A friend posted the above meme today, and of course, since it was 4:30 a.m. in the morning, my usual time to study my spiritually inclined tomes and meditate on my spiritually inclined thoughts, and pray my pathetically needy inclined prayers, I, of course instead, chose to respond at length to this post. Here are my hastily but life-time-so -far thoughts on the above post.
What I didn’t say in the post, but do now, is that this is the sort of post, I think Jesus would have responded to with the same harsh words he said to his disciple, Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”. I used to want to make t-shirts that read on one side, “Jesus was NOT nice.” and on the back said, “but he was God”.
Imagine me shaking my head and sort of smile-muttering here: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus… (smile, shake head)… what in the world are we going to do about You?”
Yep — that is the question. What in the world are we MEANT to do about that raggedy figure on the edge of the crowd, the man named Jesus, the figure named Messiah, the archetype for humanity, named The Christ?
Following are my expanded thoughts from my response today on my friend’s well-intentioned post (you have guessed by now I don’t have many friends):
(WARNING: Thoughts of mine may appear larger in the mirror than they do on a written page.)
Well, my friend, thank you for the thought-provoking post/ meme above. Of course, it gets me going…. hmmmm, where to begin?
Jesus was, as was Buddha, as was Moses, as was Gandhi, an actual historical figure and people actually wrote about him and what he taught, so we don’t need to guess at it, but it sure wasn’t at all as simplistic as this post implies, and wasn’t at all simple to understand, and as Jesus said himself, it was an almost impossible thing to practice and live, without the almighty help of the very Hebrew God which is the One that Jesus believed in.
Jesus was Jewish, teaching Judaism to Jews and hoping they and his ragtag bunch of misfit disciples, and eventually the world would catch on to what it was meant to be in and from The Beginning with humans’ relationship to YHWH and humans’ relationships with each other, first to the Hebrews but meant for all peoples and nations. And while this post is full of good ideas which are nice and good sentiments, and certainly have some truth about what Jesus taught, they aren’t very inclusive and are simplistically, if not dangerously, misleading. For instance, if we are to take the words as true that are recorded in the testaments, Jesus said in fact that he came “not to bring peace but a sword”. Metaphor?- definitely. Peaceful life?- definitely not.
If Jesus is to be taken seriously as The Christ, and as our meta-type in how to live, he was not at all an easy “pill to swallow” or a particularly Rodney King sort of “why can’t we all just get along” kinda Messiah. He was a radical worldview shaker-upper. The worldview of the Jews had gone far off its intended course in Jesus’ day, much as Christianity has often veered off course, and continues to do so in ways that must indeed, make Jesus weep, and God turn away Her Face.
The fact that Jesus taught and more importantly lived and died, what were meant to be God’s universal truths, inherent in any of the good parts of any religion (Christianity) or belief system (Buddhism) simply points to the other ancient Hebrew belief that “all humans have a conscience that is written in our hearts” — we also have a proclivity to be selfish, greedy, less than truthful, and hateful and to quiet our conscience if we would rather have it our own way. It’s a choice of will and a choice of faith in something more important than oneself to choose The Way, The Tao of Christ, no matter whether one believes in something religious, spiritual or not.
This is the other fun thing that Jesus came to point out; he hung out with the least, the lost and the least likely to be named Pope, Dalia Lama, or Rabbi of The Year. Radical guy, that Jesus and a super hard act to follow. And yet so many of us claim we are trying to do just that.
The important thing that this post reminds us is that for those who claim to “know Jesus” or “have him in our hearts”, we should be ever more loving, serving, giving, humble, and peace-making, even with our enemies. We should also seek to speak absolute truth with kindness, not niceness nor fear, but with the knowledge we are all meant to be “something more”. Because even when Jesus was judging others, (and he did, he sure did, don’t fall into the trap that we are not meant to judge wrong doing with the same measurement that Jesus would and did, but we are to make sure we live our own responsibility first and foremost and with humble judgement of our own personal and systemic wrongdoings); but even in judgement, Jesus was incredibly kind in his judgements comparatively. (Calling someone a viper is better than killing them with stones. Pointing out someone’s greed was more important to their eternal well-being than pointing out someone’s sexual brokenness. Jesus spoke to the evils of the tribe and the powers, much more than the broken sinfulness of the individual.)
Jesus spoke, acted and healed in the most loving, but “searing into the very soul” truthful way. I daily have to throw myself on that Christ-like, truthful, kind, loving judgment, both in the judgement of Christ, and My God, and of those I love and live or work with, and especially on the mercy of those many unknown, unsung, uncared-for people who continue to suffer in a world gone astray.
To allow myself to judge is to hope that the world, the planet, and the systems of this world have a hope and prayer of one day being better than they are today. To judge myself and to let myself be judged, is to let myself have hope of being better today than I was yesterday.
And to hark back to what Jesus, who wasn’t a Christian, and wasn’t a Buddhist, and was a Jew, actually said about himself and us, I believe I will one day, in some way, and some kind of New Kingdom, New World, take a knee with the rest of the world, and I will throw myself on the Mystery of Universal Mercy and Love, throw myself at the feet of The Christ.
I am incredibly grateful to have been raised to get to know about Jesus, in a place and time that has so much knowledge about him, and personally, in America where I have had so much freedom to study about that character and those who knew the man called Yeshua. But as it is also written, “to whom much is given, much will be required”. True for me as an individual, and if Jesus is to believed, true for nations and religions as well. God have mercy.
I got in trouble once teaching at a “Christian” school (my family reading this is thinking right about now, “only once?!?”). Well, I did have issues with a few of the places I worked at (yes, plural). I had a hard time shutting up about the fact that so many people at these “Christian” schools thought by sticking a label on ourselves and calling ourselves “Christian” or “evangelical” was enough. (You will get tired of my constantly putting quotation marks around the word Christian, but if you know anything about the differences between Christians and “Christians” or the differences between The Christ and “Christianity”, you will possibly understand why.) So, yeah, I didn’t mean to stir the waters, but I did mean to stick my oar in. I just couldn’t get around the fact that so many people wanted to label themselves “Christian” but at the same time felt that the label in no way should be allowed to effect their behavior or address the inconsistencies in their proclaimed and overriding worldview.
Don’t get me wrong, labeling one’s institution by a religious nomer is quite helpful. After all, how else do we get out of paying taxes on a business venture but still make sure it doesn’t matter if what we do or say is inconsistent with the worldview of that religion? But in terms of calling something “Christian” and actually letting it effect our relationships, our community, our ethics, our behavior, our systems, or our worldview, well, that all depends on whether you toe the company line and support the right team. It often depends entirely on whether you give a lot of money to said “Christian” institution or whether you are picking up on the current political trends. And sometimes, “Christianity” is reduced to the lowest common denominator of whether you are posting the currently accepted FB meme du jour.
However, it usually seems to me far too consistently, I am sad to say, that the most vocal and accepted formation of the religion of Christianity, at least here in America, has very little to do with the worldview as presented in the Bible and even less to do with the life of the guy we all claim to have gotten our name and lifestyle and beliefs from — The Christ. At any rate, actually living the life or comprehending the consequences of saying we want to follow Jesus, doesn’t seem to be part of the current trend in “Christianity” ala American worldview. Fun fact about this idea of “worldview”. I was told at one Christian college I was teaching at, that I shouldn’t use the word, “worldview” any more as young people no longer understood what that term meant. Call me flabbergasted, because I actually thought one reason I and others are hired to teach, is to well…. teach. And I actually had the nerve to think that when one is hired at a “Christian” school one is expected to have an understanding of what different worldviews are and what we are agreeing upon together are basic tenets of our own unique worldview.
