Tag Archives: Jesus

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   

Wish Upon a Boddhisatva

 

japanbodhi Japanese Boddhisatva.

This blog is the continuation of an unpublished biography of Yasunari Kawabata, a Japanese literary genius who won a Nobel Prize for literature.  When he was young, he lost his mother, and then his father. While living with his grandfather, his sister died, and now his grandfather is dying. The teenager, Kawabata, copes as best he can, and even though he has no interest in religious superstitions of his day, finds himself seeking help from a Boddhisatva.

Scroll down to end for holy messages…

***

Now, Grandfather took ten minutes to urinate, and when he did, he cried out even more. Yasunari did not know if he could bear it, but somehow he did.  After all, Grandfather himself had said, “I have lived shedding tears.”  So this was not so very different from the way things had always been.

Nothing in Grandfather’s life ever seemed to create joy or become successful.  He had tried raising a tea crop and failed.  He had written a book, “A Theory of Divination and the Structure of Dwelling Places and its Effect on the Dwellers.”  It had not been published.  He had sold off all the family holdings to a saké brewer called Matsuo and used the money to reconstruct the house.  None of Grandfather’s attempts to earn money had ever been successful.  His life seemed friendless.

 Yasunari did not feel as if he had many friends either, except perhaps his books. Yasunari realized, though, that Grandfather was not useless, nor had he always been selfish.  Grandfather thought his book taught people how to be happy.  Yasunari did not challenge Grandfather’s ideas.  He never belittled him, either.  Yet, there was no way he could accept his Grandfather’s religious ideas.

Even when Yasunari waved the sword around in the air to rid it of demons, he struggled with his own beliefs. Yasunari wondered why he could not make himself call in a medical doctor to help Grandfather.  He did not consciously resent his father who had been a physician.  Yet, after thirty days, when Grandfather had had no bowel movement, Yasunari had encouraged Omiyo’s talk with the fox god, something supernatural he didn’t believe in.

Grandfather did not like doctors.  Yasunari suspected that Grandfather resented his son, Yasunari’s father, for learning new ways far different from the old traditions.  On the other hand, Yasunari comforted himself, what good could a medical doctor possibly do? The fox god and the rituals gave hope.  To call in a doctor might well be the end of hope.

Grandfather greatly respected the distant past.  He was proud that his family was descended from the people who had built the local temple.  It housed the bodhisattva, Kokūzō.  This deity, seated on a lotus, wearing a crown, held a sword in his right hand to symbolize wisdom, and in his left hand, he held a wish-granting jewel.  He represented wisdom as vast as space.

Yasunari understood that Grandfather had tried to live these beliefs.  Grandfather often remodeled his living quarters.  He believed that the spaces within a house represented the way of wisdom.

Yasunari felt better about Grandfather when he remembered how kind he could be.  Even in his misery, his demands and his suffering, he had been kind to Omiyo.  After her grandchild was born, Grandfather, on hearing the news, became joyful.  He was especially happy to hear about all the gifts her friends in the village gave to her to celebrate her being a grandmother.

Yasunari respected her too. “It is the way it must be, Yasunari,” Omiyo told him.  “The gods understand what is best for each one of us.  Your Grandfather has lived.  You must try to understand the whole picture.  The gods destine our journey in life.”

***

Monk asks, “who help you in times of sickness and trouble? Where do you turn in your helplessness?”

japanesemanIn Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Sanskrit: बोधिसत्त्व bodhisattva; Pali: बोधिसत्त bodhisatta) is an enlightenment (bodhi) being (sattva). Traditionally, a bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.[1

Certainly, Jesus fulfilled the category of an enlightened being who gave his life and death for the sake of other people. For Christians, he is the child (son) of God who transforms people’s lives.

