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.
You Can’t Take “It” With You; But You Can Pass It On
By Jane Tawel
January 1, 2021
So, this is what the start of a new year looks like and frankly I am unimpressed. We woke up today, thinking somehow the worst year on record for most of us would be immediately left behind. We all had such high hopes for 2021, because let’s face it, anything had to be better than 2020. And yet is it? Is it really? And then it hit me that every year we go into the start of this new day as if suddenly we are going to make big changes, keep inspired resolutions, be all that we can be, and just do it — and yet, today is merely the start to a new year because we say it is. Many other cultures choose different days to reboot, to restart, to call it on the last year, and call out hopes for a new beginning. And while I felt a deep sense of both ennui and sorrow today when I realized that nothing much had changed — I was still living in a world of raging dictators and raging viruses and rushing humans and roaring need and of course, worst of all my own peccadilloes and broken pieces. But at the same time, by being a day like any other, it meant that I could choose to make it a new start for myself no matter what the date said. And I could also choose to accept that all the things in my life that were part of the “old” life, the past, the previous, and yesterday, were things I could choose to embrace or not.
I mean, I might not be able to change any of it, but I could look it all in the eye and say, “okay, take a seat at the table”. Whether you are a past part of my life like a stinky, yucky, rude guest, something like a mega-virus or bad relationship or the death of someone I so loved; or you are a sweet, clean, polite part of my life like that lovely meal I once had in Provence or the births of my babies, or that student I taught who thought I was a great teacher — no matter what –Today — I will accept you as a vital, living entity appearing in the crowd of that which surrounds who I am. Mr. or Ms. Part of my Life, whether good or bad, I accept that you may stay as that fork in my road, that stone in my path, that mountain I climbed, or river I easily floated down. You, no matter how good or bad, are a part of my journey here on earth and you may enter. So, this morning, I opened up the arms of my soul and said, “All that has been, I will welcome you”.
And that is the moment, when Grace appeared. Grace didn’t show up because I wished or prayed it into being. It wasn’t because I had a religious epiphany or made a conscious choice to believe it. Grace appeared despite everything then and now. Grace appeared because I felt it. I simply felt that Grace was also there at the table of my life. Grace was being offered as a Gift. I could choose to welcome it, or I could refuse it, as I so often have.
And Grace meant that all that had come before no matter how awful, painful, unjust, evil, boring, irritating, angering, hateful, or just plain bad; it could all be made good in my own life if I let myself welcome Grace. I didn’t need to know how or why, I just needed to hold the gift of grace close to myself. But I also, because I was supposed to be thinking about the future on this randomly chosen new start to a new year, had to anticipate the gift of Grace for the future. I had to accept that Grace would also be there waiting in the bend up ahead. Grace would be plentiful in the future, even if today felt just as fearful and overwhelming and boring and plain bad as yesterday was. Grace would appear and it would wait for me to pick it up and unwrap it and accept it. Grace would be there tomorrow, even if I didn’t see it, or feel it, or accept its offering. Grace would be the gift that keeps on giving.
I am generally very bad at accepting gifts. I could go into all the psychology behind that but for now suffice it to say that I am as bad at accepting compliments, help or gifts from humans as I am at accepting gifts or grace from God. To accept Grace feels uncomfortable to me. Grace makes me feel my unworthiness and at the same time an anxiousness. In the same way that I don’t like even the people I love most in the world giving me a present or telling me I look nice, I don’t like Life cutting me slack or God giving me grace. Grace appears to me as an unreality; something I can not understand. It’s a problem. Of course, that is why, as I realized today, Grace can only be felt, be imagined, be dreamed while awake. Because Grace is not a part of the reality we create and live, it is a part of the reality that only the Divine and the divine inside us can create and gift to others. Grace is the gift of the gods, the gift of the Earth, the gift of god-ness in an individual, and the gift of the God Who Loves.
This year my children gave me a wonderful gift for Christmas. Today, on New Year’s First Day, their gift has helped me understand a bit better how truly my life has been filled with the gift of Grace even when — perhaps especially most when — I didn’t even know it. My darling adulting children gave me a beautiful little pottery jar with little bees pictured on it and the words, “Bee Happy” and inside they had each written on little slips of paper a host of their favorite memories of being with me. I was instructed to pull one out each time I needed to “Bee Happy”.