So, yeah, I guess I got in trouble a few times or more for thinking out-loud. I have a problem. My mouth or the words I type on the computer just fall headlong into truth-telling. I just so darned often seem to have no control over the truth being blurted out. I have been told that speaking the truth is rude, judgmental, “unchristian”, and not nice. And when someone calls me one of those things I know I must be finally doing something right, because the guy I’m supposed to be following, The Christ, was rude, judgmental, definitely not Christian, and very often not at all nice. So anyway, about that one time…
I was an English teacher who also happened to be teaching a Bible class and I mentioned that one of the major themes in both Literature and the Bible is that of the conflict of Good versus Evil. And you know what? I got called into the administration and was sat down before the Sanhedrin, I mean, before the “evangelical” men and one token woman leading the school and they, with all the saccharine sweetness that unthreatened powerful people can always muster told me that I really shouldn’t use the term “evil”.
After I cleared the flies out of my dropped open mouth, I did let what I thought was an obvious truth pop out: “Isn’t the reality of Evil versus Good sort of the point of the Biblical worldview?” I didn’t actually understand their response through their hems and haws, so I can’t tell you what their counter argument was, but it didn’t matter for long; my days as a “Christian” there were numbered.
I was eventually let go from this school and one other I was actually an adjunct professor of at the time for allowing students to discuss the incompatibility of their Christian beliefs with newly elected Donald Trump (Who knew “Christians” had to believe in Republicanism no matter who the Golden Calf at the helm was?!?!). The other school couldn’t come right out and tell me why they let me go, but I was told by one of my few friends there, that the straw that broke their camels’ backs was that I had allowed my class to make a statement about gun violence in America by joining in the nation-wide School Walkout and Moment of Silence after the Parkland shooting (who knew that “Christians” had to be NRA-worshipping, do or die (literally) gun rights supporters?!). Well, Duh! Obs, not I!
I was clueless, and still am, because I honestly can not get my mind around the fact that helping each other see where we might have gone wrong is not kosher in today’s “Christian” circles (oh, that was fun to combine a Jewish term with the word Christian). Speaking truth or disagreeing with the in-crowd of “Christianity” in America today, is considered judging. That is you are judgingif the person you are trying to speak truth to labels himself a Republican Evangelical Christian and you are not one of those things. Or if you refuse to turn the Bible or Christian creeds into a referendum on American nationalism. And believe me, there is nothing worse, other than supporting a woman’s choice, than a woman who knows something about the Bible and Jesus and thinks it ought to effect how she lives.
But be of good cheer! You too can make judgement calls if you have correctly labeled yourself. It is NOT considered judging if a Republican is judging a Democrat or a person who was raised “Christian” is judging a person who was not raised Christian. It not considered judging if you are comfortable and you are judging someone who is struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage. Neither are you considered judgmental if you are a white person judging a person of color. None of those things is judging. And that is just the plain, real facts, folks, not the double-dirty-down claims presented by the fake media.
I guess a lot of what I keep hearing real “American Christians” believe and preach is not part of what I keep understanding the worldview as presented by the Bible and Jesus are. I guess that would make those things I keep thinking are the fundamental truths of a Christian worldview, actually in fact, just the claims of the fake Jesus, right? I mean, you couldn’t honestly be expected to believe in the actual words spoken by the actual Jesus or even attempt to follow the actual life lived by this actual person called Jesus, The Christ. I mean, c’mon? How would a real American Christian even begin to take seriously the radical Jew named Yeshua without a check account to his name, with a following of people who didn’t carry guns and wouldn’t know a smorgasbord from a water-boarding, and who began life from the wrong side of the border and ended it as justly executed common criminal? #notourAmericanJesus!
I honestly don’t recognize the “Christianity” of America today. I certainly don’t remember it being anything like this when I was first learning about it in the Sunday Schools of the Midwestern plains, in little churches where everyone knew everyone else and didn’t just see each other on Sundays but all week long too. Today, even the people I know who personally grew up right along side me in those same churches, are angry and entitled, afraid of some unknown changes they can’t control; they are prejudiced but unable to admit it, and they are convinced that America, not God is the foundation of their belief system. I understand all of that, and of course everyone, including I, have every single one of those issues. But what I can not understand is how they can keep using the Bible and person of Jesus to defend those attitudes when the Bible and Jesus are meant to change those attitudes in us. Jesus taught us that we should only let ourselves stay angry about injustice. He taught that if He, the Son of God was not allowed to be entitled, none of His followers were either. Jesus believed that every single human being was worthy of being called a child of God, that the true way of living in God’s Kingdom kind of Life was much more available for the sinner, the broken, the weak, and the minorities.
Jesus was quite clear right before he was put to death by Rome and the Moral Majority of his time, that there is no nation that belongs to God; there is no nation, state, or congregation that is “of this world” that is his kingdom. No, the Kingdom of Jesus and his followers is “not of this world” because those who want to live in The Way of God do not use fear, or anger, or entitlement, or prejudice as the means to bring about their ends or justify their beliefs. Jesus taught us to start living right now in a different kind of kingdom, a different kind of nation, a different kind of synagogue or church, a different kind of community. He taught us to be a very different kind of friend, neighbor, and enemy. And I just am gob smacked to know so many people who seem to have forgotten that; or who have decided they would rather have something else, some Golden Calf to comfort, some idol who has flesh and blood to follow, and tragically, some enemy they can hate and try to over-power. And often that enemy is merely a neighbor with a different label than they have given themselves. But they still think they are following Jesus. So the real question is, as Jesus asked his own disciples, “Who exactly do we think this Jesus person is?”
I mean, at some point way back probably about the time of the Crusades or the Inquisition or maybe as recently as the formation of the Moral Majority, most people just accepted that they didn’t have to actually follow the teachings of that wild-eyed, crazy Jewish Rabbi / Guru (who can’t have really been Jewish because he was “Christian”, right?). It must continually be such a relief to those in the current religious majority who want to label themselves, “little-Christs”, that the operative word is “little”. Just a little dab of Jesus will do ya’, as the old Brill Creme commercials used to assure us. People must just thank the God of the Hebrews (that old Jewish God that they no longer need since Jesus came along) that though basically Jesus came to show humans how to live, he never really expected us to do it. Just like that old God never expected Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree, or expected that the Hebrews would actually live-out the ideas for the perfect earthly community He gave them the instruction manual on.
Jesus very kindly got himself killed so we wouldn’t have to accept any responsibility for our actions as long as we said we believed he was God and that he rose again so we can go to heaven. If we said a little prayer and go to the right church and think it’s okay to kill adults and children but not fetuses, why, we are all set for a Christian America and a future Heaven some where far away from the planet we are destroying. And unless you are a big mouthed non-labeling person like I am, then it seems you don’t need to worry about any future or current judgment of your actions. I can’t quite figure out though, how today in America it seems that you can’t be judged if and only if, you vote Republican and attend church on Sundays even during a deadly pandemic. And I have noticed that as long as we keep paying salaries to the professional teachers and preachers who run the company businesses of Christianity and toe the trending company line no matter what those famous important rich “Christian” leaders do or say, then we’ll be okay; I mean after all, those top dogs do so much for America, they are national treasures. I mean, it is almost as if they are the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus time come back to life to guide us.
Thankfully, it doesn’t matter at all if any of this, or any of our current beliefs are completely incompatible with what Jesus or the Bible from the beginning in the book of Genesis to the end in the book of Revelation says is the real truth. We have gotten just too smart to buy into what the Bible and the Life of Christ reveals about human nature and the world of the Divine. We certainly are not meant to give up any national or individual or denominational power we have worked so hard to achieve. There is no way we are expected to be both American and humble servants of all. (Jesus was only one of those things, by the way.) No, we are not expected to change or be changed. That is a worldview, and we don’t believe in worldviews any more.