Understand

Journey to Enlightenment | THE RABBIT HOLE with Deepak Chopra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYi4hqjFfuc

Focus Energy

Jesus Loves You Flash Mob – Tbilisi, Georgia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIncFASwrJY

Be a Help

They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CobNWUXb1M

Lenten Spiritual Practices: Sixth Thursday in Lent – April 10, 2014

“Wanting to do something and being unable is, in the eyes of God WHO sees our hearts, as though it were done.”   St. Mark the Ascetic from 226 texts

***

There is a struggle in me to accept good intentions as faithfulness.  They say “the road to hell is paved by good intentions.”  Who among us has not experienced the intended kindness, undelivered when we needed it?  As a community with many physical, economic needs around us, a thoughtful kind word seems to fall short.  I remember Charles Schultz’ Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy is freezing cold, at the brink of death.  Charlie Brown walks by noticing Snoopy’s plight with sympathy.  Charlie is bundled up in warmth and comfort.  Charlie then walks by wishing Snoopy good things, without offering a hand.  The world watches us and judges Christians as hypocrites when our actions fall short of our spoken intentions.  Jesus himself addresses hypocrisy in the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  “And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar.  But I do know him and I keep his word.”  John 8:55

From a young age, my parents taught me that doing right is an important extension of our faith.  However, as I live through my years, I have discovered my own limitation in doing.  Many times I have intended more than I delivered.  My own failure reminds me how badly I need God!  Then, God shows such love for me, seeing into my heart.  This same God forgives me for thinking that I can do or be it all.  And God loves me as though it were done.  Sometimes, later, God fills me with his intentions and equips me then for doing so.

Prayer Practice for the day:

In a quiet place, let go of your distractions.  When ready, answer a knock at your door to find jesusatdoorJesus.  Welcome him into your space.  Give him your intentions.  Offer him your dis-ease and guilt.  Hear and feel his forgiveness and love for you.  Listen to what he has to say to you.  Enjoy each other’s company a while.

Rev. Elizabeth S. Mallozzi. Director of Mission and Pastoral Care, The Shores at Wesley Manor, UMHNJ: beth.mallozzi@gmail.com

from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality: http://wvis.org/

Lenten Spiritual Practices: Third Tuesday in Lent – March 25, 2014

“Hear things that strike us dumb with awe: we become members of Christ; Christ is my hand, my lowly foot; do not blush, Christ is in my every organ.”  

St. Symeon the New Theologian.  949-1022

***

We frequently hear that our DNA is Christ – a powerful statement for me to absorb.   That is a current truth with ancient roots as we hear from this tenth century writer.   Christ, by his Incarnation, blesses each bodily function, each cell of every body.  Nothing has escaped his blessing…no cell, no human activity, emotion, gesture, craving, function.   We easily sing: We are the body of Christ. Say:    I am the ‘body of Christ’. Saying ‘I’ changes the experience for me.  What about you?   ‘I” am a mystery of creation, not just in my mind, but in my very body.   I use my body in prayer, to serve, to define the space I occupy in life.  I nourish my body as the ‘body of Christ’.  How important to ‘care’ for the body with exercise, nutrition, gentleness and respect.  I struggle to make that ‘real’ for me.  What about you? 

Practice:

Look tenderly at your own body today and recognize that you too are holy because Christ is in your every organ.je

Sr. Carole Riley, CDP, Ph.D. WVIS Executive Director: wviscr@aol.com

from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality: http://wvis.org/

Fear Not

perfect_storm_2

I’ve never forgotten the sermon I once heard by Fred Craddock, when he talked about the disciples in their small boat being tossed about by the storm.  They were terribly afraid, but here comes a man walking across the water about to go past their boat.  They seem even more afraid to see what they think must be a ghost–even more afraid than the storm buffeting them about in their boat.  When I heard Dr. Craddock intone the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, it is I,” his calm voice rising from a depth of compassion and wisdom, I felt such comfort and peace.  (John 6:18-20)

We are so often buffeted about on the surface of life, frightened of how we will be hurt, how we might not survive another minute from whatever is causing us terror, from whatever we cannot control. All we do is flounder about, trying to bail out the waters of what we see as our destruction.

But Jesus says to his disciples and he says to us:  “Do not be afraid. It is I.”

