for me and my family, just like the doggie families, and ape families do. When my days are over enjoying this wonderful life, I will either lay down with gratitude or regrets or a mix of both, and then return to dust and cease to exist. The place of buried animal bodies, or the ground from which no man returns, is what the Bible calls Gehenna.  2. If on the other hand, you lead your life and choose to be cruel, wicked, to abuse God’s name, to abuse power, to abuse others, to enjoy evil in word and deed,  and perhaps even if you just commit those things we call the sins of omission, ie not doing the things you were meant to do for Good; then God is pretty clear you will be punished even after you think you escape judgement through death.  Those people will go to hell, complete with the demonic gods they have enjoyed while alive on earth.  3. You can spend your life living on the planet as best you can in relationship to a God we can no longer see. We can no longer see God as Adam and Eve could, because we have chosen sin instead. But God provides a way “back to The Garden” so to speak; and that is by following the rules, worshiping only Jehovah, and loving others as we love our own selves. This is the option we have to live in a covenant with  The One True God, Yahweh.  These people live to glorify the name of Jehovah, live for the least of the least in this world, study Truth, learn how to love and trust and hope again after The Fall, and resist the temptations that The Christ did: those temptations of power, greed, and self-worship.  These people will rise from death to a new earth and to even something  new and unknown – a “Heaven”, the place where at last we can be in the same space as God is and not die. These people will see God and live.
  6. Everyone wants to go to heaven. No, they don’t. You  may have been taught that you will go to hell if you don’t listen to Christians. Well, ironically the only people Jesus, the founder of the little Christs sect, says will go to hell, are the leaders of the religion he practiced.  Matthew 23:15:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” This is sobering to say the least for any of us who have taught any thing about Jesus.  And while, I have always loved the practices and people of today’s churches,  the incremental off -course steering that The Church has done for the past centuries, has us so far off course as to frighten me. Which brings us to something we might call semantics in #7, but semantics are crucial to explore when you are thinking about Jesus who is called The Word.
  7. Jesus loves his church. He doesn’t.  He couldn’t because he never used the word and there was no such idea as we now know “the church” in any of Christ’s teachings. In fact, in what we call the “New” Testament, another scary thing we’ve come to believe, there is not a single time the word “church” is used.  Church is a misinterpretation of several Greek words.  Again, you can read and google this for yourself.  There is, of course, much proof that to follow God, we must live in communities, caring for each other and worshiping together.  There is much proof that we are to live as followers of Christ with others who want to follow Him, like his disciples did. But the point is, we have turned the religion of Christ (and by extension of His early followers, including the people who wrote the Gospels and Paul) into something they would neither recognize nor I would venture to boldly say, would they approve of.  So let’s just say this for now.  Jesus was a Jew. Jesus believed that He was the Messiah of The Chosen People who were the Jews, the Hebrews.  Jesus believed that it was through the Jewish Scriptures  and lives of the Hebrew covenant keepers that God, The Father is best revealed.  He also believed though that the Jews had abused their status and that “there would come a day when God will be worshiped neither on the Jewish Mount nor in the chosen confined temples of any other peoples, but by all peoples in “spirit and in truth”.  Then He claimed that the day had  in fact arrived with His way – The Way – of worship of God. Jesus did not come at all to form a new “organized religion” and we have programmed and capitalized on Jesus’ beliefs out of all recognition and wisdom. The main word that Jesus used that should make all the difference in our understanding of who He was / is was not “church”, congregation or synagogue.  The word Jesus used was “Kingdom”.  And He did not preach His own earthly kingdom, but The Kingdom of Yahweh.  Which brings us back to the “really”, “is it really” of #1, in #8.
  8. The Gospel / Good News is that Jesus is the only way to heaven. No, He isn’t.  Jesus is the only way to The Father.  And Jesus came to bring The Kingdom of The Father back to our understanding and to make available the germination in us  of how The Father’s Kingdom can be restored to our world / planet/ Eden. What Jesus taught is that: “I am The Way (to God), The Truth (about God), and the Life (with God). No one comes to Jehovah except by means of my way.”  In fact, this is why early followers of Jesus who were Jews or converted Jews would never have called their religion “Christianity” because it wasn’t.  It was Judaism.  They called what they believed what Jesus called what He believed: The Way.  If you don’t want to truly know a Holy God and become holy, you won’t go to “hell” (necessarily).  You will merely have enjoyed a good or an awful life depending on your status, personality, and circumstances and you will return to the dust of this planet like all animals and plants will.  Nothing wrong with that choice.  If however, you think that you want to live forever in the presence of God as we were intended to do in Eden when humans were created in the image of Divinity, then it is best to try to figure out how we are really meant to live now.

Because claiming to be something, doesn’t make it so.  I would love to claim that I am a gorgeous twenty-three -year -old with a million dollars in the bank and five houses in various parts of the world and a private plane and that every one who meets me loves me and that  I could rule the country, maybe even the world in the way it should be run, and  that I get do-overs on every minute I’ve messed up and that God loves me no matter what.  And you would have to ask me with all the Socratic sass you could muster, “ But–Are you? Are you really?”