My naughty “little” children love to give me something that makes me cry with a joy I feel I don’t deserve but which overwhelms me, so you might imagine when I opened this gift surrounded by masked pandemic-protecting kids and kids faraway in presence but never in thoughts appearing on Zoom — I broke down in tears of — well, I realize as I am writing this — I broke down in tears of heart-felt, soul-felt, overwhelming acceptance of the feeling of Grace. Because I will tell you frankly — I was not a perfect mom, and still am not; but the gift of it all is that my children still love me and have enough good memories of me to fill a jar –and that, my friends — that is Grace. That indeed is grace for me and, oh, my mother’s heart! — that is also, grace for them.
Grace is like the bees — miraculous, common, un-holdable, free and absolutely vital. And the problem we have is because we can’t earn grace and can’t keep captive grace and know we don’t deserve grace, we often don’t acknowledge or accept grace.
It is Grace that has allowed me such joy as those four kids and their father have given me. It is grace that I have had some wonderful coworkers and nice neighbors, some good friends and generous bosses. It is grace that I survived childhood and had my own loving mother and got to go to school and Sunday School and learn and play and work and travel and snuggle and enjoy and grow — and well, all of it, right? ALL. OF. IT. And what has held “it” all up and held “it” all together and been there without my effort or ability or even mostly my acknowledgement — has been Grace.
The Gift of Grace has been there for my taking all along and even when I clenched my fists or refused to hold out my arms to accept it, it infused my whole life like a sweet-smelling incense. Grace has lighted my way through the tough times and the darkness, like a thousand candles appearing miraculously along the way. Grace has been there, as well, in all the positives; it has been the constant gifting throughout the whole arc of my life, un-thanked, ungraciously ignored, a gift in every good thing, and every good person that has ever happened to me. Grace gave me new beginnings even when I thought I was stuck in the ruts of yesterday. Grace gave me hope even when I thought there was none. Grace has no boundaries and no end because it comes from a God and from the God-ness in each of us that has no boundaries and will have no end. Grace, like Love, remains forever pulsing throughout the universe, as a divine, unknowable, but un-refusable gift.
So, although we are told we can’t take anything with us, we can pass things on. And that is the greatest grace of all. We may think we work hard to leave a legacy of some kind or other, but all that “stuff” will pass away. The Grace of Love and the Love of Grace are all that we leave and all that we have ever really had. Today, this first day of 2021, I resolve to myself and others, to believe, that tomorrow, and perhaps, even for an eternity, we will also have available for the accepting, the Gift of Grace. Today I will let myself simply feel the gift of grace.
Rather than make resolutions that I won’t keep or be able to keep; rather than try to outguess tomorrow or rectify yesterday; I will be here and now just for today and be open to the Gift of Grace. I will think about who I have been and who I am and be content that some of that has been good enough to pass on to my children and husband and friends and coworkers and neighbors and strangers. And I will accept that I have passed on many bad things and wrong ways to those others, (and we do pass on the bad as well, don’t we? Especially mostly to those we love most and would rather not pass on anything bad. But we do. Oh, yes, we do.). I will accept that passing on bad things are just part of being human and I can resolve not to pass on so many bad things in the future, but I know I will need a lot of grace to keep that resolution.
But I will also try to accept in my heart of hearts, that when I leave this life, even though I have passed on bad things, I won’t be able to take those bad things with me any more than I will be able to take the good things along. I will try to “feel” that even though I left those bad things behind for and in the people I love, they, too, will find the gift of grace when they need it. That is a gift of grace I want to welcome deep into my soul today — not to know, but to dream a dream that when I leave “my people” to wake on another shore, that I will find that grace lets us leave the bad things behind and go into the future with arms wide open to accept the unreal, unimaginable reality of Grace.
Today, I will let myself open up my hands a little more and make my arms a bit wider, so I can graciously accept the gifts of others, the gift of being alive, the gifts of my past, present and future; and the gifts of a Gracious God, Who Is, and Who offers each of us the Power of Grace-filled Love.
