This Is No Joke

 

 

No joke!

soul blog inspired by Matthew 18:21-35 

Psalms103: 3 says He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills

Isn’t that wonderful to hear how God is going to take care of us?

Yet this is not going to happen without effort.

The ancient Hebrews had to flee from slavery. It took courage to leave the unknown for who knew what. It took faith. It probably also took desperation. They had nowhere to go but up. Yet, when they did get away there were time that they looked back. There were times they made mistakes. There were times that they did not accept the holy power of God. They had seen and experienced the Red Sea open. They had seen the enemy defeated. They had heard the cries of the defeated. They had smelled the fear. They had been given freedom. Problem was they still carried with them many of their old ways of thinking.

Problem with all of us is that we are called to something new in God, but we don’t want to let go of the past. We just aren’t sure that it is going to really be better. Often, times of transition are fraught with discomfort. It doesn’t feel good so we want to go back to our old ways even though they enslaved us. We want to go back, because at least that was certain. It was painful, but it was definite and certain.

Now we are called in faith to trust the unknown, to trust God is there in the unknown. So we’d better get to know God. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know very well. What if he is an evil tyrant? What if it’s only sheer luck that we haven’t been wiped out because we live on the wrong side of the tracks, or are the wrong nationality, or support the wrong political party?

One of the ways we get to know God is by understanding what Jesus teaches. Forgive seventy times seven, Jesus says. That is pretty clear, don’t you think?

We are to forgive, and then that nasty person does again to us something we resent, but we are to forgive it again, and again.

We are not necessarily to reconcile with them. We aren’t to go back with them. We aren’t to go back to a life of slavery no matter what form it takes.

The ancient Hebrews, if they’d been in a covenant with Jesus’ teaching, would have known that they were to forgive the Egyptians for making them slaves and abusing them. They had to make bricks and work hours and hours day and night. Their children could be killed and there was nothing they could do about it. They need to forgive these awful crimes against them. But God doesn’t say, “go on back and make nice with them.” No. God wipes out their pursuers. God frees them to move on to something else.

So Jesus tells us to forgive and forgive and forgive.

Forgiveness frees us not the enemy.

After Jesus tells us about forgiving sins, he tells something troubling.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. This is judgment. As the King began to settle up with the people in debt to him, a man came who owed him ten thousand talents.

Think of it like this, the IRS decides to do an audit. Or the probation officer decides to pay you a visit. Or your aunt, who is married to the Godfather Mafioso, who lent you a whole lot of money which you haven’t paid back says she wants to come to visit.

You owe 10,000 talents. This would be like owing what the Enron executives stole from their employees. Millions and millions of dollars.

So here is the king, someone with authority over you, and he says: give me what you owe me.

You stare at the floor because you don’t have the money.

The king orders you and your family sold into slavery, or back into jail. In a last-ditch effort, you beg the king to give you time to repay the loan. Surprisingly, the king forgives this massive debt “out of compassion.” If the parable Jesus tells ended here, it would be a wonderful story of God’s limitless compassion and forgiveness.

We’d all be saying, see, God forgives, and that’s that. But that isn’t that.

The Parable continues. Jesus tells us that the forgiven debtor rushes out to tell his family of the good news, only to run into “a fellow servant,” who owed him “a much smaller amount” (literally, 100 denarii, roughly a third of a year’s wage). Jesus just said we are to forgive and forgive and forgive, and didn’t this person just receive forgiveness. Wouldn’t he have figured out the importance of being able to let a debt go? But no. The person who was the biggest sinner in the world. The person who owes the most, grabs this little guy who owes him a trifle, grabs him by the throat and throws him into debtor’s prison.

When you were young and stupid, you slashed someone’s tires. You thought it was funny at the time. When you were caught and nearly had to go to jail, you got scared. But someone posted bail for you, and you got out, and you swore you’d never do it again. You weren’t actually convicted in your heart. It was really that you’d gotten caught that made you act contrite. So here you are, now 45 years old, and you have a brand new car with white wall tires. One day you come out of the house with your shammie to polish your beautiful car, and you catch the neighbor kid letting his dog do something heinous on your flashy wheels. It is only PEE! But you get a big stick and are going to beat the kid to a pulp. Fortunately, someone stops you. Where is your mercy? You received mercy when you were young? How come you can’t offer it now?

Part of the problem is that you didn’t really care about what you did. You didn’t face the enormity of your debt.

We rarely admit the enormity of what we owe God—our very life and breath. You hadn’t really asked for forgiveness, but you took it because it was there and it was free. It cost you nothing.

We are always doing that to God—accepting the Mercy that is offered to us unconditionally, but not actually changing a thing about the way we live, or think, or act.

Then, one day, we are confronted with our own bad behavior done to us, and we get mean. Jesus teaches Peter and us, “So my heavenly father will do to you unless each of you forgives his brother [or sister] from his heart.”

What is called for is a totally new way of viewing the world, metanoia (Mt. 4:17), a change of heart. The God who comes to expression in Matthew’s parables desires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6, see Mt. 9:13; 12:7) and summons people to be forgiving because they have experienced forgiveness.

If you are a slave, then you are suffering. If you are suffering, then you are a slave.

It is only through the love and compassion of Christ that we are freed from the enormity of our suffering. We are freed to lead a life, not without difficulty, but one that is moving us into a place of “peace” that surpasses all understanding. WE are freed to become the love of God in the world. WE are freed to end the suffering of other people, because we forgive them, and when we forgive them, we experience freedom too, we are unbound from the ropes and chains that tie us down and keep us burdened.

Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. This is no joke.

***

When we are betrayed, it hurts, and yet the answer is not in revenge, but in forgiveness.