If you think Jesus did all the work for you, or that because you were born into some cultural religion or other, or that just because you are alive, that those facts– which the Bible says, fall randomly like rain, on the good and the evil — that those facts make you something you want to be; and that God loves you no matter what; well then, you may want to look around at what we are doing to God’s world, to God’s other children, to  our own bodies and souls, to God’s planet, and what we do in blasphemy of God’s Holy Name, and you may want to humble yourself; and ask yourself when you think you have it all figured out:

Do you? Do you really?

 

The Miracle of Eating Toast

The Miracle of Eating Toast

By Jane Tawel

January 15, 2019

So when you pray, pray like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name always be kept holy.
May your kingdom come
and what you want be done,
here on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us the food we need for each day.
 Forgive us for our sins,
just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.
 And do not cause us to be tempted,
but save us from the Evil One.’ [The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.] (Jesus Messiah– as written down by His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13, NCV)

The older I get the more I realize that I don’t need prayer to get through any normal given day. But I do need miracles. I also realize that the only reason I am still here, walking and talking my way through this place and time is because of a lifetime of miracles, wrought each day by the miraculous creation Jehovah set in motion at the planet’s beginning; at humans’ beginning in Eden; and by His grace and sovereignty for each of our lives, and every day ever since The Beginning, all the way up to my own small life and the small lives of my beloved children.

Believing in miracles is simply the radical point of view, that my needs are being met. If death is the curse, then each small factor of existence is being met by the miracle of continued life. We easily talk about the miracle of a baby’s birth and then quickly forget all about a human’s miraculous-ness every day thereafter. But if I take a moment to meditate on the very air I breathe, the working legs that support me, the brain that still analyzes what it sees (even if sometimes  hazily or often incorrectly); if I take time to contemplate the miracle of those people who stop to say “hello” or who call to say “I love you, Mom”; or if I actually taste the food I eat or enjoy the water I lap greedily, or become astounded at the multitude of colors and shapes of cacti or lizards – if I for one little minute choose to regard all of these things as the miraculous provision they are—well then, “normal” daily life becomes something profoundly amazing and my mere human existence, an heroic adventure. If I see God’s daily set -in -motion planet as a place of miracles, then I become a miracle-worker.

Jesus, who healed paraplegics, raised dead people, and created matter, tells those who see the world as He does and who choose to follow, faulted and fearful, in His Way, that they will “do greater things than I have done” (John 14:12). Imagine if even one or two humans began to believe that and then live that.

We like to tell the stories about Jesus manipulating common matter by turning the water into abundant flowing -over wine; by his feeding thousands with small supplies of fish and bread; or his instructions on fishing that netted his disciples so many fish their nets burst; and so forth and so on. These miracles of Mind over Matter remain part of a story about the Man-God, trapped between pages of a good book of stories about Him. But if we see Jesus as the new Prototype of Humanity, the Second “Adam”, then we see that The Christ, after years of seeking first The Creator’s Kingdom on earth, Jesus found that these miracles were in fact simple tasks. He laughingly says to the amazed eyes of those who watch Him do His magic tricks, “which is easier to say:  to the lame, get up and walk, or to say your sins are forgiven?”. (Lk. 5:23) And though He hadn’t a penny to his name nor a “place to lay his head at night”, Jesus had no worries, no stress, no selfishness, and no greed. He walked and talked through His life as if God were available, relatable and in charge of it all. In terms of daily sustenance, He said with a wink and chuckle, “Don’t you know, I have food the Father feeds me that you know nothing about?”(Jn. 4:32)  The Jewish Messiah told His disciples – and us – that “If The Father cares for the little birds enough to feed them, don’t you think He cares enough to feed you?”(Mt. 6:26,27) In effect He was asking, “Don’t you remember? Have you stopped believing? Have you so little faith? Do you remember God’s provision of the trees in The Garden? Do you worship Him for saving your ancestors by the simple creation of manna in the wilderness? Did your priests and kings not have in their need the miracle of the Showbread in the Temple? Was not Abraham given the lamb for the sacrifice? And did Yahweh not see that the table was set for you at your own home yesterday? Don’t you know that though you find the water, scarce and precious, that God provides it? And that God can make it spring from a rock if He so chooses?  Jesus’ mantra, so to speak was, “Why do you worry about tomorrow, what you will eat or drink? Doesn’t today have enough worries for you that you want to borrow more against tomorrow?”(Matt. 6:34)  Of course what He was needling and ribbing us about is that if we say we believe in a Benevolent God who gave us the whole good earth to tend and care for and “rule over” and “supervise”, then our worries are of a world not of God and are self-manufactured. They are Sin-manufactured.

And this is because we don’t see our needs being met as miracles but rather as things that we are owed. We have come, tragically, to see our wonderful lives as a bottom line, to be added to by more work, more money, more people, more stuff, more, more, more. We don’t see all of life as not a bottom line, but a complete circle. And in breaking that complete circle with God, we have also stopped thinking about what death means, or could mean. We stop following the commandments of how to live on the earth as we were intended. And we allow our neighbors, those we are meant to treat as God treats us,  to in fact have to wait and beg for true miracles as they starve or become diseased for lack clean water or live on the streets like modern day Lazaruses in view of rich folks’ homes. Because we are unwilling to work The Christ’s common miracles for our neighbors.