I recently splurged and bought myself “The Complete Jewish Bible”, a version by David H. Stern, who calls himself a Messianic Jew. That amazing and beautiful version of Tanakh and New Testimony is a great discussion for people much more knowledgeable than I. But each morning as I read it, I find myself tearing up as the names for God and God’s people, including Yeshua, The Jewish Messiah appear in my meditation. I have written before about the dangers of people who worship a book instead of a living God who changes with our understanding and Who is always Mysterious Being, not pocket-sized easy to please and control genie nor raging, abusive male household-leader nor national god who works through the powerful and mighty so that they may be treated like gods themselves. But the Bible is an ever surprising, shocking, glorious minefield of Vision. It is replete with spiritual guidance and dire warnings. It has story after story of human beings who tried to be good and failed, and those who were quite bad and failed at staying bad after God got a-hold of their hearts and souls. It has poetry and imagery that never fail to inspire and delight, sober-up and amaze. And it has the story about the strangest human who ever lived who believed that every human being would be happier, more fulfilled, safer, richer, and better if they lived just as strange a life as he did and his name was Yeshua, Jesus, Jewish Messiah, Westernized as The Christ.
The book that Jews and Christians alike read as religious requirement and personal counsel and enlightenment uses many different genres to achieve one singular end — to shape the reader’s worldview. That Judeo-Christian worldview, even before it was all written down and put into a book has been affecting and infecting the world since the beginning of Time. It is the only worldview that matters no matter what one calls one’s religion or lack thereof. Most people don’t follow it, many people don’t know they follow it; many people know nothing about the religion or book that best describes it; and every human alive except for Jesus fails at living it. I fail at understanding it, having faith in it, believing in the best of it, and definitely daily fail at doing it. But good golly Miss Molly! I still believe I should try. And when I fail, I believe people who care about me should judge me so I can learn what to do better. Because that is the expectation — that God sees we are imperfect but believes that tomorrow, we can do better.
My many ex-students were “forced” to learn a term from me and most of them giggle now whenever I remind them of it. The term is “Judeo-Christianity” and it is my “worldview”. Many years ago, I began to realize that I wasn’t reading like other people seem to be doing, the book that Jews and Christians call their “Holy Scriptures”. And then once I realized that, I of course, realized well, yes there are many people of many different faiths and some of no religious leanings at all who read the things collected in Tanakh and Testament in the ways I was trying to read them. Years ago, long before the recent morass of confused morality, I secretly stopped calling myself by the same label that others did when they called themselves “Christians”. It had become offensive, through no fault of its own; and it wasn’t offensive in the ways that Jesus was offensive. The Christ, who said things like “hate your parents compared to how much you love me”, meant it to be offensive. He got that from His Heavenly Father, who is so offensive in His insistence to let the sun shine and rain rain on both the good and the evil. Jesus didn’t accidentally offend either, He made sure people knew they were being offended. He did it however, without abusing one ounce of his divine and magnificent power. Jesus did not make personal affronts in the way a bully means to be offensive. He was trying to break up the team-mentality that had caused people to stop caring for others. He was trying to get people who had so much entitled wealth at the hands of Rome and Religion to be humbled and revealed for the “death maws and empty caskets” that he called them. He was trying to help all the people who didn’t have power or money or the right job or the right color or even the right religion know wherein the truth and the reality of God and the world really lay.
Today we seem in so many ways to be back in the times of Rome and the religious power structures of Jesus’ time. Just as then, it had become about a team, not a God, about a memory, not a present reality; about winning a ticket to heaven, not making a heaven on earth; so too today in the country and churches of our time and place. The Chosen People of Jesus were warned they would be judged for what they did to the prophets, with Christ foremost among them. We who read the Bible or look around at the way the planet, nation, world, and our communities are going have been warned as well. And a person just can’t claim to follow Jesus and not believe that we too will be judged; and as Jesus says, we will be judged most of all if we come claiming we did things in his name. So, I seek daily a way to go “further up and further in”, as C.S. Lewis would say; but I will not let myself think it is enough to go alone. So in every flawed, big-mouthed, offensive way I can, I will have to try to drag my brother or sister into The Way, the worldview walk on the narrow path that Jesus showed us how to take and promises to help us complete. Neither will I restrict access to The Way, however someone may find his or her spiritual path towards it. I am incredibly humbled by my own selfish, greedy, sinful life to not accept my part in presenting a false view of the God of Love and the Jesus who came to change not my little heart alone, but the whole wide world. I accept my responsibility to those who will never be able to hear the life-giving words of The Christ over the din of those who choose to cheer only their own team from the sidelines or refuse to march into the lion’s den for Truth or heal the sick and broken-hearted if the needy have the wrong color or label.
We do not know the Truth or Love of God; that is a mystery like a vast ocean, that we can only appreciate from this far shore. God has the Eagles’ view; we, only that of the sparrows, who peck along the ground and squabble with each other over fallen seeds. We keep forgetting that “if God sees and cares for even this little brown and grey bird, how much more does The Mysterious One care for this little brown child, or this little grey-haired lady, or this little pecking and scrabbling human being”?
We may not have an eagle’s view of the world, or even a clear view of reality, but we all do very much in fact have a worldview. As the truism goes, we all believe in something, we just don’t always realize what we truly believe in. It is quite obvious to others what your view of the world is from how you live your life. The old adage that actions speak louder than words is never more true than when we slip-up and our real worldview is revealed. And one of the most helpful things, I have found, from the worldview that all the people and the God written about in the Bible believed in is this:
There is Good. And there is Evil. And both of those things are making a constant play for power over my mind, heart, words, and deeds. They are making a constant bid to be the controlling factor in every government, every system, every company, every town, every church, every synagogue and mosque, every family, and every individual. They are part of every thing that is a human system or human being, and they are in constant flux trying to gain power over each human being alive today. The question is, not if they exist, but whether or not I can recognize which of them is trying to influence me. The question is not if everywhere Good and Evil vie for the controlling shares of power, but whether I recognize which one is winning now.
If I cannot recognize the good and evil that vies for power over my own daily life and recognize it is up to me to be in control of which one takes the lead, how can I be expected to recognize it in the many systems humans create and that I have such little control over? But the paradox that Jesus taught is this, the less I think of me, about me, the greater chance true Goodness, True God, has to be within me, of me, flowing from me, upholding me, and fighting against the powers of Evil that love to lull us into thinking they aren’t real. The more I turn my eyes away from myself and towards The Way of Jesus, the more power I will have over what evils try to keep me from The Good Life.