Today I resolve to leave behind that which I can’t take with me. Today I begin to feel and welcome the gift of grace alive in the world and in me. Today I pass on, the very real dream and hope of a New World filled with the gifts of Grace.
There are going to be a lot of family firsts this year, most of them foisted on us, or chosen by us for the newest “reason for the season” ; the reason being The 2020 Worldwide Pandemic. I was lying in bed this morning at 3:30 a.m. deciding whether or not to get up AGAIN! to let-out the old senile barking -for -no- reason Daisy the Dog and then wondering afterwards whether I should just stay up or try to fall back to sleep before starting my at-home temp job answering phones and taking payments for grumbling scared people (who just don’t have quite enough this year to make those payments but if they don’t they lose their job but I usually end up after we hang up feeling that at least they reached me and I am a good listener and empathizer so there’s that, so….) since I can rarely fall back asleep after rising any time after about 3:00 am, I decided — well, here I am, aren’t I?
As the coffee gurgled, and the old dog ate her third treat, one from the TJ’s Advent Calendar for dogs that I bought this year, I started thinking about how many things were going to be different for me and for my family specifically this year. Starting with the dog. This is the first year Daisy will not have her evil step-sister, Jolie, the Golden-Coyote, to fight over Christmas stocking treats with. We helped Jolie across that Rainbow Bridge this past June and it was a sorrowful time. We miss that crazy coyote so much. (And yes, we did a DNA test if you can believe we would spend that kind of money on it and she is indeed, as we always knew half “Wolf, Coyote, CanFam”. Jolie was a street dog we rescued from the pound and she never got the “wild” completely out but we loved her almost as fiercely as she loved us, so….). Our first Christmas in fifteen years without Jolie, will be a couple of big black chalk marks on the negative side of life’s score sheet for all of us. On the plus side, we don’t have piles of shedded hair to clean up daily, a terrorized mailman, the hard times of watching Jolie be in pain, and Daisy gets to keep all her treats without getting beat up and bit, so…. Pros and cons but man, do I miss that crazy old coyote-dog.
So I started making a mental list, as any good mixed breed mongrel (I am part Native American, Scottish, Irish, German, English, and Godonlyknowswhat pronoun-ed she/her.. And no, I haven’t done a DNA test because my husband’s greatest nightmare is for him to be falsely imprisoned and somehow he fears that if my DNA is on record, he will somehow be arrested for something he didn’t do, and no we are not first cousins and yes he is a scientist, so go figure, but anyway…..) Here are some other firsts I thought of at about 4:00 am while the coffee perked and Daisy farted (another sad thing about old dogs is they really have a lot of gas and it smells like the worst meat packing factory you could possibly imagine spewing fumes constantly in your very own living room but The Guys at my house swear that Daisy’s farts actually smell likewhat- ever we ate for lunch or dinner that day, and they are scientists, you know so I have to accept that as fact, and I feel for my sake and Daisy’s that from now on I will only eat rose petals or lavender bud so Daisy’s farts will smell like that, according to “The Guys”, so….). And so it goes, and so here is a short list I made this morning while the rest of the world slept-on, with pleasant memories and dreams of Jupiter and Saturn kissing (See!? A year of firsts!)
Firsts of 2020 Christmas
(which I hope mostly not to repeat except for maybe a few of them but mostly no, so…..)
We did not buy a Christmas tree this year. With a pandemic on, there were very few places to buy a tree and my adult kids were unavailable to go along and play “Who Picks the Tree we Buy this Year? Race”. Raoul and I went to Home Depot just the two of us, and he was fairly excited, knowing he would win this year, but when we saw the prices for the scraggly little Charlie Brown trees and the even bigger prices for the decent looking trees, we both balked. We thought about it for a few days and decided this year we would not get a tree. (Sad, but on the plus side, I am working down to the wire this year, and even though I am working from home, I don’t have the motivation or really the time to decorate the tree all by myself and pretend the rest of the family helped me because I make whomever is around put a few ornaments on so we can pretend everyone helped and I dread having to undecorate it all by myself, and that’s a positive, so….). But we love the lights and the smell of real tree. So I strung a bunch of lights inside on our windows and bought some pine and balsam scented candles –and Bob’s your Uncle! Win-win. And on the super duper plus side – Raoul and I decided that money we would have spent on a Christmas tree? – we will give the money to a charity like The Bail Project or Feeding America. For Pete’s sake, I said to myself when I felt a bit teary over no Christmas tree in my home for the first time in over 35 years, “Jane, Old Girl, there are people starving in, well, in your own backyard today and people who are in prison at Christmas time because they can’t afford bail, I think you can go without a Christmas tree this year, right girlfriend?”