Audra McLaughlin: “Forgive” (The Voice Highlight)    contemporary

Yoel Ben Simhon – Forgiveness Hymns (El nora alila)  

Including traditional Moroccan hymn

I dream back
To distant childhood memories
At the synagogue in Kiryat-Gat
Atonement day; shimmering hymns
Grandpa Mimon goes to pray
Grandma Sultana at the kerosene stove
Toils over the last meal before the fast
With a melody wrapped in holy scents

Soulful chants fill the sanctuary
The glorious scrolls infused with incense and snuff
On this day of forgiveness
There is no respite from its endlessness
Wishing the minutes away
Insufferable tension, awaiting
To sing out loud the soul-saving hymn

Moroccan Hymn: Oh God who is majestic, oh God who is majestic,
Grant us forgiveness at the time of the closing
hour

El Nora Alila    Beautiful and haunting–

Forgiveness- Matthew West- Lyrics  

 

 

 

 

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Bad Hair Days and God

dogbadhair

 Blog inspired by John: 12: 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (NIV John 12: 3).

No woman in the world would use her hair to wipe up grease, would she? Mary’s hair was long and glorious, her pride and joy. She poured a very expensive liquid, not quite like fuel oil, but something equally thick and tangy, onto the feet of Jesus. This expensive oil must have run all over the ground. Mary threw herself down. On her knees, head bowed, she wiped up the grease with her hair. Why did she do it? To make Jesus notice her? To straighten her hair once and for all?

I went to the hairdresser for a new style because I was having a “bad hair day.” I came out of the salon very pleased with my shiny smooth tresses. If only this straight hair had lasted, but after a wash, it turned into frizz. Nothing I did, not the spray, not the mousse, not the gel, not the Aussie shine serum, not the straightening iron restored it to its hairdresser prettiness.

When I was a girl, I was convinced that my hair was without curls. I later saw photos of myself as a teenager, and to my surprise, my hair used to be wavy. Often, we are unrealistic about how we view ourselves. Often we think we are okay and not in need of anything in particular. We certainly don’t think we have spiritual kinks. When we are children, our parents and the people around us teach us values. If we are lucky, we are loved and the values we internalize will be straight and narrow. We might well be honest, generous, kind and hardworking. That doesn’t sound too twisted, does it? But what if we are also greedy, self-centered and mean to small animals? How do we actually grow beyond what are often ingrained behaviors and ingrained ways of thinking? How do we influence Shiites to live harmoniously with Sunnis, Palestinians to get along with Israelis, Aunt Betty to take back her estranged oldest daughter?

There are many places we can seek understanding about life’s mysteries. The church is one such place. The church, however, has sometimes done as much harm as good. Think inquisition. Think the Crusades. Think of exclusionary statements such as “you can not be a member because you are living with someone who is not your legal married partner” or “you cannot be a member because you refuse to believe that the mother of Jesus was a virgin.” Yet, from the church, goodness has also arisen. Hospitals and schools have been opened. The poor have been fed. The destitute and abandoned have found inclusion. Blankets are distributed to displaced peoples. A very long list exists of positive actions from Christian people who have turned their lives over to a spiritual reality beyond the worldly notion of self-gain.

When we begin to grow spiritually by choosing selflessness, the impulse arises from some deep resource. Although GI Sue and GI Joe might well have joined the military out of need (poverty, scant opportunity, lack of self-esteem and so on), when she (or he) takes the shrapnel for her friend, she is doing more than what we normally expect from any person. Her limbs might be shattered, but her action of self-giving beyond her need for physical well-being, is the path to spiritual wholeness. In other words, wholeness results from acting in accordance with holy principles. It is the result of holy living.

Consider Betty Williams in Northern Ireland. In agony over the bloody death of a little neighbor girl whose legs had been blown across the street by an IRA bomb, she could not sleep. She could not get the terrible image of that innocent child’s dead body out of her mind. It might have been easier to stay home and get drunk, but something greater than herself motivated her to go into the streets and bash on front doors. “Is this,” she screamed, “what we are teaching our children?” Can’t you hear that cry? “Is this what we are teaching our children: death and revenge and a thousand years of hate, and an endless cycle of violent oppression?” Betty began a peace movement that has ended years of angry separation between the people of Northern Ireland.

Grand acts such as those of heroic soldiers and courageous women are not the norm of the spiritual life. Most of us must take small steps towards spiritual wholeness. Every time a person is able to rise above negative behavior, such as refusing to worry about the future, or not telling someone else a juicy piece of gossip, then he or she is acting in accordance and in unity with God. Our bad habits, though, do not simply disappear. We invariably need spiritual help. By learning and practicing the teachings of Jesus, we eventually become spiritually one with Jesus, yoked to his life of holiness. Jesus, like our spiritual mother, gives us birth. Justice, strength, truth, fearlessness and concern for others will become our normal way of life. We will contain the heart of God and be contained within its universality. We will be able to give our all to and for God.

Mary willingly gave what she most prized to Jesus. Hair for women in ancient Hebrew culture was even more important than it is for modern women today. Hair was one of their most prized attributes. It not only made them sexy and alluring, it gave them value and prestige. Mary taught that we have to let go of the old ways we think are precious in order to serve Jesus. She taught us that this is joyful and not to be feared or denied. She taught us that it is okay to be spontaneous and generous with and for God. Did she gain anything from this encounter? Yes. Her love for Jesus freed her. Her focus on God prevented her from feeling embarrassed about being an unwelcome person at an exclusive party. Instead, Mary’s gift of oil demonstrated Jesus’ inclusion of women. In Hebrew culture, anointing with oil was a symbolic rite priests performed, reserved for royalty.