The perfect circle as a concept is a miracle in itself. So too, the circle that is this planet; the circles contained in our solar system; the circles that are our cells; the circles that are our families and communities.  Each day of my life can be seen as one more chance to start a new perfect circle in God’s Kingdom on Earth. The Christ encourages me each morning, “Be perfect just as Your Heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mat. 5:48). The circle of life represents wholeness or the Hebrew idea of Shalom. But most days I choose to live life as another long string of dots marching forward toward the next day’s line – disjoint, disconnected, un-whole and unwholesome. We can see each day as a line, moving us toward death as on a treadmill, an assembly line of disconnected lives muddling throughout the planet together, ever pressing forward toward just another day of “getting ahead”, passing the other guy in the race, looking forward toward the end of the unseen line’s end and never stopping to look inward. For at the middle of the circle of all of our days’ small dots, therein lies the truly miraculous — our souls.

I wake up – hallelujah! And I begin again! Hurrah! with just one little dot of existence – my Life! That dot becomes two dots as I open my eyes, and three dots as I rise or perhaps, someone must help me rise into my wheelchair or out of my crib.  And then the truly, truly miraculous happens! Oh Miracle! The most amazing dot of all is added to my breathing, sensate self – I drink and eat and the earth provides sustenance for my next moment. Perhaps I eat a piece of toast or a bit of cereal. Perhaps I can only be fed from a tube a nourishment provided by a nurse or loyal mate or a mother. But I eat my “daily bread”, that which A Creator has provided for my life.  And the circle of my day, my whole life really, re-begins — because this moment will be all I can know for certain. This moment begins to take shape, as the next dot needed for my life is provided. That next moment’s dot may be the great gift of running water from a tap or it may be a bottle of water a person gave me while I beg on the street because I am homeless. That dot may be a well in my village that I recognize as miraculous while I wait in line in order to fill my container. That dot may be a drive to work or a walk to the bus stop or the great gift of dishes left over in the sink to clean this morning or it may be another application to fill out with hands that know how to write and a pen filled with ink.  The next dot might be a co-worker’s complaining needs that I can meet, a spouse’s depression that I can hold in my heart, a child’s tummy ache that I can soothe, or a stranger’s rude outburst at the grocery that I can hear.  And I can see each opportunity as yet another indication that all I have – my eyes, ears, hands, mouth, breaths, family – all are miracles. Because life itself is miracle. When Jesus tells Nicodemus, “you must be born again”; is He not saying, look at the miracle of your life which The Creator has provided? Jesus says in truth, let your inner most being,  your soul be re-born today into a new relationship with the Creator of All.

The dots of another day are my existence in the world, guaranteed only for that moment, and they provide two different choices for me. I can let God recreate in me and use each of my life’s dots to create a circle – a renewed wholeness in the image of Him; or I can see those dots as my right , my due, as a little god, and as we all do since The Fall, I can let life’s dots go all pear-shaped. Again. Because frankly, most days are lived without my intentional point of view that each moment is a miracle awaiting my embrace of it. And so I do not take control and then trust that control to The Control of a loving Providence, but rather I speed through my life feeling out of control.

To see life as miracle takes time and love. Miracles must be nurtured. Miracles take an attitude of constant prayer, and as Jesus taught us, prayer must start not with finding my “brand”, but  with hallowing the name of God. And then prayer must move to a view of the world as Us, not me.  Give Us today…. But my repentance must accept that I rarely stop and breathe out and in and look around me and look in someone’s eyes and listen to the miracle of their speech or listen for the movement of God’s spirit in the world around me.  I worry and analyze and talk and talk and work harder and get more and think about tomorrow’s agenda and take notes on things and make lists for stuff and shop for stuff and get irritated at that person and worry about that person and feel anger for those people and my hip hurts when it’s hot and my knee hurts when it’s cold and nights are long and days so very much shorter than when I was young and it’s all so much that I wonder how I will ever get it all done and then it’s time to crash into my lumpy bed and fall asleep if I can until tomorrow starts but I worry about what I have forgotten I have to do tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….  And life becomes a drudgery. And Heaven is merely a perhaps someday reality if I prayed the right magical prayer which I am saving up for the future. Heaven is rarely among us now, and not, as The Christ proclaimed, among us every day if we choose to live as He did. And I live as if I have absolutely no idea about the “powers and principalities” of Good  — the miraculous –that are all around me and can take residence inside me. Of course, the powers of Evil are quite happy to sneak in to the gaps I leave open in the circle of my life. And I shall simply accept those evil powers as another normal day and pray that God does His usual normal, non-miraculous stuff until I need a “real” miracle

In the recorded words of the prophet Isaiah, God tells us that “if you are willing and obedient, you will eat of the good things of the land” (Is. 1:19) The very beginning of humanity began with God giving humans good food to eat (Genesis 1:29). God provides all the good we need to live, but it is our choice of whether we see this as miracle or our right. And if we see it as our right, then God will allow us to shove Him aside and let us eat of the food which does not nourish the soul. Which brings us full circle back to the miracles Jesus, the Son of God, performed. Ultimately Jesus had to come right out and tell us that the miracles of God-given food were nothing compared to the miracle of our souls, nourished by living water, and Christ’s  own body and blood as food. And if we want to live as The Christ did and live forever as The Christ is living forever with The Father, we must see each morsel of our lives as we do that first miracle of birth. We must daily be reborn, forming a life meant for eternity. A life that as it was with The Christ, will be resurrected from Death. A Miracle.