I am moored in my worldview when I realize that Jesus believed in Evil. In Christ’s worldview, Evil was both an unearthly, un-human power called Satan and a human predicament that comes from our fallen natures. Evil is both an outside force like Good is, in fact a Satanic power like Good is a Godly Power. Evil is also the slippery slope of ethical relativism and self-centered pride that we all keep falling down and trying to climb back up out of. Satan or just human evil desires both consistently tempted Jesus to adapt to a false worldview of what is real and true and important and good and spiritual and divine. But The Messiah, the Godly-Man was also tempted to give credence to the Evil that comes from human beings creating systems of power and mighty institutions of ownership of material goods. Jesus was tempted in all things as we are. But Christ didn’t slide down that slippery slope or put his faith in the systems of this world — not even once. Jesus remained true to His Word. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
A rather famous follower of Jesus who tried to convince non-Jews to follow the Judaism of Jesus and tried to help his fellow Jews get back to the real spiritual foundations of something they had warped into a misunderstanding of what religion is supposed to do; and tried to help everyone, even the pagans and the Romans, understand what the real God might actually be like, left us all this wise meditation on worldview: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. (I Corinthians 13:12) The disciple of Jesus named Ya’akov has this to add:
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:22–27)
The operative words in Paul’s metaphor of “the mystery in the mirror” that reveal the truth about our own ignorance (even about the very things we think we know about in this world), and the imago-Dei infused desires of every human heart to seek a spiritual reality here in our lives and in the systems of this world, are Paul’s words: “now” and “then”. We cannot help ourselves for Now to be overwhelmed by the setting in which we live our lives — the here of place and the treadmill of our days and the fears of our needs being unmet. The Now greatly effects how we see the world, how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see or rather don’t see God. But the “Then Worldview” that God provides and Jesus lived out, teaches us that we need to have faith that the Now- Worldview is incomplete, incomprehensible, and inconclusive. We can know this if we look in our mirrors and look at our neighbors and enemies and see in every face, the reflection of the divinity that is in us all. And while the reflection of the Divinity on the other side of the glass is foggy at best, broken for the weakest, and fallible and fallen for each of us, we are all created and instructed to gaze and gaze and gaze until our eyes hurt, seeking the glimmers of the Other Side until we get that glorious glimpse of the Goodness that Love creates. Then we are meant to keep trying to live into the Then as Now of Heaven on Earth.
Just because the Now clouds and mars the Then, doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to keep trying to see through it all to what we are meant to be, what God has waiting for us if we truly love God, love ourselves, and love others. Good defeats Evil with the delight of a child who plays a game she knows she will win; and Love conquers fear with the hope of perpetual spring-like, springing-forth Eternally-secured Life.
The Hebrews were constantly instructed to “remember the God who saves”. And we who claim to believe that the ultimate revelation of Who that God is was met in the life, death and eternal glory of a human being named Yeshua, are also instructed to remember. “Whenever you eat or drink, whenever you worship or celebrate, whenever you are together talking, arguing, discussing, planning, laughing, singing, posting on Facebook, or driving your car; whenever your country is at war or at peace, whether you have lots of money or none, whether working, playing, or resting, whether despairing or worrying, whether alone or in a crowd — Remember Me.” (Jesus, at his final dinner with his followers, at least for a while; as recorded in the Gospels.)
We are meant to always remember and to never forget that there was once a human being who lived in time and space, and never forgot that though human beings had broken the mirror of our own worldview, if we followed in his way, The Christ Way, we would catch just enough glimmer up head to keep journeying away from evil and darkness and toward Goodness and Light. That is the Judeo-Christian worldview, whether we recognize it or not.
One day over a decade ago by now, I had to leave a place that I really loved. I didn’t want to leave but I had tried my best to be a Judeo-Christian there and they just weren’t having it. Go figure. I don’t mean to set myself up on a pedestal or imply that I am not fully aware of the tree trunks in my own eyes before I try to help a sister with the bit of dust that blew into her own. But I am finally coming around to learn somethings (I love that expression “coming around to learning” because the very best lives are lived in circles, circling around and around the Center of Truth). So, a few things I am circling around that I would relate to my insistence on clinging to this idea of having a Worldview that learns a thing or two from Judeo-Christian thought.
First, always speak the truth even if it falls in a forest and you think no one hears it. Secondly, if the person you are truth-splanning too (why yes, I do believe I just made up that word. Cool, eh?) — if the person is unwilling to even think about what you are saying or think about what they are saying or doing in any kind of way that most worldviews at least used to call “rational”, then walk away. This is what Jesus meant when he told us not to throw pearls before pigs — it’s not because we see others as “pigs” and hate them, but because we see others as struggling with what it means to be fully human and we love them and there isn’t a blasted thing that a pig can do with a pearl, not eat it, not wear it, not even see it for the value it has. This is just the way some people are with truth, especially God’s truth. I know because I have been a pig looking at pearls a lot of times in my life and it took me a long, long time to recognize certain pearls of wisdom that I just didn’t want to believe were true, for what they were and are.
Secondly, go in to any situation and any conversation — actually go into each day — as a disciple of Jesus’ Worldview would do — with high hopes and love as your motivation. BUT, always keep in mind the very good advice that Jesus gave his own disciples in Matthew 10:14: “If anyone does not receive you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or that town.” Back to ten years ago and the place I loved but had to leave — -When I left the place that I loved but that had stopped loving me, I stood teary-eyed in the parking lot and then I picked up one sneakered foot and I leaned down and brushed the dust off. And then I picked up the other foot, and I wobbled a little bit and then flicked the dust off that shoe. Then I got in my Prius and drove away from Then and toward Now.
Finally, I am at last coming around to understanding that it is not enough to walk away from a negative, untruthful, unloving, unbalanced, irrational, or un-good situation or person (or group or church or political party or business or friend). It is not enough to shake the dust off my feet, if I don’t continue to shake the dust off my thoughts and memories. That is one of the worst and sneakily real evils that attract our souls and our waking and sleeping moments. That remembrance of a wrong, whether done to me or by me, is very often the motivating force behind the little devilish attitudes and actions we are victims of or perpetrators of.
And if you are still claiming this has nothing to do with the existence of evil, let me present to you this idea. Far too often the evil that festers and grows and seems to defeat the good in the world and in us, lies not so much in our not seeing the truth — we usually see it if we want to or eventually do; evil doesn’t exist just because we don’t believe in or truly know a loving, gracious God as revealed in Scriptures or Nature; evil doesn’t thrive because we judge others or judge ourselves, whether legitimately or not. True Evil gains power when we choose to nurture it and save it to justify how we feel and act today. Real Evil purrs inside us like a half-asleep but watchful hyena, waiting to pounce on the corpses of our sins and errors, fears and pride. Evil rejoices in its continued half-life that comes from our inability to let it go, to walk away, to lay down the gauntlet of truth about our need to resurrect the dead zombies of our yesterdays. Evil delights in preventing us from doing the very most loving Good-thing we can do for ourselves and others — forget about it, forgive it, and choose love.
I have wasted so much of my life, my time, my mindfulness, my wholeness and my joy, by going back to the parking lots of my memories and picking up more dust to put back on the soles of my shoes. I just keep picking away at these past problems, slights, sorrows, fears, worries, angers, irritations, etc. etc. — picking at negative thoughts like scabs on soft skin. And the dust? — the bloody scabs? — Oh, those are what evil loves. Evil can’t stand a clean slate of forgiveness and a pure moment of release. Evil can’t stand a healed wound. Evil loves to throw the dust back on the soles of my “soul” and make me believe that if I let a scab heal over, I’m not dealing with reality, I’m letting someone or myself “off the hook”, or maybe I am just not smart enough to figure out a problem. And so evil becomes a reality most often, because I want it to be.
The problem is, when evil becomes reality, Goodness and God seem unreal, unattainable, and unknowable. And while Goodness and God may be mysterious, they are more real than any negative feeling or idea that has ever existed in the world and in the human heart or psyche. It is evil that we truly only see as if through a foggy, dim glass or broken mirror. Evil is the dust that will one day return to being but dust — shaken off and left behind. When God’s Kingdom Life is lived by human beings on earth as Jesus did, and lived in heaven as God does, then Evil won’t be real at all any more. But Goodness, Faith, Love, Light, and Truth — those things will remain and be more real than any reality we ever knew, more real than our deepest longings and our wildest imaginations.