God is the only one who can and will straighten out our lives. We might be awed over a golden sunset, we might hear the rhythm of angels in the sweet song of the blackbird, we might experience the ultimate in physical union with another human being, but these beautiful moments are only the good hair days of life. They look and feel wonderful for a short while. They are holy moments from God for us to enjoy. They are the promise of something even better. To enter into the wholeness of God requires more than casual observation. It requires commitment. It requires a willingness to be rooted in holy practices such as prayer, meditation, worship, fellowship, and the study of sacred literature. The Bible is the sacred text of the West preserved by the Institutional Church. The Bible is a good place to begin the job of getting rid of spiritual kinks. It won’t be easy though. It’s kind of like weighing wavy hair down with heavy objects to smooth it out. Curls of resistance will pop back up, but eventually with a lot of effort, and grace, the reward is a fully engaged life bringing about peace everywhere, for everyone.

***

Jamie’s World–Bad Hair Day  laugh at yourself

Chakra Meditation Series 7th Chakra/Sahasrara using B Note Singing Bowls in HD love yourself through a ten minute meditation to open the crown chakra (at the top of the head)–the body’scenter of spiritual energy, God-energy, universal love and wholeness.

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Don’t Move Over, T.S.Eliot: a poem about an unknown flower

Tall Phlox late blooming

In its way, this flower on the wide walkway leading up to the sanctuary at Gethsemane, was breathtaking. Lonesome. Tall. Blossoms both pink, white, faded, gentle, and possibly fragrant. It garnered my attention because of its beauty, and though I am no poet, I later wrote this poem:

Carpenter

Yes indeed.
What could be more apt
Than to meet a carpenter
At a monastery?

On a walkway,
Where silence must be observed,
I stopped,
Enthralled
By a tall flower,
Wild or planted by a monk,
I could not tell.

I did not have a name for the flower,
Except tall, quiet.

Was it fragrant, I wondered,
Bending my nose to the tip
Of purple-pink petals?

A bee, a bumble bee, lay within the bee
Frock of blooms,
And so I hesitated,
Not wanting my nose stung.

I hesitated,
And I walked away
Up the steps to another sanctuary.
Built by monks.
Cool white bricks.
Silent place of morningsong.

I did not stay long.

I returned to the wide sweeping steps
Leading down,
To a sacristy of promise.
And I sat upon a step,
Looking out at the world
Of rolling hills, of scented grasses,
Of distant statuary,

Of a giant cross
With one wide swath of mowed grass
For the pilgrims to walk
And pay obeisance.

The flower, distant, not moving,

Sported the bee,
still,
And dead as dead a bee can be.

I wished he would move.

I wondered what had made him
Land in such a pretty font?
I wondered had he been sprayed
By a fearful allergic saint-to-be?

At last I walked slowly
Down the silent boardwalk
Of square cement tiles
Laid, by a monk, sore hands of practical prayer.

I stopped and sniffed the flower.
If it were fragrant, my nose could not tell.
The bee lay still and silent.

Gently, I touched his furry back.
He began to stir.
Legs,
proboscis,
wings
stretching…

Stay, I said. Don’t go.

This bee, so much smaller than a
Bumble bee, now I dared come close,
Was, I could tell, a carpenter bee

Who belonged in old trees,
Rotted attics,
Rafters,
And roofs,

But here he was, this Carpenter,
Choosing different,
Choosing more.

***

Spiritual Exercise: 10-15 minutes.

Choose a flower or a plant, a tree, a vine, something that grabs your attention.

Watch it for 15 minutes seeking a lesson from the plant…a word just to you, from God which is Mystery, through this particular manifestation of Spirit.

Humming Bees: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yjY1grrC3w

 

 

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Heron as Teacher

Great Blue Heron by Mike Baird

Philip bought me two Mary Oliver poetry books for my birthday. Why I Wake Early, and Dog Songs. I love them. They are spiritual refreshment, beautiful to read, and sweet to go to sleep with, giving me hope, reinforcing my sense of mystery and anchoring me in the ordinary which is extraordinary.

Whenever I see a blue heron, by breath is taken away in a sense of awe.

Mary Oliver’s poem catches the Mystery, simple, eloquent, full of hope and the joy of life:

Heron Rises From The Dark, Summer Pond

So heavy is the long-necked,
long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings

open
and she turns
from the thick water,
from the black sticks

of the summer pond,
and slowly rises
into the air
and is gone.

Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is

that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed

back into itself–
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate.

And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn’t a miracle

but the common thing,
this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body

into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind;
see how the clasp of nothing takes her in.

natural wild life heron the heron is a large species of bird that ...

***

spiritual practice

Laugh with a Blue  You tube by Katylynndean

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For Heaven’s Sake

The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You" by Swami Krishnananda

Inspired by Matthew 16:21-28

When Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” he got it about Jesus. Right?

But here he is responding to Jesus who is trying to show the disciples he is facing suffering, death and resurrection. Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus responds.

The phrase, You are the Messiah, the son of the living God, is well-known. It reminds me of a student saying what they think their professor wants to hear.

Get behind me, Satan, also well-known, attributed to Jesus, always gets our attention.

We squirm. Is Jesus talking to us?It seems to me Jesus is probably fed up, feeling cranky and alone. He has spoken truth to power. He is well aware the Pharisees and Scribes are out to get him because he threatens their understanding, and their authority.

He knows they are going to kill him and it is going to be ugly. He also trusts God to raise him up into more abundant life. Maybe he snaps at Peter, Get behind me, Satan, because here is Peter, his companion and friend who seemed to understand, and now doesn’t. Perhaps Jesus is feeling isolated without a friend in the world who understands him fully.