Wendell Berry writes in an essay in Sex, Economy, Community, Freedom, and Community: “The miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.”

In the past year, I have come to often meditate on this re-trending idea that is contained in the word, “mindfulness”. Many people claim to have coined this idea and it is often connected to Buddhist scholars of the 20th Century in connection to meditation techniques.  But it is in fact, the original mindset of The Chosen People of God dating back as far as we can read about them, to Abraham, David, Ezekiel, – even to Adam and Eve.  In fact, one could argue that it was Adam and Eve’s mindfulness that made them so happy and perfect at The Beginning and their chosen and sudden lack of “mindfulness” that led to their downfall. Eating from the Tree of Good and Evil, could be seen as Adam and Eve not trusting God for just that moment, being mindful of what they were enjoying eating, being thankful for the air, the puppies, the unicorns, and the cold fresh spring water. It can be seen as the pride of thinking ahead for themselves and only themselves, and not trusting  God for providing the best food – the best of everything — for them tomorrow.  It is because Adam and Eve stopped believing that Life was miracle, not personal accomplishment, that they and we ended up in this rat race. Because people were created to be at their very best by trusting in the moment and enjoying what that moment provides; giving thanks to their Creator for that moment’s joyful provision. But when we stopped doing that and wanted more, more, more, more and ate from the Tree of Not Just Goodness but Possible Evil in Case Evil would Get Me More than Good Would – when we stopped trusting that our needs would be met; then we were cursed with a need to achieve-no-matter-what; we were cursed to work through the sweat and stress of our hard labor; the pain of our labor in birthing our kind; the weeds in our wheat; the bugs in our soup; the fear of the other people who might have or get more than me; and the hatred of those we love most because we need more from them than that moment’s companionship in the journey. And so those moments of inspiration and creativity rather than being common place miracles, become rare and mere glimpses of what our lives can be like, and we hope and pray, will be like when The Kingdom is come forever. Meanwhile, because we don’t worship God for the miracle of our existence, we ironically lose the very powers we were meant to use wisely for good on this earth. We  continue to abuse and destroy the miracles of our planet and the miracle of the human soul. And in gaining the world by our own efforts, and being mindful only of self and our desires, not the miracle of this moment, we lose the miracle of the world God freely gave us.

And so we no longer know how to pray. Because prayer is being mindful of my need for A Provider. Prayer is believing that earth is meant to be like Heaven. Because for Jesus, it was. That is why He could teach us to pray, “Thy will be done on planet earth, as it is every where in all the other universes and wherever You are truly present – The Heavens.”

We no longer truly thank God for the miracles of the mundane.  Bless this food to our bodies, we beg, but we do not truly find flight in the gratitude of a body that can miraculously work or profoundly surprisingly walk. We do not thank God on bended knee that in His righteousness and holiness, He has seen fit to protect us from evil yet again, even the evil of disease or disaster.  We do not thank Him for the minutiae of the miraculous– the salt in our shakers or oil in our pan or light at the end of a wick or switch. We paste on the words of “For Thine is the power and glory forever” as we would paste on a return label on a bill we are paying.

This morning I heard on my little I-pod the song “I Can Only Imagine” by the amazing creators known as “Mercy Me” and it just struck me, “we have this song all wrong”.  Well, at least I have this song all wrong. With apologies to the song writers, who probably have the song all right in their own hearts and minds –when we sing about being only able to imagine what it will be like when we see Jesus and are ushered into the presence of The Father and “walk by His side”, then we are missing the whole point of Jesus and of our very existence as believers and eikons.  We are not to imagine what Kingdom Life will be like, but are meant to imagine – and the word “imagine” here could also be translated as “have faith” – that Life Here and Now is like that. God’s Chosen People are meant to choose to experience our lives and our neighbors’ lives and the whole planet as the miraculous creation of a Kingdom on earth as it is in The Heavens. We are meant to live as if God’s perfect Creation of our world is available and that it truly has always been, is now and will be again. We are meant to see that Jesus did not have to imagine what it would be like when He was with The Father in Heaven, because He lived as a human in complete relationship, complete wholeness with The Father while on earth. Jesus said, “I come to bring you abundant life, filled and flowing over.” Jesus proclaims, “In me, you see the Kingdom of God among you.”.  We do not as the song says, have to imagine if we will stand in the presence of God, or  if we will instead sing, or dance, or fall to our knees – we should be doing all that now, here, in worship of the miracles all around us; in worship of the miracle of God loving us enough to provide another moment; the miracle of our ability to be mindful, in constant prayer with a Parent/ Creator/ Mother who longs to re-birth us into new shalom, wholeness, and abundant life.