And then I remember the year we got a call from Raoul’s dad that his mom was worse, and we had to literally toss our Christmas tree out on the stoop so it wouldn’t die inside our house and maybe catch the house on fire (okay, so not too rational in our frightened worry and while gathering up our two kids with another one on the way, quickly packing clothes and dashing to the airport) and we left a message for our neighborhood teen, Robin, who used to baby sit our kids, to ask if she could sometime come over and take all the decorations off the stoop Christmas tree for us because we were rushing across the country to see Raoul’s mom who had suddenly had a very bad turn from the cancer and so then, twenty-five years later — I remember what family is all about and how much I miss those who have gone on before us and how very much and how very many people will be missing loved ones for the first time this pandemic season, and well, not having a dead tree in my living room is small sacrifice to pay if instead this year I instead put some live people ahead of my traditions. Because while I love traditions, I hope, when asked, to love people more.
2. Our family of six will not all be together this Christmas. This is the big cry, the big waaa-waaaa for me and for my husband. Our eldest is stuck in North Carolina, a gazillion miles away during a no-travel pandemic. We have not seen Justine for over a year, having to cancel our plans to go there last spring and her plans to come here this summer, even for her big birthday event this past June. And while this makes me super-duper sad, I am so very, very grateful that all six Tawels are still alive. We have survived a year of a pandemic. And we all have jobs, and more than enough food to eat, and roofs over our heads, and no one is being conscripted into a war, and we aren’t being hunted down and persecuted, and as long as we wear masks we can walk our streets safely, even at night. So, to keep the world a little safer and my own family a little safer, not traveling, not gathering is a small price to pay, isn’t it? And when you think about the prices so many have paid and are still paying in this life to keep their own families safe, who am I to complain?
To be alive and able to say to Justine and all of us – “we will wait, and we will hope”, that is a wonderful spiritual gift when I think about it. That is the idea that Christmas is actually supposed to be about, not getting, not even giving, but “waiting and hoping”. Too many people have to live lifetimes with nothing but waiting and hoping to keep them going. For me to do it now in 2020 is a time to engage in more reflection, more empathy, and more “owning” of what being fully human in community with all humanity should be like – and isn’t that the message of the Christ baby who came to be human with all of humanity? Isn’t that what the God of the People of Jesus kept telling them: “Remember. Wait. And Hope.”
3. The rest of my list of firsts pales in comparison after the biggie of missing a family member, but here goes:
We will not share a fondue this year on Christmas eve (leaning over a communal pot with sticks is not advised I imagine, by Dr. Fauci and his ilk. Besides my daughter Verity who is our family’s Pandemic Health Czar has forbidden it, which is another positive thing about changes because your adult children sort of gradually take over bossing each other and their parents around and maybe they will forget all the bossy things you pulled on them as a parent when they were young, so….). And we will read our favorite Christmas stories wearing our pandemic masks (“The Nativity” with illustrations by Julie Vivas, “Wombat Divine” by Mem Fox, and this year, we will definitely add the classic version, not the movie version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” because he really almost did this year for a lot of us, so….). We will gather with just our little family and sadly not be able to invite our various friends and “spares and strays” that we love to include in our feasts and our lives. We will wear masks when we talk and when we play Christmas trivia and Christmas bingo. We won’t snuggle except in our individual house pods as we watch Christmas classic movies and later I will sanitize all blankets used. We won’t pile into the car to go see Christmas lights, but we may take a walk around the ‘hood to see the lights.