Good Things are what Life is really made of. Goodness is what you and I are really made of. And the ultimate Good, which is Love, is what our God-image is made of, because God’s reality is only Love and that kind of Love is Pure Light and Joyful Truth. And that is the only worldview that has ever truly existed; on our planet, in all religions, all kingdoms and nations, all communities and families. It is not just label, it is reality. That is the Judeo-Christian worldview. And I don’t want to step away from it or leave it in the dust.
What do you need to shake the dust off of Today, Now; so your feet are free and your soul is free to move forward on the path of Tomorrow, Then, in truth, righteousness, freedom, and joy?
Who do you need to stop treating like a pig who can’t eat a pearl and instead, treat them as a fellow human being who is in need of a little more time to find the narrow path and The Way of Christ today? I try to remember as instructed to do, that tomorrow, I might need someone else’s help to see pearls of wisdom for the gifts they are. I remind myself of all the times I used wisdom and truth as weapons and all the times I felt someone was hurling little stones at me, because I couldn’t yet make out that they were throwing me pearls, full of worth and beauty.
Where do you need to walk away from today? How do you need to journey away from the Past, and toward a Now that believes the Then has much to teach us; a glimmer of a reality we can have in part Today?
What scabs do you need to let heal over? What fear is keeping you from letting past hurts be buried? Who do you need to forgive so you can move forward? Is it really so hard to forgive another person for what they did so you can find goodness within your soul today? Of course, it may be that the hardest person to forgive is yourself, and if that is true, then I have found that Jesus can come in quite handy.
And finally, how can you more fully embrace the reality and follow the truths of your own Best, Good -defeating -Evil Loving Worldview? You may only see it dimly now — as in a fun-house mirror or a scratched up darkened window pane, but believe me — it is real and at the very minimum, you owe it at least a chance to affect the world and infect your soul with Goodness and Love and Life.
A final teaching from Jesus about how to see through the fog to the reality of a consistent, motivating and healing Worldview. This is a story about a Good Man facing the Temptations of Evil.
When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he was tempted to deny the realities of this world (turn these stones into bread and no one will ever go hungry again). Then he was tempted to worship the reality of what power can accomplish when wielded over the reality of what love is meant to accomplish. (Satan assured him that the end always justifies the means). Finally, Christ was tempted to believe that as long as he had the right labels, God would protect him from the reality of the material world and twist the reality of the spiritual world to suit Jesus’ desires. (Jump from this high tower and angels will appear to save you.) Jesus was tempted with the idea that Good was relative and that morals could be used for political ends. Satan responded to Jesus with his own carefully chosen verses from the Bible, wielded as personal defenses against doing God’s Good Will, and some cleverly warped manufactured interpretations of Scripture. Jesus was starving and alone but he knew Satan’s worldview for what it was — evil masquerading as a means to justify a good end.
Jesus was tempted by The Evil One to abuse his divine power over the very qualities that all humans share and that God in infinite wisdom gifted to the World of human beings. We are all connected and gifted by God with these three things: our needs, our abilities, and our dreams. But we are also each and every one of us tempted to abuse our humanness by corrupting our divine natures. We do this by corrupting our own understanding of what we need with what we merely desire. We misuse our abilities when we use them only for our own personal gain or glory and not for the good of our fellow humans or the solvency of the Earth or the worship of our God. And we confuse our dreams for our rights, when we put lies to truth, or choose greed over love. We struggle in our confusion between our present reality in this needy, broken world and our longings and search for that perfect future World that we want to be a present and perfect Now.
Jesus was tempted to choose Evil means to achieve Good ends. He would later achieve both ends and means through pure love and perfect goodness. Jesus would choose miraculously good means to achieve eternally fulfilling life-giving ends.
Satan created evil temptations, out of the qualities and guidance given to all human beings, those that connected Jesus to all of us then and now. He was tempted through his needs (Jesus was hungry); his abilities (Jesus was powerful and smart); and his dreams (Jesus could have ruled the world). And do you know how he resisted? By being very, very sure of His Worldview.
I am not all that sure that what I think or do today will survive the future blindingly bright Light of Truth or that I will pass tomorrow’s Test of Being Good. I am not sure of myself at all in terms of my feelings; my feelings, maybe like yours, are a continually bubbling oxymoron made of the gossamer and steel of my broken needs, my eternal desires, and my personal life’s events. And I am not always too sure about God. (Remember that poem I wrote that one time entitled, “Maybe You Have Left Us?” Yeah. That.) It is probably why I love the Psalms as contained in the Tanakh; poems full of all our questions about God’s presence and humanity’s condition. No, it is very hard most days to be sure about the Mystery and Otherness of God. But I am sure of one thing and that is this —
There is a way to view the world that is right and good and true. There is a way to see through the mists and the charades, just slightly, just temporarily, just humbly. There is A Way, and the dust and the scars can be left behind; and we can understand that there is absolutely both evil and good; but we can also have just enough small little bits of faith, that in the end, Good is always, always going to win over Evil.
Jesus shows me, that there is a way to love others as I want to be loved and that there is a way to love a Mysterious Being just as much as I want to have Someone love the mystery at the center of who I am meant to be. And because I am completely sure that those are realities that I have been circling around for all of my life, I will call it what it is — Our Judeo-Christian Worldview.
I don’t plan on stepping away from my search for the Worldview of the Judeo-Christians who infected the world with truth, justice, freedom, life, light, and love. I don’t plan on giving it up, any time soon, but I do hope to keep seeing how it changes and how it changes people. I hope it keeps changing me, radically, rationally, and realistically. I hope to keep believing that no matter what people call what they believe, all people who are trying to be better humans today than they were yesterday are God’s Chosen People. I hope I find that someday I no longer feel a need to either defend my strange, radical Judeo-Christian worldview, or even completely understand my worldview anymore. I hope someday that just like God intended, just as Scriptures teach us, just as Jesus lived it, I too will simply live my worldview and never look back.
The Message of This Season is Change; but The Story is Open-Ended
By Jane Tawel
December 15, 2020
The Year 2020 has been the most remarkable paradox of stagnancy and change. This is true on a global scale, (due to what it’s always due to, which is that old theme of Good vs. Evil); but it has been brought home to us as individuals on a vastly more knowable and just plain bigger-impact scale. Health, Wealth, Stealth, The Poor and War — those are the things that have always effected nations, communities, and individuals. The Year 2020 decided to “go all out” on all of the above.
I have known people this past year who have raged against the dawn of big changes either foisted on them from outside or accumulated by a lifetime of choices. I have known those who stick their heads in the sand or pull them back into their shells like turtles, pretending none of it is happening. There are good friends who abhor change and decide that they don’t have to accept it but instead can recreate a past where changes were all in their favor and everyone like them went to bed happily, healthfully, and securely, singing out “Goodnight, John Boy! Goodnight Mama! Goodnight Moon!” And I have friends, who have been hit by the changes like a sudden bolt of lightning, suddenly understanding things in a very different light, a light that reveals the darkness for what it has always been and the great need for changes, both personally and systemically. Of course, at various times in the past year and throughout my life, I could check the box of being all of the above “sorts of person”. So Change in order to make a difference must be both reflected and mirrored back.
There are those in my own country and in countries around the world, who protest against change and those who protest for change. There are those who long for change, write songs about change, or work to prolong the winds of change. It seems that John F. Kennedy was partially right when he said, “There is nothing more certain and unchanging than change and uncertainty”. But there is also nothing more certain that when change and uncertainty combine on a world-wide scale, people will either rise to action or fall into inaction. Which brings me to what some call their “reason for this season” which is also called Christmas.