The miracle is not in what Jesus was able to do but in what we are able to do in Him, if we only “imagine”.  I think maybe if we interpreted Jesus’ words “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed” as His saying, “Do you not see what a Miracle even this small tiny little seed is? Imagine what you could do if your itty bitty faith meant that you believed that miracles surround the very air you breathe, the very water you drink, the very hand you hold, the very bread you eat, the very blood that courses through your veins.  Look and see what the Lord has made.  It is good, so very Good, that it is sheer miracle. Don’t wait to imagine what Heaven is like.  Have faith that Heaven on Earth is within your very being, your very soul. That is how you will have me, The Messiah, abiding in you and with you, forever.”

Miracles are so easy to miss because we keep waiting on something big and grand and something to happen tomorrow or beyond our ability or reason. But this whole life, is truly beyond our reason, isn’t it? The miracle is that we have been given the ability of gods. The tragedy is that we squander those abilities for the mundane.

And so we keep missing the miraculous moment when we wake up, and the miracle of eating toast.

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Tear Down Those Prison Walls

Tear Down Those Prison Walls and Run Free

By Jane Tawel

August 18, 2018

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Meister Eckhart

As long as we look for some kind of pay for what we do, as long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God. Live as if you did not exist. Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made. Then God alone dwells there. See! This is how the temple is cleared: when a person thinks only of God and honors him alone. Only such a person is free and genuine.

 

This quote by Meister Eckhart expresses well what has been on my mind as I look at American Christianity in particular, and The Church in the world in 2018. In my own country, it seems that the curtain has been suddenly and violently pulled back revealing the underbelly of a monstrous misunderstanding of what many of us claim is the truth of God in Christ’s revelations and the words of Holy Scripture.

 

We have gone so far into making Christianity a capitalistic individualistic religion that most of us can’t really see at all how to live The Jesus Way anymore.  We have sold Christ’s Kingdom for paid ministry.  We have justified our gains by calling them blessings. We have shared what we can afford to share and assumed that Christ died for us without any need for us to die to ourselves and live for the love of our enemies. We have disagreed with each other without any purpose higher than our own self-satisfied viewpoint. We have condemned the sinner and refused to condemn the sin of our own pride, greed, and smallness. The speck in our own eye has blinded us to the needs of a dying planet’s planks of rainforest proportion. We have found idols without names and joined cults of personalities without souls. The broad path is Walmart-sized while the narrow path is being littered with the trash of the world’s super-economies.  We are lost and we do not know it, because the marketplace is thriving. And we think that what we do in churches can make up for what we have done to God’s Temple.

 

It may be time to stop calling ourselves “little Christs” until we relearn what that means in this time, in this place, in this trial, in this suffering, in this mammoth Babylon made of paper money, security cameras, and nightly numbing entertainments. Perhaps it is time we stopped training pastors and priests and paying them at all; instead listening to the sidewalk prophets lying homeless on our streets. Perhaps no one should accept money for publishing a devotional Bible. Perhaps evangelism should be as free as the Salvation Jesus offers us. Perhaps instead of moaning about cakes and billboards and carpets and even cancer, we should meditate long and hard on what is profiting our souls as we continue to gain the world.

 

Maybe we should worship in parks and living rooms and share what we bring  — of our goods and of our goodness –to be together in spirit and in truth. Perhaps my job should be just that – my job –and my ministry, my religion, my image bearing should be just that – something wild, something free, something communal, something out of my control, something healing, and lonesome, something humble and meek and bold and crazy – just like Jesus’s ministry was. And is. Or could be, anyway.

 

When is it “Time’s up” for me – for us – to understand that the path is narrow, and almost impossible to walk on. The Jesus Way means I must separate my need to live from my need to live in Him. I must be willing to work to feed myself and work to feed others; to provide fish for my table must be separated from being a fisher of men.  This is actually the opposite of the Gnosticism that we now embrace as Christians, thinking that my daily body life can be sanctified if somehow I have “Jesus in my heart”. I must find a way out of thinking that there is no struggle in the dichotomy of this world now and this world as it was meant to be and as we are meant in God to recreate it. I must let my left hand serve my human needs without knowing what my right hand is doing serving the needs of souls. We must see how far we have fallen into the Solomonic way of thinking that we can have it all and still have Eternity in Christ. I must give up any personal gain that I can fathom, if I want something on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

Perhaps it is time for a temple cleansing. If Christ came to tear the curtain between the Holy One and the sinful ones; then perhaps it is time for us sinful ones to rip apart the curtains of our earthly mansions and looking through the dusty windows of our humbled souls, see the world as God sees it.  Janis Joplin sang it well: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” Or as Jesus said, “What is all your profit really worth, if in the end, all you get to keep is what remains of the God-likeness in you?”  Jesus came to set us free but we have to walk through the prison doors to enjoy that freedom.