Have you ever felt truly alone?

Perhaps you’ve been divorced.

Maybe someone you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Perhaps you’re a teenager whose best friend has thrown you over.

Or you have just gotten a horrible diagnosis with a frightening prognosis.

Maybe you are a mom or dad caring for little children, home all day alone, with no adult conversation.

Perhaps you are caring for someone who is ill.

Perhaps your beloved has died.

A preacher acquaintance of mine wears a ring from his deceased wife and he tells a poignant tale of the death-bed promise he made to her.

He is now in his eighties, still active, a tall, stately, handsome man who is intelligent and articulate. His wife has been dead for many years, but she has a strong grip on him. She made him promise to never remarry.

This faithful man kept that promise. When he told me about it, I felt such sorrow for him, and a little angry at the dead wife who was so possessive. I wondered what their lives might really have been like. He was coping okay but was clearly lonely.

When Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised, Peter does what we all want to do when we face our death or the death of a loved one. He tries to find a way to protect Jesus. He doesn’t want Jesus to suffer and he certainly doesn’t want him to be killed. He does not hear the part about Jesus being raised on the third day.

As human beings, it seems to me we should bless Peter for caring so much, for wanting to step in and offer protection, but Jesus will have none of it. “Get behind me, Satan!” He is exasperated with Peter. Perhaps in today’s language Jesus might say, “For heaven’s sake!”

Jesus wants everyone to understand the nature of divinity and to experience the presence of God in the here and now as well as trusting in an afterlife free from suffering, immersed in the energy of love, the wholeness of eternity.

So what does he, this man who is also God, this man who is completely plugged into Grace, this Jesus, what does he teach?

He says, For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

For my sake, for Christ’s sake carries with it deep meaning.

Jesus is going to die on the cross. We’ve heard endless times that his death “saves” us from our sins. Yet, even more important is the message of love, “I am going to lay down my life for you.”

So what can we do for Christ’s sake?

We can do nothing unless we are plugged into grace and understand that the true nature of divinity is not death, but love. The true nature of divinity is not crucifixion but resurrection.

How are we to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.

Take Ruth, my mother-in-law, Philip’s mom. She was a woman of great faith which fed her ability to love others. Most of her life she worshipped in a Disciples of Christ church in Warren, Ohio.

Starting out when her children were tots, she took care of the little children in the nursery. She kept on working in the nursery for 40 years. 40 Years! What began out of love for her own children grew into love for the children of others.

Once she got older, she retired from the nursery and was finally able to spend her time in the sanctuary in Worship. She loved that.

Outside of the church, her life reflected how rooted she was in the holistic life of Christ.

She was a good mother, and raised 4 children. She was a good wife, preparing meals, keeping house, baking fresh bread every week for her husband, and o, her fruit pies were second to none.

As an older lady, she got a job at a hospital serving people their meals. She loved doing that, serving not only chicken and jello, but offering a kind word to ailing people.

Another Teresa, one of the saints of the church, Teresa of Avila says: All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted.

This is important. We cannot be what we are not.
In every human being lies a seed waiting to be watered to life. To be encouraged to pursue our interests, our talents, is life’s greatest gift. The people who encourage us never die to us; they live in us always for having made our own lives full.  Joan Chittester

Heaven is a state of being–it’s allowing the divine to guide our lives. Divine guidance might come in the form of dreams, prophecies and visions, but more likely it comes through the activities we most yearn for, and is found in the people who encourage us–realistically, but lovingly.

Peter is not misguided when he wants to protect Jesus from what is coming. He undoubtedly does not want to lose his teacher and friend, the man who has encouraged him to become so much more than he ever thought possible. His desire to keep Jesus safe arises out of love. Imagine how lonely he will feel without his best friend, Jesus.

Loneliness is so common. You can be in a crowd of people and feel a total disconnect.

I looked on the Internet for ways to combat loneliness. There were some good ideas about joining a group, taking a class, and so-on. All good ideas except they missed one thing. For Christ’s sake, for heaven’s sake, the antidote to loneliness, and the answer to life is to forget ourselves.

Babies, children and youth are by nature more self-centered. They need care and direction from adults. Alas not all adults, and in fact most adults, are not one hundred percent mature, free of issues. We are not perfect beings. Yet.

So where will we plant our feet in the holy ground of connectedness to life and to other people?

We all know heaven is not found in the accumulation of things, or power, or prestige, but is found in the open heart who gives himself or herself to God which simply means becoming a font of love, becoming the living water for others.

Not only did Ruth take care of the little ones, she also quilted, selling the quilts to raise money for the church. Sewing for her was practical, an art-form, and the basis of lasting and enriching community. Thus, she used her skills, doing something she enjoyed to help other people and to help her church.

When we say yes to Jesus and do our best to follow his teachings, out of our passions, our interests, coupled with love, immersed in the wisdom of Christ, the chains which bind us will be loosed and loneliness is bearable, and life is more abundant.

We are like Peter and would much rather protect ourselves and our loved ones from death. No one knows the hour or the time, but when we forget ourselves for Jesus’ sake, we enter the kingdom of heaven.

For heaven’s sake, on the third day, Jesus was raised, and we too will be raised into a radiant love beyond the boundaries of this life.

Spiritual Practice

be genuine in sharing your love, arising from the love of God.

share the joy of those who rejoice,

mingle your tears with those who weep.

welcome everyone, especially those who feel alone and afraid.

***

God is a term, a word, a name for an eternal process…

You are never alone.