And so, it will go, like a lot of things this past Pandemic Year of 2020, this Christmas Season, a lot of things will change; there will be a lot of firsts I didn’t plan on. They aren’t the fun exciting firsts of a new car or a new house or a new baby or a new citizenship. But if I can change my perspective, I can maybe shift my worldview into something more truly True and more worth leaning into and living out.
A lot of families will have much, much harder and more sorrowful firsts to lean into this year than we will. Far too many will have the loss of jobs and income, the loss of a place to live, the loss of the hope of gaining citizenship, the loss of a town and a place one grew up in, the loss of a place to worship, the loss of one’s health, or the loss of a loved one. So, I tried to make my list of “Firsts in a Year of Pandemic Christmas” seem as inconsequential and small as they are in comparison, and add a little bit of “Jane-humor” besides. Because in the scope of things, my own year’s changes, both foisted and chosen, are rather small when I compare them to how very, very, very much others have suffered and suffer, and how very, very much I have had my whole life and continue to have even in these strange and mind-bending, heart-rending times.
And just one more thing – when I think about a season of firsts this year, I realize that is what Christmas and the Coming of Jesus, the Messiah of God is all about. It was a first for Jesus, a first for his World Parent, Adonai. It was a first for human beings and a first for angels and the devils alike. Jesus came and for the first time the Son of God was without a Parent, without a home, without power, without a healthy environment, without resources, and without any security for future survival. Remember, the “first Noel” was to “certain poor shepherds who slept rough in the fields.” And even in all those “firsts”, he brought hope. He brought joy. He believed that “the first would be last and the last first” in a new Kingdom of Humans centered around the Divine Love that humans were meant to live out. The Christmas Child grew into a human being and brought a new way of looking at life and a new way of living this life. When Jesus first became a human, he became one of us; and he lived and suffered among us, and he laughed with us and celebrated with us and he wept with us and he loved us.
I hope that is what 2020 Pandemic Christmas can teach me, and maybe enough of us to make a different world. I hope we can learn first, how to be more fully and divinely human; how to first, love more with less; how to first, care more for others than for myself; and how to not just be more grateful but to be more responsible and more worthy.
Some habits are hard to break and some habits are hard to make. In so much else that we have lost in terms of ethics and morality, I think we have lost the idea that there is a difference between a mistake and a sin. And consequently, we have lost this idea that good personal qualities are not a matter of hoping for them but of practicing them.
A sin is anything we know to be less than good or right and something that can hurt ourselves or another, and we do it anyway, purposefully or carelessly. There is also a difference between a feeling, a character trait, and a virtue. A virtue is something that we create, nurture, act upon, not out of whole-cloth, but out of that which every human being has the possibility of knowing and striving for. One of the most commonly known vices is gluttony, and yet while we may easily see it in others, we rarely see it in ourselves until after we’ve eaten the giant bag of Red Hot Doritos, swilled it down with a six-pack and we get the stomach-ache we deserve, at which point we still don’t see it as a sin against our body as much as a “mistake”. A common virtue is patience and yet we judge our boss or teacher for being impatient with our ignorance, while we attribute our own snapping and losing patience with the faults of the other person or just being “tired or hungry”.
We, at least in our Western world of privilege and ease, have mostly lost the idea that while we cannot control the feelings of an instant, we certainly can control the actions that come out of those feelings. But we can only do so, if we have practiced controlling and shaping and substituting bad actions for good actions. Much like working out with weights to increase one’s ability to perform at a sport, we must make the practice of good habits part of a daily routine (with time off for good behavior or Sabbaths or rest). And practicing to be good is important, much like practicing a sport or an instrument is important to be ready to sprint or perform when the moment of action arrives. You can’t hope you’ll win or flawlessly play, you have to have made habits that allow you to respond without thinking. Deciding to choose to live virtuously is a life-long commitment; much as professional musicians never stop practicing scales, we must see our lives as any artist would see her abilities to create. The glorious and divine thing about being human, is that it is never too late to start being creative with who we want to be. Today is another day in which I can see myself as the artist of my own life, worthy of practice in the virtues that make me the best creation I can be. If we focused on the idea that humans are truly creatures of habit, then we might understand the insidiousness of the habits we form for evil and the habits we form for good. Then we can understand the truly divine power we each have to break and make habits.