 

Perhaps it is time for us to see the prison bars of capitalism and self-serving individualism that we have constructed and  falsely called “Christianity”. Perhaps it is time to tear down those bars and then start setting other prisoners free. Perhaps it is time to tear down the walls of the churches, to stop selling in the temples, and to with fear and trepidation seek the freedom that comes from true worship and true servant-hood.

 

As Jesus said, “It can all be summed up like this:  Love a God Who is not you.  And also –Love others in exactly the same measurements and judgments in which you love yourself.”

 

Maybe it is time to rip apart the walls of our hearts with no apparent protection from the onslaught of freedom. Perhaps it is time to repent from our foolish self-blinding way of seeing our world, and see through the eyes of Christ. And with the eyes of Christ, we can run free indeed.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.”  — Jesus, The Christ (as quoted in Luke 4:18)

Today in the newspaper, I read about a woman who was imprisoned for seventeen years because a false witness lied to the police and no one cared enough to find out the truth. We want to say that we are following the path set out by Jesus but instead we are reclining at our tables while a whole world is imprisoned by lies from the Father of Lies. The oppression of greed goes hand in hand with the oppression of need. Do we care enough to find out the Truth? Do we care enough to find out the truth about The Truth, The Way, and The Life — Messiah? Can I get a witness?

But on “That Day”, The Lord will separate the greedy from the needy. No matter where or when we live, how much we have or don’t have, we are not at all worthy. That is a lie of Satan from the time of Adam and Eve. Yet many in  The Church are fond of telling us that in this cheap grace era but expensive Christian era; that somehow we are worthy. We have stolen  the dross of wealth instead of giving up all for the solid gold crown of eternal worthiness. We are all sinners, guilty as charged. There is only One Witness who is True and who can set us free. Jesus. The Witness, who is The King, who is the Judge, will one day ask me if I lived as a witness for Him.  God will one day ask me as a hard trial lawyer or a judge would, if I own enough to pay to get out of jail. And none of us will be able to say, yes, — not even Mr. Amazon himself.  Will The Church continue to think it is about what we own and not what we are? Should those who want to be like Jesus, claim any freedom to “practice their religion in freedom”? No, we have no freedom except the freedom to give up everything, and take up the cross of Christ. If we who are guilty die with He Who was not guilty, then we will live in resurrected freedom forever.

Jesus has our get out of jail card and the right directions on the path to eternal freedom. Above this world’s prison bars is this message: “If you want true freedom, even the ultimate freedom from death, then give up everything, and follow God.” And this is absolutely impossible to do. And yet, Christ did it. And Christ offers to do it for, in and through us.

Perhaps it is time, we let Him set us free.

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Getting My Monster On

Getting My Monster On

By Jane Tawel

August 5, 2018

 

 

 

I am growing older and I would think that having had so many people in my life that I have loved, liked or been irritated by (sometimes all of those for the same person, of course, in the same moment), I would think –that I would think less about me and more about them.  But I find I wake up each morning with myself immediately on my mind.  And it is depressing.  I feel depressed. I feel patched together, sort of like a “human-wanna-be”.  When I look in the mirror or try to hold a conversation,  or actually, try to move any part of my body including my eyebrows, I think to myself, this is what zombie movies are trying to tell us.

 

First of all, I am not keen on an old body. It doesn’t wake up well. Even after stretching while still lying in bed, even though I daily rejoice in good health and the ability to still do things I’ve always done, even if not as fast, my body, well – the song, “the old grey goose she ain’t what she used to be” comes to mind.  My sister, Janet and I decided I shall now call what used to be my daily run, my daily “wog” – a sort of “interval training” of walking and jogging. Thankfully, I have always preferred to exercise alone because a wog is not a pretty sight. Unless you are a toddler wogging, and toddlers are cute no matter what.  Although old people do have many traits in common with toddlers, like balance issues, speech issues, and potty issues, toddlers have change to look forward to, whereas old people have changes to dread.

 

Second of all, I am not that amazed by my mind. My mind is now a bit like the LPs I used to buy, scratched and skipping. Just like old records, old minds tend to repeat a lot too.

 

I am not especially happy with what people now call my “Legacy”.  My personal Achievements? – well, mommy pigs raise their piglets with love and duck teachers inspire their little student ducklings. If animals can achieve it, then what sets my human achievements apart? I realized the other day it seems the only thing humans do in this day and age, even while hanging out with other humans, is to practice using their opposable thumbs. I mean, seriously, you look at a whole airport full of human beings holding these tiny little shiny rectangles and working their opposable thumbs like crazy and you think, well, shoot, Koko could do that! I think it is such a great joke that texting on cell phones is not done with our five fingers but with our two thumbs, making us all look a bit less human and a bit more apelike. This to me is one of the great proofs of my own theory of Devolution.

 

But ultimately what obsesses my ever increasing down -time thinking, is my disappointment and sadness with what I have done and not done with my soul.  This would mean in catechism language, my sins of omission and commission. And be forewarned — I love, like, but am also irritated by those who would give me “pep talks” on this, or write up a nice little disclaimer to attach to these words of self-assessment.  Thanks, but no thanks. Because frankly, any of us who try to learn more about what a good and worthy human is supposed to be must understand that the mirror is cloudy because we keep blowing hot air on it; and the glass is dim because we insist on using our own ego-framed spectacles and not God’s eyes, Christ’s view. Our souls have become more like Dr. Frankenstein’s machine created monsters than the God-imaged creative supervisors of a beautiful planet.