Christ-Mass is supposedly in celebration of the start of a story. It is a story that begins with the birth of and the earthly journey of the god-figure and ancient Hebrew man named Jesus, later called Messiah, or The Christ. The story told for a couple of thousand years now, has become rather stale and stagnant for many believers and non-believers alike. The same bath-robed small shepherds appear in Children’s Nativity Plays and the same people gather to see how to best combine Jolly Old St Nick and lots of overspending on Christmas gifts with the reality of the birth of a poor, minority, despised class of person of color religious minority human being who somehow revealed to humanity the nature of God. But this year of 2020, everything is slightly askew, isn’t it? And because of that, anyone who wants to celebrate the reality of Jesus should be rejoicing. Because if there is any one word that we should associate with the person of Jesus The Christ, it is Change.
From babe born in a sheep’s straw pile to convicted and state-sanctioned-murdered religious radical, Jesus was the personification of “Be the Change”. Change with a capital “C”. CHANGE writ large. Change that is painful, unnerving, invigorating, unexpected, programmatic, outstanding, surprising, awe-inspiring, terrifying! Change that is individually and systematically, outside, inside, upside-down Change. A Change that was meant to effect me; and that “e” in effect is not a typo, since the old usage of Effect is intended. The kind of Big World-View Change that Jesus represents is world-upending Causal and meant to Effect you, Effect that guy, that woman, that child; Effect that town, that family, that nation; that river and tree and rock and lion and bird; that friend and that enemy. Jesus was and is meant to be the Changing Causal Reality that was and is meant to Effect the whole World. In fact, when compared to Jesus The Christ, pandemics can look rather small change.
So how can people who claim the Name and espouse the Belief-System, be surprised when we “Christ-ians” are asked, required, forced or even blind-sided and run-over by Change. It is, after all, the Stunning Way of God- Change that the person of Jesus was meant to signify; a change that was meant to effect this town, that nation, this government, that education, that art, this science, that environment, and this whole world. It is The Change that was mean to effect and infect the user with Love and Hope. It is the earth-shaking, evil-shattering Change that is meant to Effect the walk in The Way of all who would claim to want to be changed by a knowledge of Jesus.
If Christ-Love and Christ-Life is the Cause, then surely we who call ourselves “little-Christs” are meant to embrace the Effects of Changed Lives lived-out boldly but humbly in an ever-Changing World.
Followers of Jesus were meant to be changed by unanticipated pandemics and by anticipated stumbling’s. We are meant to be changed by not just the knowledge, but by personal involvement with starving children, with immigrants and sojourners, by the plight of prisoners, and by the reality of long injustices. We are meant to care deeply and rise to the challenges needed to heal fetid waters and burning forests and dying ice-caps. We are called to believe that we can change our violent ways and turn guns into farm tools and eradicate wars and rumors of wars. We are meant to protest greed in our places of commerce, government, and worship as well as practice personal commitment to root out greed insidiously lurking in our own selfish ways. We are meant to abhor the lies of any Judas, whether friend or official. We are meant to give freely, love fiercely, and practice peace; and we are required to practice rest and restoration as is the intent in the meaning of Sabbath.
Followers of Jesus are also meant to be changed by the homeless person on their very own street corners. Followers of Jesus are meant to be changed by someone else’s pain, to mourn with all mourners, to grieve with others, and to be willing to give up everything to follow in the ways of The Son of Man, a homeless, family-less, in the end friendless radical Lover of the One Parent that Jesus himself sought to be shaped and changed by. This is what it means to see Change as ultimately not Against us, but For us. Change is For our good. Change is for making us Good. But it can only make us Good if we receive Change as Gift, not curse; as Life-affirming, not Freedom-stealing; as the Truth of what we are meant to be, not a threat to who we are. This is what it means to believe in our great ability to change into something / someone we haven’t yet imagined; some one amazing and miraculous and profoundly whole-ly Human. As one of Jesus’ early followers said, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. We know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is”. (I John 3:2)
So here is a little story for this 2020 Year of Changes:
“In the fullness of Time”, Jehovah Jireh sent a Savior, The Begotten One, to bring change to a world stuck in the stagnancy of sin, sorrow, helplessness, hopelessness, brokenness, pain, and death. The Begotten One was born among the poor, uneducated, country-less, minority, despised of this world, to show the world where and how Change had to happen. He was educated by radicals living off the land in the desert; lived life away from his family and the comforts of work and home, and gathered a rag-tag bunch of students that he could teach the meaning of Life to. He was crazy-smart and very, very kind, miraculously so. He loved life and lived it with abandonment and joy de vivre. He showed people what humans were meant to be like and he lived to tell his stories and teach his disciples for a scant three years before the Religious / State Combo Powermongers of his day, used the inquisition of their time to convict him and the capital punishment of their day to murder him. But before that sad death came to be; something had already happened…..
Everything had changed.
Changed with a Capital C.
Because when Christ with a Capital C was around, “the blind received their sight and the lame walked, lepers were cleansed and the deaf heard, and even the dead were raised up, and the poor had good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4)
And once His life was “over”, Life had really and truly only just begun.
And in His Changed Life, New Life for All had just begun and was forever Changed.
Jesus lived so that we might be changed, “reborn”, reshaped, renewed, resurrected — because that is What he taught, that is What he lived, that is What he offered, that is What his life was. But the story of Jesus Christ really changed the world because that is Who he was and Who he is and Who he will one day be and Who we can become in him. The Christ asks only one simple thing of any one who wants to claim to follow him and worship His Father; Christ asks simply that we be willing to be completely and utterly Changed.
We who say we love Him, must be “formed into his likeness”. In the same way that in The Beginning, The Genesis, humans were formed “in the likeness of God”, we “second-wave humans” are to be “formed in the likeness of The Messiah, Yeshuah. We do this by becoming like him but more importantly by seeing him in everyone we meet and treating them like the King we claim Jesus is. Jesus says, “I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant [they seemed], you did for me.” “Give up everything, come, follow and learn to Be Me. Be completely changed from who you are to Who I AM.”
When Saul / Paul of Ancient Tarsus got this part right, he was a man completely changed by his experience in understanding who Jesus was, what Jesus offered, and the extreme changes that Jesus required. The disciple John got this part right, and was able to not only seek to be changed in the here and now, but to imagine great change in the world through the radical realization in changed lives of those living in and leaning into The Kingdom of God and Christ. John received a dream, a revelation, a vision of reality that John recorded in the Revelation, and one that compares with the great dreams recorded by the forerunners of Jesus, the Jewish prophets Ezekiel and Daniel and Isaiah. The dreams of the prophets were that there would be a “new creation” on Planet Earth that would compare with that we can now only imagine to be in God’s Heavenly Places — a world changed into what it was all meant to be, a Kingdom where Love rules, Goodness reigns, and Peace, Joy, and New Life are internalized, externalized and actualized. Change will ultimately mean an Abundantly Healthy and Whole reality for All of us.
For All Good Teachers, All Messiahs, All Gurus, Rabbis, Preachers; All Saints and Prophets and Radical World-Changers, The Message has always been the same. The Message is — Change. But my story, your story, even the whole planet’s and World’s Story is open-ended. Because Change must be allowed into not just our halls of power or our own front doors, but into the deepest recesses of our hearts, our lives, our very souls. Change must be, if not welcomed and embraced, at the very least, given room, given a chance, given, if not a leading role, at least a small role to play in our stories. The role change plays in my life might be as large as a pandemic or as small as a virus. The change that changes me might be as sweeping as an army of Angels or as small as a baby in a manger. Change is always, however, one type of catalyst or another, throwing me back upon my stubborn insistence on self-centering, or leading me forward into a centered wholeness. The Story of Jesus is not told as history but as prophetic dream of mythological proportions. The Story of Jesus is the archetype of what real change can do in the human condition we all live and die in. And we are promised that all who seek, will find. And all who change, will be changed. “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be changed. We will all be transformed” (I Corinthians 15:52).