A bad action, whether it is over-indulging ourselves or gossiping about a neighbor, becomes what we might call a sin against self or sin against another, when we let an action become an un-examined habit. As an example, from my own life, over the past several years I have felt a responsibility to know about the evils and lies of our political leaders and to speak out against those things. However, lately, reading and thinking and worrying and angsting over those things has become a habit, something I cannot seem to stop doing, even with the hope of change around the corner, even as it has effected my peace, even as it has eaten up time that could be better spent in other pursuits. There has become something perversely pleasurable in wallowing in the doo-doo of others. This is ultimately not good for me, so when I keep indulging in it, I am sinning against myself. It is also however, not good for my brother or sister, when I keep beating my head against the wall of their stubborn stupidity or unethical choices to try to change or help them. I am a habitual “helper” but when you try to help someone who doesn’t want your help, it is a sin.
To break these bad habits, I have gotten myself into, I have to try to form different habits. So rather than beginning my morning with the various newspapers I subscribe to, I spend it reading spiritually invigorating books or by some time with silent meditation and prayer. I don’t turn on my computer. I find a space with a small lamp’s circle, a pencil for making notes, and a “teacher” whose written words energize my understanding and determination to make the world a better place and make the places in my own soul better as well. Getting outside and walking in the beauty of Nature is also good. Doing something anonymously for someone who is hungry, in prison, or lonely is also good. Practicing non-aggrandizing kindness, especially to those who make me mad or grumpy or who won’t appreciate it or praise me, is an excellent way to form a different habit of kindness and helpfulness. Actions that help me break habits that hurt me or hurt others are choosing to become ethics in action. Those actions become virtues when they become habits. Otherwise, they are too often “one offs”, reflective of how I feel, what I’m “in the mood for”, how much I care, or whether any one else is “looking”; and so they are not forces “at the ready” when I am “not feeling it”. Virtues are good habits that take over even when we do not will them to.
The other thing that for me is completely necessary is to truly return to an idea that I am not only not alone in the Universe, I am being watched. We have lost the idea of the “Constant Onlooker”. This may be because we think a belief system is enough to “save us” no matter how we behave for some future reality; but of course we should be humbly reminded that “even devils believe in God and Goodness and tremble”. It may be because we have never felt there is anything other than our molecules existing in a particular meaningless space and time with other molecules. But whether it is the foolishness of a morphed and broken religion or the sadness of an atheism, to have lost the idea that there is somehow something Divine that takes notice of us humans and our Earth, is a great tragedy and has much to do with how we have devolved to this place in time on our poor beleaguered planet and our insensitive, insensible, irrational, and sinful treatment of the planet and all creatures living on it.
Whether my Constant Onlooker is a God, or the Cosmos, or my Passed Relative, or the Angels, we have a great throbbing need to feel watched over with care. And when we think we are so very alone and that No One is watching, overseeing, caring, — yes — even judging or orchestrating us to live out a better way — when we choose to idolize the primacy of self-satisfaction and momentary feelings, of one-upmanship or passive/ aggressive complaining — then we truly choose to be alone in a Universe screaming for us to recognize that there is an Onlooker of human behavior, down to the very individual that you are and that I am.
It is often difficult to fight the depression that I feel when I feel that I do not matter, but there is another way. I can form the habit of worshipping That Who, that El Roi who sees me — ME — little old who I am but more importantly who I can BE — ME. To be seen is the first step away from breaking the habits of vice and towards making the habits of virtue.
Vice is about me, myself and I alone in the Universe. Virtue is about a Community of Reality in which I am not only not alone, but I am so important, so valued, so looked after, so much a part of The Whole, that my every singular thought and deed matters. While my individual mistakes and sins may not matter in the long run, the habits I form and whether they are formed for Good or for Evil, matter in a Grand Scheme of that which I can only glimpse and imagine.
To get started: This chart of Virtues and Vices is attributed to Aristotle. I could meditate on just the titles for hours.