 

It would be humorous if it weren’t eternally damning to look at the Biblical injunctions we choose to take literally and compare them to the ones we choose to take metaphorically. We look at what we like and find personally useful about our own journey in our culture, society, situation, nation, or group and then pick and choose the things we like or don’t like in what God and The Christ have tried to teach us about living this thing we call “being human”.  We argue about context and out of context issues as if we know what the hell – and I do mean hell as in the place – we are talking about and what the heaven – and I do mean heaven as in the place – the other person is talking about.  And honestly, the more I look at what God has created on this planet and how we have abused our rights to it; and the more I look at what Jesus said about being human and how we have abused our rights to do humanness with other humans, I think, I am still completely upside down and trying to walk forward on just my head. And I can pretty much guarantee that we were not created to walk that way. We were, quite simply, to created to walk in love with God and others. But even our idea of what Love is has become a parody.

 

My son Gordon and I like the movie “Young Frankenstein”. One of the most famous scenes in the movie is when Gene Wilder, that great physician Frankenstein, is told by Igor, Marty Feldman, to “walk this way”.  Feldman is a sort of monster with a hunchback and a limp. He of course means that Wilder is to follow him by coming “this way” but Wilder takes it in literal context and follows humorously behind Feldman by walking trying to imitate Igor’s  limp and hunchback. We have as humans taken out of context what God means when He says to “walk this way”, and while we look in our own mirrors and see a human evolved to walking upright, God sees us as the devolved monsters our selfish souls reflect.

 

When God came to live among us, He had to take on the form of us and He asked us to imitate Him and walk this way. God, in Jesus, took upon Himself, a limp and a hunchback and by doing so He recreated what it means to be fully human.  Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, Jesus did not create a monster but revealed to us what monsters we have become. We look on the physical in others and ourselves and see the monstrous there, while never seeing that the real limping monsters  are internal. Unless we daily follow the path set out for our souls, we will keep imitating the wrong way to walk.

 

It seems silly and demeaning to choose to walk with a limp and hunched over, but that is the only way to walk as The Christ did.  His last walk on this earth was hunched under a cross and He limped toward Calvary, condemned as a monster. “Father, forgive them; for they don’t really know what they are doing.”

 

If you wake up some mornings, or all mornings as I do, and aren’t quite sure what you are doing, what you have been doing this whole time on earth, and what tomorrow might mean that you can not do – then the Great Physician, Dr. Christ, has an impossible dream for you made possible only by following His quixotic example. The dream is made possible only by being recreated as a human being, born again.  This means that if The Son of God, the perfect Human, spent His time on earth thinking about others, caring for others, loving others, healing others,  dying for others,  then  if I want to live each day as a real human being, I need to believe that what He proved was possible is possible for all of us. To live is to die to self in order to live forever.

 

It is possible to think less about me and more about Him and more about them. I just need to retrain my way of walking and follow Him.  I need to accept the beauty of a wog well lived, no matter what others think. I need to walk not this way; I need to walk The Way.

 

As I try today to get a view of this world from God’s upright position and not continue to see it while trying to walk on my head, it will, daily feel like I’ve been spun around dizzily like an old record on a turntable. I know I will look as awkward as my wog. But to be reborn, means that if I keep growing, I will eventually be a toddler. And toddlers are cute no matter how they walk.

 

It will hurt to walk with God’s limp instead of my own strident stride forward.  It will seem that I am being silly and unrealistic to hunch my soul over in humility. I may even have to stop using my opposable thumbs so much and turn to the fellow human next to me and love them. But one advantage of being allowed to live as long as I have is the realization that in the final analysis, Jesus really had it right.
“Come, follow me,” says the God-man. “I am The Way. Walk The Way.”

 

Time to get my monster on.

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The Very Social and Political Good News

The Political and Social Thriller We Call God’s Word

by Jane Tawel

June 26, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“Interesting, wasn’t it?” asked Alex.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

david-versus-goliath

 

 

 

 

Personal Potholes: “Defining Your Own”

 Personal Potholes

Defining Your Own

by Jane Tawel

March 17, 2018

 

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

Listen. Learn. Define. Choose. Focus. Do

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pothole-damage

 

 

 

Desperately Needed: Translators

Desperately Needed: Translators

“Do Not Pray for This People: I Will Not Hear You”

By Jane Tawel

February 17, 2018

 

 

We the People, who claim some sort of kinship with God, seem to be lost in “non-translation”. “God hear our prayers” becomes impossible if not acted out with our own blood, sweat and tears for others. A quote by the poet, Christian Wiman, was for me today, yet another nail in the coffin of our “go to” – “thoughts and prayers”, “I’ll pray for you”, and so forth.  Not that I don’t in fact, ask for prayer often, and pray for people and give much thought to others daily. However, I remain cognizant of the fact that much of my sort of prayer is only possible because I am a first-world rich, “fat-cat”. Being a first-world citizen is also why I can sinfully often remain inactive in actually “working out my salvation”. Wiman writes in his My Bright Abyss:

 

Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation. As with any translation, action is a mere echo of its original, inevitably faded and distorted, especially as it moves farther from its source. There the comparison ends, though, for while it is true that action degrades that original silence, and your moments of meditative communion with God can seem a world away from the chaotic human encounters to which those moments compel you, it is also true that without these constant translations into action, that original, sustaining silence begins to be less powerful, and then less accessible, and then finally impossible.