The Story of Jesus, that we celebrate at Christmas, is the paradigm-shifting story of Embraced Change, of Worshipped Change. There are always people who fight that change, the Herods and Pilates, the religiously powerful, the nationalists and legalists, and even the common-place, normal friends and family members who reject change, who want to live in the past and stay in control, keep things as they were. But there are always the unexpected change-makers, too, and the amazing thing about this year 2020, is that we each have had the possibilities of real and radical change revealed to our imaginations as perhaps never before in our life-times. The revelations have not come without great pain, great fear, and much sorrow or depression, but if we look past the clouds, we can see Light, and if we keep the Darkness in perspective, we can walk forward with Hope. Like the trumpets of Angels or the brilliance of a previously unknown Star, Change has been born. And humble shepherds will listen to it, and Wise humans will seek it.
This is the message of The Year 2020: Change happens and each of us is Effected, one way or another. Am I going to fight Change, or let Change, change me into something better? To believe in the Cause of Christ, is to believe in the Effects of Radical Change. To believe in the World’s and my own ability to Change for Good, is to believe in the Power of Love. And the Power of Love is the most powerful force for Change in the Universe.
That is the Story of The Christ Child, the Story of Jesus. It can be the story of you and me as well.We just need to change the ending to be a new beginning.
Since I have put a bird feeder outside my “reading window”, I can now spend my early mornings looking down at my book, looking up at the birds — down, up; down, up; down, up. Come to think of it, I look a bit like a bird, with a head full of grey feathery hair atop my long scrawny neck, bobbing up and down as if pecking among the philosophies and fictions strewn across my table; and looking up at the birds — down, up, down up. I am like the scout-bird who is often a part of a small group of birds; the one that sits not at the trough of seeds but up on the top of the post, or in a nearby tree branch, the guard-dog of the others, (to mix animal metaphors). I sit with my pack of people imagined and real in books and pictures and thoughts and memories, and my own life-flock is with me in spirit, if not in truth. And I guard them, both in my memories of feeding them, and their continual feeding of me.
I like to see the little red-breasted, red-throated birds, who might be robins or finches but might be neither since, even though my daughter, Verity and my dear friend Heather, have tried to teach me and help me, I remain blissfully ignorant of types and names. The birds in the air swoop in and peck in their persnickety ways among the feeder’s offerings. I love the cool, grey pigeons — so seemingly unremarkable compared to the others. The pigeons are the sheep of birds, quietly feeding on the seed that has fallen to the ground. They may not be flashy or particularly bright, perhaps being two feathers short of a quiver, but they calm me and I feel my divine pathos rise up to surround them with thoughts of hope for their protection and delight in their innocence.
There is often one little sparrow — at least I think it’s the same one. I least I think it’s a sparrow. I watch the birds — I am not a bird watcher, a birder. I actually mostly don’t want to know anything about them — their names or anything like that. I just want to observe them. To be with them, apart, but a part, similar in cellular makeup, but oh! So very different! If there is anything that can assure me in the dark hours before the Sun rises, that there is a Loving Creator who somehow spoke into being, our planet Earth and all of the awe-some-ly unique creatures that roam it — for me, a belief in a Creative God is stronger, now that it has happened to be that I have time to sit and quietly watch the curious qualities of “birdness”.
So back to this one little sparrow. The minute he comes he pushes or scares the other birds away. He is a horrible bully and I feel so sad for the little birds that he scares from their places at the bird feeder as they fly away in fear and shame, while the bully bird takes their place. Notice I assume a male dominance factor going on here, but the bird could easily be female. Remember, I don’t want to know. It is unimportant to me. With the birds, I am able to do what I seldom can with people. I can judge the behavior without judging the character.
This sparrow, let’s call him / her a non-gendered name, shall we? This sparrow I will call “Jody” is a true bully. There isn’t a morning when Jody does not feel that no matter how much room there is, no matter how peacefully all the other little birds are getting along with each other, no matter what side of the nest Jody woke up on that morning — there is not one single morning when Jody does not immediately swoop in to bully the other birdies. He doesn’t stop to assess the situation. He doesn’t offer a deal or make some small talk. Jody doesn’t wait for the other birds to strike first or snap at him with some unpleasantry. She just hops on the feeder, flaps her quite normal-sized and frankly, rather drab colored wings, and chases away whoever got there before her that day. And if one of the others tries to sneak back on the other side of the feeder to finish its breakfast, Jody leaves her spot and chases the interloper off again. Don’t try to make excuses for Jody. This has nothing to do with being a “leader” or a “chosen and favored one” (Jody is nothing special, being a bird just like other birds). Her behavior must not be excused with some silly idea about it being evolution or natural selection. I am sorry, but it must simply be accepted — Jody is just a bully.
And I feel like sneaking up one morning on Jody when he’s at the bird feeder, his attention somewhere over his birdy shoulder looking for perceived enemy/victims; and I feel like grabbing Jody up in my gigantic godlike paw and holding Jody powerfully in my right hand and saying,
“Jody, my birdy-pal, my darling, I, the God Who Peers Through the Window, She who observes the Sun rising, and the deeds of all birds; I, Who have watched you each morning of your miserable little birdy-life; I, the Goddess who gives the birdseed to nourish the good and the evil birdies — and who cares for even the naughty, cheeky squirrels, for Heaven’s sake! I forbid you, small wee Jody, to keep bullying the other birds. Fly now, away with you — you are forgiven but Sin No More!”
And then, because I can’t kiss Jody on his little beak or hold her little foot as I would a naughty child’s small hand, I will stroke Jody on the head and assure her, and assure the whole little flock that now has come to see me deal with Jody– a flock of all kinds and colors, genders and abilities of birds — a multitude of birds that has by now gathered at my Godlike feet, stunned into birdy awe at my great supernatural appearance, and who are all bobbing their little birdy heads as they listen to my righteous message. And I will say to the flock that, foolish though they be, are my own, and are all those whom I have come to love and care for, even Jody:
“There is plenty. There will always be plenty for all in My Kingdom. Do you not know, that I can take these small seeds that I hold now in my hand, and I can turn them into a Costco sized bag of food to feed you? There is room at the bird feeder for all, for the pigeons and sparrows, for the meek and the red-breasted, for the shy and the brave, for the protectors and the children and for those who sing like angels, and yes –there is even room for the Jodies. There is scattered seed on the ground for those who must scratch in the earth to get their daily meal. And there is seed in the feeder for all that I watch over from my own perch, behind the window.
Do not worry, little flock of beloved birds. Do you think by worrying you can add one feather to your head? Do not worry, Bully Jody. Do you think by bullying you can add one hour to your life? Be peaceful in your bird-brains, and at peace with each other. If God can care and provide for both the good and also the naughty humans, how much more will He care and provide for you, the birds? Yea, even for the Jodies.”
I think Jesus observed birds often and knew them well. He used them as illustration and metaphor quite often, along with ones about seeds and grain. Maybe every morning, he woke up and read the Torah and had some pita bread, maybe throwing the crumbs out onto the ground to share with the birds. I like to picture him quiet before the world woke up, meditating prayerfully, reading and learning from the words on the scroll, and then looking up at the sparrows eating his crumbs and the grey pigeons pecking at the seeds in the fields. I imagine The Great Teacher and Miracle Worker in the early hours of the mornings before the hungry, needy multitudes gathered and the crowds and his friends and followers, who would swoop in, full of need, full of chatter, full of fears and hopes, and with broken wings and bent tail feathers they wanted fixing. A flock of followers who just as I do, just as you do, keep searching for something to feed us body, mind and soul, but miss the common, ordinary miracles of life and our planet and the miracles of other humans. We miss the miracle of seeds. And so we have rarely seen, that we too can fly.