What comfort there is to deeply accept we are loved by a power, the power of God, a constant growthful loving process, that is so much larger than our small lives; such love, unconditional, embracing, and everlasting frees us to walk our life-paths with joy–not without suffering, perhaps, but with an awareness of freedom.  Even when we cannot see the light of dawn, the dove is gently calling…

Here is a comforting Youtube song–

May you find peace, depth, love and happiness in your life.

Just As You Are

candlesMay this meditation/contemplation give you fresh insight, enrich and free you from wounds of the past.

Listen to the following piano meditation: Just As I Am (8.5 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdnZ4m0XP_8

Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea, all I need in thee to find,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Contemplation (10-20 minutes):

Ask Jesus to carry you as an infant back into your childhood home. Let him carry you into every room. Who is there? What do you feel?  Are you sad? Are you happy? Are the rooms full or empty?

Ask Jesus to fill you with an awareness of unconditional love.

Journal your experience.

 

 

 

More Life

veiled woman

I am constantly amazed at the richness of the Bible and how it is so often trans-cultural and timeless in its spiritual message.  The New Testament written 2000 years ago still speaks today in many ways.

Here is the scripture from Luke 8: 40-49 (NIV) Verde (Ashland/Huntington Contemplation Group) used for our last session in an Ignatian technique called Application of the Senses:

 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him.  Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house  because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.  Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Several different people read the Scripture out loud.  It is surprising the way a person reads can effect what one notices.  After the reading, there is a 20 minute time of silence where each person tries to vividly imagine actually being in this scene as one of the people–one tries to notice smells, sounds, feelings, and so on.  Each person journals their experience, and then there is an opportunity for those who wish to share their experience and insights, while the others listen silently and deeply without interrupting.

There were so many things I–even though I am not very visual– noticed and received from the group:

The woman touches Jesus’ robe: we must let go of fear and trust the healing power of God.

Jesus asks who touched him, even though Peter is trying to move him along: many people are standingpressing against him, he is called to help a little girl who is dying, and yet he does not immediately rush along.  He stands his ground, not subject to the expectations of anyone else.  He takes care of the immediate needs within the moment.  In Buddhist terms, he is mindful and fully conscious.

 

Twelve years is a parallel between the dying girl and the woman who’d been bleeding: both are females in a culture where they are rendered invisible, and yet there is love from the father of the abundant-life-tree-2little girl, and also from Jesus whose presence has healed the woman, and who is (in a subsequent scripture) going to restore the little girl’s life.  This might well be applied to the women of today who are rendered invisible economically, culturally, and intellectually–and are in essence “bleeding.”  Women are important.  They will be restored to community as equals.

For me personally, I have been poignantly aware of the need to stand my ground and not give into insecurity, vacillation, and self-doubt but to trust the process of the strengthening wisdom of Christ through scripture and from people around me.  As one member of Verde said–this Scripture was about More Life!

Standing Out or Outstanding?

maple2

Have you ever noticed how one tree stands out more than others?

There is a maple tree in my neighborhood where I love to walk.  It looked as if it were dying when the leaves turned brown quite a while ago, but now in late September, it is a spectacular red–a sensational autumn tree, way ahead of nearly all those others–except one other which has already lost many of its leaves, layering the grass with a blanket of brown–a portent of what’s to come when all the leaves flutter down in a splendid farewell to autumn and hello to winter.

I’ve been reading Deepak Chopra’s book, Life After Death, and enjoyed his insight about heaven and hell not being places but states of being.  Further, Deepak asks why should we assume everyone who is good goes up to heaven, and the baddies are heading down forever into hellfire damnation?  He points out that we are all at different levels of maturity, good and bad, wise and dumb, and it makes no sense to think we will all be the same after death.

Do you envisage yourself up on a cloud playing a harp after death or, oh boy, do you see yourself being burned by hot coals and stabbed in the eye with flaming spears?  Fortunately many of us these days don’t take the Biblical idea of heaven and hell literally.  But just what can we expect?  That’s if you believe in life after death.  I am happy to say that I do.  My Christian beliefs are that I will still be me, and you will still be you; I very much hope and expect to meet again those I love, my mum and dad especially, and also aunts–one of whom I didn’t much like.  It would be outstanding if we could hug one another and experience warmth and love.  We certainly never hugged while she was alive–and from my perspective, she was mean-spirited, cruel, and thought herself above everyone else.