Listen to sung psalms. so much wisdom in these poems, these inspired moments through, well, through us: Saint Paul Cathedral Choir: Psalm 121   

psalm 23 sung in Hebrew with English text

Psalm 23 (ဆာလံ ၂၃) – Cer Khun Sung (Akuk)  

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Love is of God–Ten Yen

Hi,
I’m trying to get the word out about my latest book.  I am excited that it has just been published as an e-book, and it will also be available in print.  It’s a love story.  Perhaps the greatest desire of all people is for love.  This is a love story between two people, turbulent and difficult–demonstrating how love overcomes barriers, and how love is a mystery that ultimately deepens people.  At first, it is only the beloved we wish to please mainly for personal gratification, but this love must mature into a desire to share burdens, be a helpmeet, discern what is best even when it does not suit us. Ultimately, all love, the mystics tell us, is a search for God, which is Mystery, and a process of wholeness that embraces all people and all life.
Perhaps it will interest you?  I ask your help to get the word to others you think might be interested?
Thanks Everyone
May you be blessed with ever-deepening love.
Christina
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What’s in a Name?

trying this for the umpteenth time so the naming ceremony first some ...

Many traditions have naming ceremonies.  In the West we even have ceremonies to name ships, but this blog/sermon is a different sort of naming inspired by Matthew 16: 13-20

Simon, son of Jonah. Simon Peter.

You’d think it would be obvious to the close-knit group of Disciples just who Jesus was. But they all thought and imagined different things.

Jesus starts off, though, by trying to find out from the Disciples who the people think he is.  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-’adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible.[1]

In Judaism Son of Man refers to normal human beings, ordinary folks.

But people are seeing Jesus as not merely a normal human being–he is someone more, bigger, and they are trying to name him in terms they understand–the people say Jesus is John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

When Jesus asks the Disciples who they say he is, Simon Peter is the one to pipe up with the answer. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus seems genuinely pleased at Simon Peter’s response but he doesn’t elaborate on just what Messiah means. Instead, he proceeds to name Peter. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Wow. What an accolade. Peter who has named Jesus the Messiah, is now named by Jesus as Peter the Rock, a man who will be foundational to the Church.

Can’t you see them giving one another a hug, punching each other’s biceps?

Yet what might Peter have understood about being the rock, the foundation of Jesus’ church?

Messiah ben David is who Jews were awaiting. It means “Messiah, son of David”. To Peter, a Jewish man, it must have signified a great political leader who was descended from King David. A person specially annointed as a King, a person who was going to carry on Jewish traditions, a person who would free the people. For sure, Jesus was to Peter the leader he’d been awaiting, someone who’d freed him from being a fisherman, teaching him, and now naming his potential.

So here is Peter, charged with the fulfillment of the name God has given him, which in Greek, the language of the New Testament, means the Rock.

Yet he started out as Simon, son of Jonah.

Simon is a Hebrew name which means to be heard.

And is Peter ever heard! Always in the forefront, a blustery, determined, forward sort of person who cares deeply and often acts impulsively and sometimes unwisely:

He walks on water for a moment, but soon begins to sink…

He tells Jesus no way is the Lord going to wash his feet, misunderstanding the humble nature of true Discipleship.

Contrary to Jesus’ instructions, he cuts off the ear of a servant of the High Priest.

How often do we act contrary to the call of God in our lives because we have not fully understood?

Does anyone have perfect and complete understanding?

There is a storm arising in the Presbyterian Church over the LGBT issues and same sex marriage.

I do not intend to tell anyone how they ought to think or what they ought to do, but rather explore the issue of how we name ourselves as followers of Christ.

Peter, the Rock of the Church, is our example of how we might be renamed, and how we often don’t get it right.

Peter is unable to stand by his friend, Jesus. It is heart-breaking.

Jesus predicted on the night of his arrest. “I tell you the truth,” “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Later that night, Jesus was arrested. Luke 22:54-57 … they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

How are we here at Bates to hold up our intention to follow Christ?

People on either side of the LGBT, same sex marriage issue believe they are right, and many of us walk a middle path, not a hundred percent certain.

All of us in our religious communities are trying to be good people with good intentions. We might well respect our gay brothers and sisters but still oppose same sex marriage.

Are we right? Are we wrong?

When should we take the Bible literally?

Marcus Borg in his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, casts some light onto how we might understand the movement of the sacred, of God, in our lives.

He says, if we insist the Bible is the inerrant word of God, we are compelled to follow the Bible in every fundamental and see the laws of the Bible as God’s laws. The ethical question becomes, “How can one justify setting aside one of the laws of God?”

The Bible, Borg tells us, in his opinion is a human product, a way two religious communities–the Ancient Hebrews and the new Christians–tried to understand God.

In Exodus, when Moses is on his way back to Egypt, “The Lord met him and tried to kill him.” Thanks to his wife, Zipporah, who circumcises their son, God lets him alone. If we take this literally, we would assume God is punitive and malevolent.

Whether or not we eat cuckoos is irrelevant to us, but was a law those ancient ones were taught. Who knows why?

We are selective in what we take from the Bible. We apply what suits us, not taking into account that the writers of the Bible were human, and although inspired by God, were not God. A flute cannot make a sound like drum.

So we face this dilemma. How are we to respond to a General Assembly ruling that allows Same Sex marriage in the church?

What are the deeper issues?

Peter is a reminder to us of just how limited we are, even when we mean to do what is right. Peter certainly had good intentions but he denies his friend, Jesus, more than once.

How can we know what is right?

Jesus teaches and demonstrates a resounding lesson, time and time again. That is the lesson of inclusiveness and forgiveness.

We so often fall far short.

Take divorce. I am divorced. I never thought that would happen to me. I was married 26 years to a man I loved. We had a good life. No children. I was 44 when I discovered my husband was having an affair and they were expecting a baby together.