 

 

Today is the fourth day of Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday fell ironically on the same day as the Hallmark Holiday, Valentine’s Day, and tragically on another violence by gun day at a school in Florida.  Of course, every day in America has become a violence by gun day.  When it happens to me or my kids, please don’t give me your thoughts and prayers.  Our prayers in this country have become impossible for God to answer, because we think of them like we do all currency – ours—belonging by rights to us because what?  We call ourselves “Christians”?  We have become a people who admire those who make money without work that benefits others and those who admire prayers that remain silent and not active. Unless we begin to spend the currency of our prayers in action, the Bible says, it will be impossible for God to hear us.

 

“Give us this day our daily bread” is meaningless for those who have more bread than is good for them.  God has no role in our need, and therefore, no need to give us “rolls”.  As we continue to pray for protection, we must accept that we have created a nation that doesn’t need God for that any more either.  Neither do God’s original people, by the way, the Israelites. Plenty of ammo to go around there, too. God is willing to let us continue to protect ourselves with our weapons of mass destruction.  Free will, and all that.

 

If I want to know how to act in the Babylon I live in, I should read the newspapers, and this doesn’t always make me feel good. If I want to know whose prayers God listens to, I have to read the Bible parts that don’t make me feel all that good either.  I must carefully and humbly read my Bible – especially the bits that convict me.

 

Psalm 69:33 For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

 

Psalm 34:17: The righteous cry, and the LORD hears And delivers them out of all their troubles.

 

Proverbs 21:13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

 

We must stop believing that we can go into our closets and pray and be a “good” church goer and be saved.  If this world we have created hasn’t become scary and awful enough for you, look at the next one we claim we want to go to – a new earth and a new heaven lived as God originally planned.  If we don’t start living in that world now, God is quite clear that we are having no part of Him and that He will have no part of us.  The words of the prophet Jeremiah should propel us out of our “thoughts and prayers” —

 

Jeremiah:  Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah (The Church, America, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, China……) who come through these gates (church doors, democracies) to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, (shoot up your own children as living sacrifices to your freedom to own something?)  commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal (Capitalism, America, Freedom…)and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh (oh, Irony – Shiloh is now The West Bank!!!)  where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’

16 So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah (Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, Karbala, Najaf, Kandahar, Kabul, Kedrovoye, Bethlehem….)  and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking? declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched. (Cheap grace will be seen as the counterfeit salvation it is!)

21 “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings (tithes, prayers, sermons, “thoughts for Me”)  to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt  (Europe, Africa, Asia) and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff -necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’ (Jeremiah as recorded by the Holy Spirit in chapter 7, Book of Jeremiah)

 

I am taking time away from reading my newspapers this Lent.  But I hardly need to do that to understand that American Christians have been swept along in the tides of history like all others who grow out of their need or desire to be with and like a righteous God; who break their covenant with God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We have taken such incremental steps away from Jehovah, Yahweh, that we are unable to see how many degrees off True North we have journeyed.  This is what has happened throughout recorded history with God’s people:  with the Egyptians who gave God’s people bread, with the Babylonians who let them pray behind closed doors, and of course, with the Romans as they took the money into the coffers of God’s temple. We too, have offered our prayers out of one side of our mouths, while chanting, “Crucify Him” out of the other side.

 

Jesus did not come to merely die for us. He came to live for us and to live as us.  He came to show us The Way – because we keep losing our way.  Most importantly, He came to make history.  He did not make history when He died – we will all do that since that first Adam chose death over serving Yahweh.  Jesus made history as the first human ever to be RESURRECTED from the dead – for eternity.  This is what He came to show us that God intended all along — from the beginning to today. God through The Christ,  has now offered a way for us too, to be resurrected.  IF!! IF!!!  IF!!!

 

THEN!!!  THEN!!! THEN!!!!  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (As recorded by the Prophet Paul in his 6th chapter to the Romans –and to us?)

 

I don’t really need to read the newspapers since History repeats itself again and again –in The Garden of Eden, in Israel, in America – on a Roman cross. The only different news-paper is The Good News of Jesus The Christ. Jesus broke the bonds of history – He broke the bonds of Time – He broke the bonds of Death. The news has always told us the same thing – we will die because we sin.  But all of that changed in the life, death and resurrection of the man we call Jesus and who believers call, Messiah, Christos, The Christ.  My prayers for Jesus to be my Savior are always a good start, but The Good News is that they cannot be the only thing I do.

I thank my God, My Savior, that He didn’t come to earth to offer me His “thoughts and prayers”.