The funny thing is she was such a snob about her job that you’d think she was a very important person with people fawning over her, but she worked in a minor role in a hospital.  Although it must be said that back in her day, women didn’t have much opportunity other than to work as nurses, clerks, and secretaries.  In fact, even brilliant women graduates from Cambridge, back in the 50s, were lucky to get anything but clerical work, and were expected to get married and be dutiful moms and wives.

So maybe my aunt was outstanding in some ways even though she also stood out in not so pleasant ways by lauding it over her family, sticking her nose in the air at other people, and feeding the dog nothing but scraps (even though she could have well-afforded decent food for the creature).

Catholics continue to pray for the deceased.  I’ve prayed for my aunt too–maybe if nothing else, it has changed my heart towards her, helping me to see her as a complex human being whom I never fully understood.  Maybe she was downright disappointed in herself for insisting her job was such a big deal.  Maybe, down deep, she felt inadequate.  Maybe her little house in Catford which was no mansion embarrassed her.  Maybe she believed money and status revealed her true nature.

It seems to me our true nature is not about what we own or what we achieve, but is about how much we are able to help and serve others–that’s what we will take with us after we die, not our houses, our degrees, or lack of them, not our money or good looks, or lack of them, but our compassionate hearts as much as we have been able to develop them.  It can be as simple as being kind to one’s significant other even when dark thoughts are assailing our minds.  Of course, sometimes we need to reflect about our dark thoughts because they might be teaching us something, impelling us to make changes in our relationships and lives.

How do we discern just what is the best way to live and behave?

Jesus is considered the personification of God.  Could he be a standard of behavior we might want to emulate?

Here are three things I understand about him that are guides for my life:

1. Jesus lived in community with others and never lauded it over them.  He chose twelve apostles to be his students and friends–not a vast crowd of people, but people who by learning from him, became foundational to spiritually growing others world-wide.

2. Jesus included women and minorities.  He empowered them through his loving acceptance and also through his ability to speak truth to power.  He was ahead of his time–a radical–but not someone who created a physical rebellion.  He did not take up weapons of destruction.

3. Jesus is an authority who the more I understand through study, prayer, and the teachings of wise clergy, like Pope Francis, I am able to trust completely as a supernatural force who can and will help me mature spiritually.

***

What are three significant ways you discern the best way to live?

Who has taught you these things?

How do they impact your life and the lives of other people?

 

 

 

 

 

Birthright: Royal or Holy

 

What a great joy the birth of a healthy, wanted baby is–such as the infant with the very big name: George Alexander Louis, baby of Kate Middleton and Prince William, heir to the throne of England, a future king.  Truly wonderful for the news media to be full of light and potential life instead of the usual gloom, doom, death and destruction.

Life versus death.

Love versus fear.

This child has a special destiny because of his parentage and because he is firstborn.  In the Hebrew tradition, it’s the right of the oldest son to inherit all the wealth of the father and assume the role and responsibility of patriarch and become the authority figure to the family.  In other words, the oldest son gets the money, the prestige, and the power.

My parents were hard-working people with no aspirations other than to make ends meet and raise healthy children who they wanted to have the chance in life they’d never had.  Dad drove lorry.  Mum worked in shops.  Perhaps because I am from such humble beginnings, I began to reflect about the meaning of birthright and whether or not mine had been somehow stolen.  After all, no glorious queendom was in store for me!  During the night, the Biblical name Esau popped into my mind.  The next day I explored the story in Genesis 25.

It is a timeless tale about a birthright that is wrongfully stolen.

Stolen might be too strong a word.  In the Biblical story, Esau who is slightly older than his twin, Jacob, is a vigorous, active hunter.  He is favored by his Dad, Isaac, but his mother, Rebekah, prefers gentle, more domesticated Jacob.  One day, Esau comes home from a hunt to find Jacob preparing a fragrant pottage.  He is famished.  He wants some of that stew, bad! So he begs Jacob to give him a bowl, but Jacob demands Esau’s birthright in return.    Esau gives it to him.  Ah–dangerous immediacy can get us into lots of trouble, can’t it?