It would be easy to condemn my ex. I had right on my side. At the time, I was enraged.

My rage stopped radios, mangled tapes, and caused me to fall down a staircase. That was when I sought God to help me forgive, because this rage within me was tangible and it was dangerous.

The grace of forgiveness I sought came in answer to my prayer almost immediately, but my understanding had only just begun.

Understanding is a lifelong process of deepening awareness.

I found myself reflecting over my life with Martin, and began to recognize it hadn’t been all his fault, that there were many issues buried within our psyches that contributed to the betrayal and abandonment.

Reflecting about this same sex marriage storm arising in all Churches, causing schisms makes me wonder are there underlying issues for the church and for us as individuals when we vehemently wave our fists and cry out against the injustice, the immorality.

We feel betrayed.

And it seems like a betrayal when something you’ve been taught all your life, or like me trusted for 26 years, is now not merely in question but has been overturned. Your life is in a turmoil. Your beliefs are challenged. You want to do the right thing. But you are confused, hurt, wounded, uncertain and angry.

Anger, unexamined, causes blindness and destruction.

Church splits are also incredibly complex.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door and split the Roman Catholic Church, he had some good reasons. But he was not acting only out of his understanding of Scripture and the need for faith versus rigid belief. I am not going to repeat his words, but he was vehemently against women. He viewed them as evil, temptresses, almost subhuman. Yet down the road, in time, his view changed. God was certainly in this softening of Martin Luther who later married and had six children.

Sometimes reconciliation is neither possible nor desirable, but surely the God of inclusiveness, the God who welcomes all people, doesn’t want us to live in isolation from one another, breaking up our religious communities.

Betrayal is an opportunity to forgive. Betrayal is an opportunity to look within and seek the help of Christ.

In today’s New Testament reading we find Peter and Jesus slapping hands, smiling, getting along, but it’s not too much further down the road of their relationship when Peter is going to utterly deny Jesus Matthew 26:73-75: After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Peter wasn’t strong enough to stand up for right, for his best buddy. He just wasn’t strong enough. He was weak and afraid. He didn’t fully understand. Do we blame him? Do we condemn him? Or do we learn to embrace and forgive him, to raise him up so he might live into his full potential.

Borg says, “Being Christian is about a relationship to the God who is mediated by the Christian tradition as sacrament. To be Christian is to live within the Christian tradition as sacrament and let it do its transforming work within and among us.”

We don’t have the answers. All we can do is keep on trying to grow in our understanding, our tolerance, and our behavior within our community.

Simon Peter is still Peter, a fisherman, an impulsive guy, a man with a mission, a man Jesus renames as Peter the Rock. It isn’t that Peter is suddenly a new person. He isn’t, but step by step, day by day, he grows in strength, wisdom, and character.

Peter is more than he was, more than he could ever have been if he had not encountered Jesus, his friend, teacher, Rabbi, helper, and healer–the man-god he betrayed three times, the same man-god who forgave him, and forgave him, and forgave him.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Charge: The Son of Man grounds you on solid rock; The Son of Man names you. May your name become known for love, wisdom, forbearance, persistence, and faithfulness.

Blessing: May you be filled with a heart of forgiveness in the small matters of everyday life. So that when the big issues arise, you are ready to kneel and cry out to God: even this, help me to forgive.

***

Pray, Sing, Love, and Be a Help

Native American version in honor of Saint Kateri Takawitha: They’ll Know We Are Christians (Peter Scholtes).wmv  

Jars of Clay – They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love

Pilgrims: They Will Know We Are Christians by our Love   

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Ten Yen–the Making of a Monk–now available as an e-book

Ten Yen 2

I am excited about this book which was released on August 21.  It came about after Ten Yen True, the sequel, was published.

Why?

My co-author, Amanda Armstrong’s husband, David Armstrong, wanted to know about the monk in Ten Yen True and how he’d chosen to become a monk.  This one is for you, Dave, and all the people who are interested in the sacred within our everyday struggles.

It is a historical romance–Purchase from All Romance ebooks

About the book

Amaya and Joumi meet, a few years after WW II has ended, at an American party in Tokyo. It’s not easy to be a conquered Japanese citizen. Both have done things to survive that they regret.Joumi and Amaya immediately form a bond, but it is to be a stormy relationship with many inner demons to overcome if there is to be any hope of a lasting connection.The story incorporates accurate historical details about life in post-war Japan where people learn how to embrace defeat in ways that bring about love, community, and triumph. It is the prequel to Ten Yen True where a Buddhist monk brings healing to westerners he has never met.

An excerpt from the book

Amaya came out of her reverie. Yokatta koto, my goodness, the Japanese man lo oked as if he intended to approach her. She needed no patron these days. She was glad when people stepped in front of him and got in his way. Still, she always kept her options open. Amaya slipped past the people, coquettishly lowering her eyes and fluttering her eyelids theatrically. After a suitable interval when she was standing directly in front of the guy, she gaily smiled up into his enthralled eyes. For a moment, saying nothing, she merely sized him up, keeping the pretty smile on her face, strongly aware of his masculine scent. His presence, in spite of his lanky height, reminded her of a samurai. Better still, she thought to herself, he is a Buddha. He certainly has the ears. “You,” she said, reaching a tiny hand toward his lapel, and gently straightening his tie. “I will call you my Ookii Mimi!”