The miracle that real food and spiritual food are always available is what Jesus tried to show the people; the reality that there is plenty and that no one needs to take more seed than what they need that day, because tomorrow, there will be more seed. That is the miracle of the seed.
Good birds will share space and seed; but even bullies could have much more than they could ever dream of, if only they would just ask. If we would only look around, and scoot over to give more room to others, and enjoy the seed set before us in just this moment, why then — those everyday miracles would become common place. Most people came to Jesus looking for a handout, anxious to fill their stomachs. But Jesus offered them what he knew they really wanted, which was the bread, the manna of his life that gives us life, and the “living water that will make us thirst no more”. Many came to the one they called Messiah, Rabbi, Lord, looking for an edge, a way to rise above the hungry, dirty masses and be better than their neighbors, richer than their enemies, more favored than those who were different than they; and to have Jesus do the heavy lifting but grant them a ticket cheaply bought to a better, far off heavenly place, a new, select feeder made just for them and not for the crows and ravens, those they considered scavengers, or the weak and meek, those they considered worthy only of what we in our pride and greed, had made of this filthy, untended, sinful world. But what they were really looking for was the beauty that had been forgotten, an earth full of possibility and hope, joy in the journey, and fullness in every moment. What they longed for was not someplace out there, but to finally be truly right here; in a new Garden, a better Kingdom to live in, a world that is this one, but reborn, renewed, recreated, in every glorious breath we take.
Since the beginning, some humans have struggled with the fearful reality that tomorrow the feeder will be empty, and others have hoarded and stored up more than they need, with the despairing anxiety that The Feeder will desert us for good. We are all afraid that that which has held the world together, and The One Who has cared to create us, will leave us on our own, leave the fools and the bullies that we are, in the shadows, in the burnt out husks, in the arid, drought-deadened fields, in the wilderness without Him. So since First Woman and First Man bullied each other into eating from the forbidden fruits of greed and need; and since the manna in the desert wilderness rotted in the storehouses of both the greedy and needy alike, we seekers of seeds and soulfulness, have tried to bully God. We pray without listening, look without observing, take without trusting, and we try to force God into understanding us, rather than the other way around. We whine that our hearts feel empty even when our stomachs are full. And we refuse to believe that we might be able, — even now, even all these years, after the beginning, after the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us — we refuse to believe we might be able to fly.
Many start their mornings and end their evenings at the feeder of thoughts and prayers, yearnings offered up to a God that in truth, we doubt can really care that much for us. After all, if there was a God who loved us, wouldn’t He give us more seeds and crumbs? So some of us bully the weak, and hoard the grain that rots in our storehouses, and we convince ourselves that it is our own power that provides the food in our feeders, and our own abilities that keep us aloft. Some of us choose to believe that there is a God who is as weak as we have let ourselves become, and so we convince ourselves that we need to do nothing but assent to the idea of the existence of a Bird Feeder, and we can let the world turn as it has always done, being only as weak as the God we have fashioned in our image. We worship a God whom we have made in our likeness and so She is either a bully or a weakling, or some days one and some days the other. We keep chirping and squawking, “Why? Why do we have to keep coming daily to the feeder for our sustenance? Why don’t You bless us with something more than manna or crumbs? Why must I share?”.
People came to Jesus and some of them learned that he loved them and that he believed in a Greater Good that also loved them just as any wonderful Mommy and Daddy always love their children, even when those children might be very naughty or unable to fly because of a broken wing. Jesus showed people that there really was Someone behind the window, and that even though the window was so foggy and scratched up and cloudy, you couldn’t really see Who was sitting there, you could sometimes see movement; and you knew that it was The God Behind the Window who each day, provided the seeds for us.
People came to Jesus because they were hungry and wanted to be fed, just as my birds come each morning to my yard to be fed. The people came to The Christ in their foolishness and pride and neediness, and they drained him of power and fought over who got the best and biggest crumbs of divine knowledge and holy interference. We are all people who never quite trust there will be enough of God’s good gifts. But there are seeds strewn throughout the world, freely given, gratefully received, enough for all, created by The Feeder’s righteous hands and shared by those of us who scoot over to make room for more hungry beaks. I think of these people who came to The Christ, people who depleted the Giver, like the hungry birds deplete my feeder full of seeds. I like to think after a long tough day, that Jesus returned to sit by himself, or maybe with one or two other bird-watchers, sharing a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread but not talking much, just sitting together, listening to each other’s breathing, and relaxing, and observing, and very glad to be alive.
I, too, want to follow in the footsteps of those who have left us evidence that they were Masters of Life and Living. I want to rise each morning to learn my lessons and share seeds with the birds, and to let the Great Gurus and the small birds teach me as I look up and down, up and down, up and down. I want to sit in the cool of the evenings somewhere quiet and alone or with those who also watch and wait, and we will end as we begin, by watching the birds.
When I sit watching Jody bully his neighbors, or the pigeons meekly graze, or even those cheeky, naughty squirrels catapulting through the branches or skittering across the yard in their games of tag, I imagine the mornings before the Father’s Sun rose, when Jesus sat alone, but never felt alone. I think of The Man as that one who would suffer all we do and more, much more, and yet who was able to care for the birds; a man perfectly content, happy, mindfully watching and waiting, just a human being, like me, reading, observing, smiling or shaking his head at the foolishness of birds and of men; someone who saw everything for what it truly is, but deeply loved and cared for it all. And I imagine that those were the times that he understood most truly that he had fulfilled his mission for living among us, as he sat with his head bobbing — up and down, up and down, up and down.
I understand a bit more now about my own task in this world and my own joy in the journey of a moment, now that I too, have made the time I always needed but seldom took, to sit and study, and watch and observe, and just be — just be with the goings on about me on this planet, and to be with the birds. I know more about why Jesus, The Teacher, told us the Parable of the Sparrows, because knowing birds a bit better, I am learning that we are all so much less important than we think we are, and we are also so much more loved than we believe we are.
Whether today, you are a struggling pigeon of a person, pecking and hunting for your sustenance. Or you are a Jody — a bully who thinks he has to overpower and overcome others to get ahead, to get more, to get what he deserves, to have the best perch, the most seeds, the top spot, or whatever it is you think you must have. No matter what kind of bird or being you are, remember that there is One Who Makes the Seed; One Who creates and plants and tends; One Who gives each day the Sun and Rain to grow the seeds; and One Who cares as much for you as for the sparrows. Meditate today on The God Who is a Feeding, Watching, Caring Being that even when you can’t see Her, loves you and has provided plenty of food and room at the feeder.
Then we must all try to understand, that the final instructions that Jesus gave before he flew off, were:
“Feed them. In the same way you feed others, you will be fed. Trust in Goodness, and that there is enough for all. In the same way you share seed and give place with others, I will give to you. Now go — and you must not just feed the birds you like, but you must also feed your enemies, the Jodies. I say, unto you, love The Watcher in the Window, and love your neighbors and your enemies just as much as you love yourself. Know that by doing so, you are like Your Heavenly Feeder and Father, whose feeder is full to overflowing, available and free for all of us.”
Remember to look around at the world, to observe the birds of the air, and the beasts of fields, and as you peck and scratch, or you hop and flit from here to there today, be assured —
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the unbelieving and faithless who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.~~Jesus as recorded in The Book of Matthew by one of his followers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
‘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.