But it turns out birthright would not have mattered so much because Esau would still have received the inheritance once his dad gave him the traditional blessing.

Except…

Rebekah, their Mom, cannot stand the two foreign women Esau has married, and has always preferred Jacob–so she manages to convince Jacob to trick the old blind father into bestowing the blessing upon himself.  What was she thinking!  Did she not know there would be repercussions from hot-tempered Esau?

Sure enough, Esau, hunter, macho-guy, is enraged and plans to kill Jacob.  There is no doubt he would have carried out this threat in the heat of the moment.  He’s that kind of guy.  But Jacob, warned by his mother, flees to a safe place, and doesn’t get the position or the power he’d been after.  Or, perhaps, it was what his mother wanted for him?

This Biblical narrative gave me insight not into the power of being first or last but something else.  I discovered not a wounded young man, Esau, who’d been cheated, but a maze of tangled family intrigues–greed, betrayal, anger, revenge–

Although many years later things actually turn out well for both Esau and Jacob, it is not because of their human birthright.  Whether you’re a son, a daughter, first or last child of nurturing or scheming parents, rich ones or poor ones, there is an altogether different birthright that counts far more, and that is your holy birthright, the God-given right to equality and life, to hope and love, to depth and purpose.

Life is mired in cultural and societal hierarchical systems within communities, within institutions, and within families, but life can also embrace an inheritance rooted in the holy, rooted in God, which is love, who loves all equally, who does not discriminate, trick, or try to control.

It’s not that human troubles disappear.  Yet no matter how royal or how ragged your human family is, the loving God of All is a force that leads to a meaningful life–to acknowledge a higher power is to add a rich layer to life.  For Christians, to follow the Christ and seek first the Kingdom of God, is to accept a holy birthright and become a potential king or queen of a deeper wiser realm than mere earthliness–the spiritual realm.

Spirit is a powerful force of deepening, healing, wisdom, and compassion–it is in fact transformational–available to us all.  We need but seek, ask, and we will receive…

Richard Foster, renowned spiritual leader, writes in his classic book Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home: “To pray is to change.  This is a great grace.  How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control” (p. 6).

***

Here is a little prayer any person religious or secular can pray.

Sit quietly, breathe deeply, and in your mind, say these words: May I become aware of my holy birthright.

Repeat these words regularly and sincerely, expecting .a positive result.  Pay attention to the fruits, the fresh discoveries within your life–perhaps greater understanding, serenity, insight, a new path…

Sacrifice

 

Here are two images of sacrifice. 

On the left is the Jesus Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with arms stretched wide to remind people, I suppose, of how Jesus was nailed to the cross where he died horribly as the final sacrifice of appeasement to God.  He was the way back for sinners who’d lost their connection to Yahweh through their wrong behaviors.  The statue’s arms are also the arms of welcome, arms which embrace the world.

On the right is another image I found on the internet–one of human sacrifice.  I don’t know about you, but I find it gruesome.  I certainly don’t want to sacrifice myself.  But the idea of dying to oneself to gain oneself is a message Jesus taught.  And I am a follower of Christ which, by the way, doesn’t mean I can’t study other religions and learn from other wisdom-literatures.  I gain much from my Hindu and Buddhist teachers.  It does not detract from my Christian journey but augments it.

Appeasing the gods through sacrifices is an ancient practice as if we human beings can garner the good will of some force greater than ourselves–usually in order to get our way–which includes rich harvests, rainfall, the sexiest spouse, winning wars, destroying enemies, landing a job, getting a bigger house and so on…

In the Old Testament, where I found 357 entries for the word sacrifice, sacrifices usually consisted of burnt offerings of a new lamb, or a goat, or an ox, or just about any ritually clean beast (pigs would have been out)–as if God, who is spiritual and not physical, would be happy to receive these untainted meats and be able to enjoy a good meal.

Clearly, sacrifice in the Bible is a ritual to propitiate God’s favor, and thus it is encouraged by the priests of the day as proper behavior.  They probably did not understand that what counted the most was not a matter of the physical offerings but a matter of the heart.