~ * ~

Joumi couldn’t help but grin down into her exquisite face. To be nicknamed Big Ears seemed quite a complement. He certainly did have some money, as people believed about men with long earlobes but not because he was lucky as they surmised. No. He’d worked hard and ruthlessly to earn every yen. “What might I call you?” he murmured, bowing to her deeply. As he straightened, he intentionally moved closer to her, his hair grazing her cheek. He could smell a faint fragrance of koh and wondered if she burned incense to the gods or had perhaps been recently in a temple. “You are a living incarnation of Amaterisu,” he said sincerely.

“You may call me Amaya. That is my real name.” She daintily covered her mouth with one hand and giggled. “If we are to be friends, you will soon find out I am not the goddess you wish me to be.”

Her face made-up as perfectly as a Geisha was not painted with the traditional white rice powder, but rather glowed with health. He suspected beneath her makeup her skin was healthy brown, perhaps even tanned. “Let me take you to dine somewhere more suitable than this place.” He waved his hand dismissively towards the food tables. “Unless you prefer a cheeseburger?”

“I don’t even know your name,” she responded, enjoying their game.

“I am Joumi, Amaya,” he said, tasting her name on his tongue. “If you are to be my Amaterisu, you must indeed call me Ookii Mimi.”

“Perhaps.” Amaya’s eyes gleamed with delight. Did he think she could be bought? Somehow she thought he would not attempt anything so brutish. “Let us go somewhere more private where we can get acquainted properly. My place or yours?”

Joumi hid his surprise. Surely not. Was she propositioning him? How very flattering, he thought. “Why, yours,” he said, and wished he’d said his house, but he did not ever bring women into his spotless home, preferring to fulfill his needs with local prostitutes in Nerima-ku, the last of the twenty three wards recently formed to satisfy the occupiers’ intention to turn Japan into a democratic state.

Amaya hid her irritation with this man. He was no big-eared Buddha, holy and beyond physical needs! She couldn’t imagine why she’d so impulsively invited him to her flat. Even the men she played around with weren’t allowed there. Hotels were good enough for them.

Joumi watched Amaya’s sudden look of disappointment, and felt his heart shrivel. He didn’t want her to be a high-class prostitute…

Purchase from Amazon

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Plugged into Grace

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This blog was inspired by Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28: The Faith of a Canaanite

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Jesus did not say a word when the disciples asked him to send away the Canaanite woman.  He says nothing. Perhaps he is remembering what he just taught his disciples.

In Matthew 15:10-28 we read how Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”

There were lots of restrictions on what to eat or not eat in the Bible. Lots of things were considered unclean: You could eat fish and goat’s milk. You could eat locusts and beetles. Some birds were allowed. But you’d better not eat a cuckoo, or a lapwing. No hares as in rabbits were allowed to be eaten. Fat was forbidden. That was to be burned on the alter for God. Snakes, snails, swans and pigs were off-limits.

So when Jesus talks about what really makes a person unclean and that it is not related to what a person eats, not surprisingly the Pharisees are offended.  They are quite convinced that they are doing what God wants and are pleasing to him.

So here is Jesus, this time in the region of Tyre and Sidon, having withdrawn from his own country. Why has he withdrawn–perhaps he is in need of rest, perhaps he wants to spend time with his friends away from the needs of the crowds or the misunderstanding of the Pharisees–the Scripture doesn’t say.

What happens next, what Jesus says, has puzzled scholars and Christians for centuries. We want the warm fuzzy Jesus pulling us from the sea of our doubt.  Yet this is a scripture that challenges us to understand faith from a different point of view. This pushy woman, a Canaanite, a person who Jews do not like and who does not like Jews, shows up on their doorstep, kneeling, begging for help.

Jesus says nothing, not a word. Why does he hold his tongue?  Could he be demonstrating to his disciples how not to defile themselves through wrong speech? Could he be showing us saying nothing might be preferable to saying something that causes aggravation?

Yet, after the disciples ask him to send this woman away, he enters into conversation with her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” Jesus tells her. She is persistent. She won’t take no for an answer. “Lord, help me!” the woman says. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” Jesus responds.

Nasty. Ugly. Humiliating. A woman talking to a Jewish man in public.  Unheard of.  The disciples say to Jesus.  “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

Isn’t this how we all are?  We find it easy to help the people we love, the people we know, the people who share the same customs and traditions. But this Canaanite woman shows us a love greater than that; she has come into their midst because her love is so strong for her demon-possessed daughter.

Today perhaps we’d consider the demon-possessed to be people addicted to drugs, booze, or sex, people who are sneered at by others.  These people might be our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Oh sure we want to help them, but don’t bring the drug recovery house into our neighborhood where we want peace from the worries and needs of others.

Yet when it’s not the OTHER in trouble but our own flesh and blood, we respond differently. We forget ourselves, even if it is but for a moment the way Peter did when he walked on the water towards Jesus. Out of love and an awareness of our inability to change things, we become desperate.

So we call upon a Mystery so much greater than our limited understanding. In the face of great difficulty when do we refuse to take no for an answer? We certainly might refuse to take no for an answer out of great love for a daughter or a son. When we are loving mothers and fathers, we will defend and protect our young to the best of our ability.

This strange woman holds her ground. You give even the crumbs to the dogs, she says. She dares to argue with God.

Perhaps Jesus wants to see what the Disciples will do about this woman. The Disciples aren’t in the mood for a Canaanite. She is abomination to them. Someone despised. They wouldn’t help her on their best day. Can they not have understood all that Jesus has been teaching? They urged Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps yelling at us.”

Jesus goes right along with them. Perhaps a demonstration of what happens through association.

What happens if you follow your friends who tell you to come get drunk and try out dope or drugs to make you high, or hey grab a candy bar and stick it in your purse—Walmart can afford it—or let’s make fun of someone who is fat or old. Do you go along with them or do you think for yourself and consider what God teaches about the heart.