We might look at these vices and virtues side by side with the words of that other great sage, St. Augustine, who among other things said, “I “Sin” / Err, therefore, I am”. To be human, to actually be the best human we can be, is to understand that we don’t just “goof up”, but we sin, and sin boldly and sin habitually. When we recognize that there is Someone, that some of us call “God”, who is creative and imaginative enough to give humans the ability to choose Life — life abundant and whole and free — then we recognize that same Being Who Loves us enough to perpetually create in and through us, is a SomeOne Who is watching over us, is looking out for us, is there and here for us, and is trying every which way to point to The Way — The Tao. There is Something in the Universe that cares about my every action; and rather than letting that be a heavy burden or a fear of judgement or a way for those in power to control me as organized religion and political powers have so often done and still do, I can allow that wisdom to free me from vice and habits of negativity that can ruin my life and the lives of others. Then I can open up my heart and soul, my body and mind, and my actions, deeds, and words to replace the negative habits with positive virtues and the good habits that will create new life in me and open up more room for love, both for myself and for others.
It is not enough to recognize the vices in others, even if we have worked hard not to allow those same vices in ourselves. The lack of a vice is simply a lack, a negative sum, not a positive one. I must of course look firmly at any habitual negative action or thought I have and try to pull it out by the roots and toss it in the dung heap. But I must also see any open spaces or blank lines in my ledger and replace the emptiness with virtue. It is not enough not to sin, but we must seize our responsibility for action and make it a habit; for as The Great Teacher said:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The theologians and the leaders in power — go ahead and do and observe whatever they tell you, but do not do the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They foist on others heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, churches, and halls of power; and they thrive on greetings in the marketplaces, news coverage, and being called important titles by others. But you are not to be called by important titles, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father/priest/leader on earth, for you have one Father/High Priest/Leader, who is in All the Universe, all the Heavenly Places. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (paraphrased slightly from Matthew 23)
I have lately retracted the finger I have had pointing towards others and tried to focus more on the four fingers pointing back at myself. Rather than being a negative experience, making me feel bad about myself, I find it energizing, comforting, and oh so very hopeful of all I can still accomplish and be within my very little own self. Much like when the weather changes and I can do some serious “Spring Cleaning”, I am ready to clean out some space in my heart, mind and soul, in order to make room for something better, cleaner, brighter, truer, and nobler; and to practice intentionally the greatest virtue of all — that of loving both self and others. And in this way, I long and desire to become more in tune and loving of The One Who Sees and Cares.
I know it is awfully old-fashioned of me, but to see the tendencies of making and breaking habits as something as eternally important as choosing vice or virtue, makes me feel much less alone in The Universe. The more I see my own sins and broken pieces, the more I hold out hope for Wholeness. The more I see the errors on my life’s page, the more I sense I am a part of a Great Story of Our Humanity, in which I play, if only a small and unknown character, a still quite valuable part. Like the character who is a catalyst in a novel, I hope to not understand but simply obey and do that which is my own ethical, virtuous-leaning part to play in The Story. Like tuning an old piano, I hope to change the dissonance of certain vices and make in-tune new habits of virtue. In this way, I do not play a solo performance, but am part of that great Orchestra lead by the Director of All Directors. Today, I shall practice creating more harmony in my own life, and humbly, prayerfully, hopefully in the lives of others, and I shall listen to and add to The Song.
These past months as I have been reading and circling through the deep treasures in books by Victor Frankel, Abraham Joshua Herschel, Shane Claiborne, Gary Wills, A.W. Tozer, and Chief Joseph Riverwind, I have been filled with the paradoxes of longing/knowing, seeking/ remembering, learning/ yearning, and wondering/wandering. I have also felt myself taking spiritual baby-steps, and as another favorite of mine, C.S. Lewis wrote, heading a bit “further up and further in”.
My readings led me to rough-draft through a slight meditative acrostic. As the old adage goes, “writing is never finished, it is only due”; and maybe if we thought more that way about each day, each life, each person, we’d be a bit more joyful, caring, kind, and hopeful in our life’s journeys toward meaning. Aren’t writing and communication always really just today’s rough draft in expressing who I think I am, what I think the Big Themes are? Isn’t each day of life, just a bit of a second draft on yesterday, and another rough draft today, with hopes for perfection, or at least a passing grade, for tomorrow?