Offering oneself whole-heartedly to a greater power that can be trusted–now there’s a challenge!

God, it is said in Genesis 22, tests Abraham by telling him to prepare the fire for a sacrifice and expecting him to be willing to offer up his only son, Isaac.  Abraham obeys God.  Fortunately, at the last minute, God gives him a lamb for the fire.  It’s a tough scene.  People have debated the meaning for centuries.

I suspect it would be harder to offer one’s child than to offer oneself to the pyre.  Yet Abraham fully trusted God.  Somehow this Ancestor of the Christian Faith was imbued with incredible wisdom, strength, and power, but for him, like us, it must have been a process of learning, of growing, of being fortified with spiritual strength for the journey.  And really a woman, a mother, would probably have told God to piss off, and been justified.  God the Mother would be highly unlikely to ask for such a cruel sacrifice.

Surely God never really required sacrifices, even from those ancients.  Rather, this was a primitive practice of people who felt powerless and wanted to rely on a force outside of themselves.  We, like those ancients, are not in control of our own destinies either–even those of us who live in financial security.  Fires, hurricanes, storms, can take down our houses.  Disease can strike any one of us at any moment.  Serial killers, suicide bombers, mass shooters can target us.  We are in fact often helpless in the face of circumstances we are unable to change.

When Jesus arrives on the scene, he does not completely condemn the practice of sacrifice but tries to teach there is no need.  A man who is learnéd in the religious practices of the times asks Jesus which commandment is most important.  Jesus answers by telling the Israelites to love God fully, heart, mind, and strength, and to also love neighbors as oneself.  (See Mark 12: 28-34).

Jesus is the love-sacrifice–a new bridge to God–but his love is clearly not for sissies, else Jesus would not have had to die to prove the point.

 To understand more about the nature of life and death, religions play important roles.  By knowing the Old Testament, much light is shed upon the New Testament.  What Jesus did and taught arose from what had happened in the past, but he brought a new way of understanding.  There is a message for all of us in this wisdom:  we must not get bogged down in the past, but look for the truth that illuminates our day.

In his book, Reimagining Christianity: Reconnect your Spirit without Disconnecting your Mind, Alan Jones (an Episcopal priest, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco) asks of all religions “what is true?”  He says: “We are bound together by common questions whatever our position on religion.

  • How should we respond to human frailty?
  • What are we to do about suffering?
  • How are we to face death?
  • What should our social and communal arrangements be?
  • What are the paths to self-knowledge?
  • What kind of language do we need to express and probe these questions?”  (p. 38).

I struggle within the walls of the Christian church, both denominationally and universally, but I am also aware that the religious rites we use help ground us in a deeper understanding.  I remember after I was first baptized hearing a sermon about accepting Jesus Christ as an authority above me.  It shocked me!  Because it made me realize how little I understood of spiritual matters–and the more I have studied theology, scripture and holy literature, the more I realize how limited I still am, but practice of the faith gives strength for the difficult times (death, loss, illness).

I am a pragmatist, I suppose.  If religions do not empower us and help us overcome personal issues so that we are able to live and proclaim all the world, all the people as our community, then religious value is limited.  The idea of continual sacrifice must be balanced with actual freedom.  What I mean is we must be as free as Abraham before we can offer any kind of personal sacrifice.  We must die to ourselves.  And freedom is not martyrdom, nor is it being a pleaser, nor is it women who constantly give everything to their families because that’s what they’ve been taught to do.

Although church has been and continues to be a part of my spiritual journey, I am still seeking the ways to participate in faith practices in an open, discerning, environment that includes all and excludes no one, nor insists upon its own way as the only way.

How do we become people who can live in a difficult world and yet remain trusting, loving, hopeful, and also aware that our world can be torn apart at any moment in many different ways?

How are we to sacrifice ourselves–that is to say, our mean selves, our greedy selves, our needy selves, our power-seeking selves, our low self-esteem selves, our arrogant selves?  How are we to open the way for a universal self that is grand, healing, and wholesome to fill us.

Christ is the universal self whose arms are open for everyone.