When Jesus goes along with the crowd of his disciples, he appears to be going against his own teachings. But the Mystery of this story points to something greater. It points to our need to act out of great love for everyone. Through such love coupled to the power of God, of Mystery, through Christ, there will be redemption.

In many ways. Jesus speaks as if he is a normal Jewish man with a poor opinion of people who aren’t like him. People who don’t worship the same way. People who look different. People who aren’t good enough. Can’t you see the satisfied looks on the Disciples’ faces. “You tell her, Jesus!” Of course, they’ve missed the point. If they had been not only listening to the teachings of Jesus, but also putting it into practice in their lives, they might recognize that their attitude about foreigners, about women, have not been planted by God in their hearts. These attitudes are alien from God’s inclusiveness. They separate us from Mystery, from God.

The woman could care less what they think of her. She demonstrates genuine concern for another, for her daughter. She is willing to be humiliated. She is willing to humble herself. Yes, Lord, You can treat me like a dog. But even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.

God’s love is so great.  The enormous persistent love of this mother, this parent, this strange foreign woman is united to the Mystery of love.  She is the manifestation of God’s love. She represents the possibility of the redemptive power of love.  She is doggedly persistent just as surely as God persists in offering us the love that brings us the healing we need for our minds and spirits and sometimes our bodies too.

The energy, the power of spirit is moving through the love of this woman. Her gender doesn’t matter. Her nationality doesn’t matter. Only her love for another person.  Only that matters. And through that love, her daughter is restored.

When have you been like this woman, unwanted, in a foreign or strange situation, and yet something impels you to persist, to not give up? We probably have all been the unwanted man or woman in some situation. What impels us to overstep boundaries?

During a particularly difficult time, my prayers plugged me into grace, the Mystery of God’s presence. My new husband had suffered all his life from painful sciatica. He never complained but I could see it in his face. I was praying and even laying my hands on his back. I was desperate for him to feel better. One night, I dreamed I was in a flood.  In my dream of the flood, I knew I was helpless.  Nothing I could do was going to stop what was coming.  Whatever was going to happen, I fully understood it was not my issue. As I was being swept away in the water, I heard the voices of my mother and father, both deceased, say: Everything will be all right. Everything will be all right. Not too much later, a disc in Philip’s back broke off and he was paralyzed.  The doctors in Ashland decided to send him in the middle of the night to Lexington for emergency surgery. It was a hundred miles away and I didn’t know the territory. I was mortified. For him and for me. I was helpless. But I had those words from my parents: Everything will be all right. A Grace from God.

It was midnight, and though I tried to follow the ambulance in my husband’s 4-cylinder tinny Geo, the ambulance stormed through a red light and left me in the dust feeling lonely and scared. I got completely lost in Lexington. But even though I didn’t fully comprehend at the time, Grace was right there for me. And in my mind I heard again those words of comfort. Everything will be all right.

Eventually, I made my way to the hospital, where a stranger guided me to my husband who was in a hospital room. He was joking with the nurses.

Later, shivering in the surgical waiting room in the wee hours of the morning, a woman from a very poor family whose nephew had been in a 4-wheeler accident that had crushed his legs came over and wrapped her cardigan around me.  Such grace.  It was everywhere. Not only for Philip, but also for me.

Did I really hear the voices of my deceased parents? I cannot say, but I know this was a God- experience from start to finish. It was grace. During this time, I felt surrounded by angels, including, I might add a young black guy in a ghetto area of Lexington, drug-infested and frightening. Lost, I pulled into an all-night deli frantic to find the hospital.  This young man looked to be on drugs, but he got himself together and gave me directions.

Love coupled with prayer opens the doors of the Spirit to intervene, to connect us to one another, to be Love for one another.

Jesus answers that foreign, desperate woman, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed that very hour.

Even when we are floundering in the sea of life, as was this woman, as was I, as we often are, our desperate calls to God are answered in many ways, many of them mysterious. Prayer of the heart plugs us into the Grace of God.

Everything will be all right.

***

Spiritual Practice

• When your prayers seem unheard, pray about the courage and persistence of the Canaanite woman. • In times of crisis ask God for the gift of great faith.

Amazing Grace

Celtic Women

Amazing Grace Lyrics  

Amazing Grace – Christian Hymns with Lyrics ( John Newton )       

Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone CCHS Concert and Chapel Choir      

Amazing Grace, Gospel Choir, St. James Episcopal Church, Florence, Italy  

Amazing Grace – Diane Bish & St. George’s Episcopal Church Choir & Congregation       

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The Best Present

jesus knocking at the door painting artist

Jesus is knocking on the door. Prayer opens the way for grace in our lives in many ways.

When I was a little girl, one Christmas Eve, I couldn’t sleep, I was so excited about the present Father Christmas would put on my chair during the night. Father Christmas is what little English boys and girls called Santa Claus.  So here I was wide awake.  How could Santa come? I asked Jesus to help me go to sleep. Guess what happened? I got this lovely warm feeling of being surrounded by love. Next thing you know it was Christmas Day. What I most remember, the very best present, was the love that enfolded me.

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God is Always with Us by Brianna: So I thanked God

One day I woke up grouchy. I thought if I took it out on my sisters it would help so I did. But then I thought if God is real he would help get the grouchieness away. So I asked him to; but he said it was up to me to decide either be nice or be mean. I was nice and to my surprise the grouchy went back to the devil’s side. So I thanked God.

I’m Brianna and I am a red headed 8 year old. I once thought of God as a joke, but I realized it wasn’t.

Posted in Blogs for the Soul, Children's Moments, Miracles of Healing, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality | Tagged | Leave a comment