I enjoy word puzzles, but then I think that everything we human beings say or do or write are chock- full of puzzles — puzzles of intent, puzzles of consequences, puzzles of meaning. We are after all the species who speaks, the critters who communicate; we are the beings who are perhaps, just a little lower than the angels, but constantly fighting our own worst demons.
In general, I adhere to the wisdom that in writing, function should always come first and come first from the heart and later the head. But sometimes it is useful to start with form, and then find function in the very strictures imposed. I thought perhaps that was an especially interesting philosophy to play around with when looking at some of what we call the issues and ideas I have about “Life’s Meaning”. So, I started with the form of an acrostic to see where it led me about the function of expressing thoughts on what “it all” means, this Life. I also liked this idea since a form of acrostic is a form of poetry that was used in some of the Psalms of Judaism and the ancient Hebrews; and those are poems I have long loved, because they express still the universal human longings for meaning that all people have.
We are constantly in the rough draft stage of writing our own life story. But we are never meant to go it alone. We may look inwards, outwards, upwards, and beyond for hints and clues. We will have good and bad “teachers”, fans of our story, critics and foes; helpful and harmful life-story editors, sacrificial helpers, guides and mentors, promoters and beneficiaries. It is, always, however, at the end of each page, my story to write. And it must be my decision about who and what I will keep in, and what I will edit out, in order to form the great themes in my own life-story.
Every life-story is looking for meaning and each is the same as all the others, and each is completely unique and separate from anyone else’s. This is the paradoxical puzzle of You and We and I.
So back to acrostics and writing one. In all writing, we may start with form and hope function follows. Or we might embrace function and trust the form will naturally evolve. I think it more likely, though, when all is said and done, that every story, like every life, is a patchwork of form and function, not seamless, but beautiful in its complexity. Maybe when we are most in touch with our search for meaning, we ebb and flow between form and function, perpetually and poetically in motion. Like a river. Like a breeze. Like a baby being rocked in the arms of a Loving Parent. Like the whole world circling towards Tomorrow and coming back around to Now. Like a Story that will have no End.
I think it is important however an individual chooses to do it, that he chooses intentionally, purposefully, with great wells of deep hope — to work on the puzzle of his own life’s meaning. By searching for and finding my own meaning, I find The Meaning of all human quest and all human concern. In this way, my part of The Puzzle, is connected to all the parts of The Puzzle, and I am connected to all others in time and space in this great experiment God has granted us. The earth experiment that we are part of, we participate as subjects of it. At the same time, it is the experiment we humans on Earth are researching and overseeing, supervising, hypothesizing about, and reaching conclusions by which to live. We are both the supervisors and the substance of The Grand Experiment of Creating a Meaningful Life.
Find your puzzle today, whether it is a book whose themes you wrestle with to decipher; a relationship with someone you try to understand better; or a task that makes your brain sting and sing. Formulate your questions, and don’t rush the answers. Enjoy each day as a rough draft, that will only get better in tomorrow’s version. But for today be content to sit awhile with the great mysteries in the heartbeats of your very own little puzzle of a life.
And whenever possible, as The Good Parents always advise their children to do: Whenever you are puzzling out meaning? Try to use your words.
F ollow the Leaders of Light and Servants of Hope.
E mbrace Mystery. She is Wisdom’s Helpmeet.
’ Pause and Punctuate the Moments.
S eek Eternal Values found outside the temporary storehouses.
M ates and moments are more precious than money.
E njoy the journey. Take one step at a time; look around at everything; look ahead with imagination; look behind with forgiveness.
A gain and Again, Time is our Current. Time is the Tide flowing backwards and forwards, until it becomes The Circle, covering over, revealing; an endless ebb and flow of the Big Questions, and the Last Mysteries.
N ice-ness in narcissism is a fool’s paradise; but Truth in Love is heaven seeking earth.
I n the care of the soul, perfect calling meets greatest need.
N othing can separate us from The Love without our permission. Grant Love permission to have the last say and the ultimate power.
G od asks only for enough faith to do Good.
S halom; and in Wholeness is Beginning and Ending.