June 2020 Archives


Dissonance

Dissonance

So, if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. Matthew 18:15

A while back I was offered the opportunity to share some devotions within the framework of a weekly remote on-line gathering. One of my messages, called ‘Agents of Healing,’ met with resistance from someone amongst the listeners.

Comments on my writings from friends and family here on this site tend to be affirming and encouraging. This is not to say that there may be those of you out there who might disagree with some of what I write, but the overall support I have generally received has left me feeling both immune and vulnerable to criticism—more than I realized.

I was unaware of this person’s objections until someone acting as a go-between contacted me, at the request of the person who wished to remain anonymous. Due to his or her anonymity, I did not have any opportunity to respond directly.

This person’s manner of sharing his or her criticism broke my heart, not so much because what I said may have hurt him or her, or because he or she disagreed with me, but because I did not have the chance to openly discuss our differences and possibly find some common ground, some reconciliation, some compassion and caring for each other’s differing views.

Interestingly, the ‘Agents of Healing’ post that I shared that this person seemed to be objecting to, included this excerpt . . .

… I do not expect you to agree with me on politics or anything else for that matter, but I do hope you will love me as I love you. Disagreeing with one another and blatantly ending any conversation gets us nowhere. But disagreeing within the framework of love, mercy, and compassion . . . this is where real listening, sharing, problem-solving, and consensus can occur …

Jesus, as the verses that begin this post state, seems to see a great deal of value in face to face encounters in order to bring about harmony.

I realize using the word ‘harmony,’ could seem for some to allude to complete agreement; let us explore that . . .

During choir rehearsals, prior to the pandemic, when practicing a piece of music, certain chord and note progressions would invariably trip us up because of the dissonance they created. We sang those segments over and over until we were able to render them correctly. Our choir director, pointed out how the dissonance would eventually resolve into beautiful consonance.

New research published by Nature magazine “argues that people’s general preference for consonant chords over dissonant ones ‘stem from the so-called harmonicity of consonant intervals.’ The aversion to the dissonant notes is not so much to do with the notes themselves, but with the jarring clash of their overtones.”

I find this fascinating–the purposeful engagement of dissonance within a musical composition—side by side notes working in concert to bring about harmonic resolution.

This same technique is used in the field of education, “when new information is presented to learners that is unfamiliar or contradictory to their existing knowledge or schema, this triggers a phenomenon referred to as cognitive dissonance. … Piaget (1975) defines the state of cognitive disequilibrium in much the same way …” (Springer)

As a teacher, I frequently and purposefully employed cognitive dissonance to engender higher level thinking skills. Within the context of dissonance, there is much more space for ‘aha’ moments.

Could this be a metaphor for what our world is now experiencing or needs to experience? Can seeming opposite points of view coexist for the mutual benefit of all God’s children? If so, how?

I suggest we begin this discovery together, by first learning to let go of our beliefs in the illusion that we ARE what we are believing. One can become so identified with or entrenched within ideological labels and beliefs that one’s heart becomes hardened, in other words impervious to tenderness and truth. The ‘jarring clash of overtones’ or disequilibrium cannot serve its true God-given purpose within concrete imaginations that are resistant to change.

Once again, I commend the Black Lives Matter movement and organization for channeling this awareness into the world. “When black lives matter, all lives matter” is a profoundly tender and truthful realization that can—if we allow it–energetically draw beloveds into symbiotic conversational relationship.

I do not know why my critic could not come to me, nor do I hold any ill will towards him or her. I pray for all of us to unite in compassionate and creative conversation.

I do believe that is what Christ wants …

Enough

Enough

When is enough, ‘enough?’

Our pastor came to visit us today and asked my 91-year-young father if I was taking good care of him. Do not let my father’s age fool you! He has the energy of a 60-year-old in good health and is of sound mind.

My father’s response was both adamantly noteworthy and praise-filled. He would most assuredly deny any false exaggeration in complete and utter humility, which he did when I asserted as such following the departure of our pastor.

I told my father that I did not feel like I was doing enough for him, or that I was doing enough for God. He responded in kind; even now I find myself shaking my head in thorough disbelief at his remark.

After retiring two years ago, I threw myself into volunteer work feeling somewhat guilty that I was not ‘doing enough’ with all this time I had on my hands. I made some great memories with two of my grandchildren as well. However, once the shelter in place orders went into effect due to the pandemic, I willingly gave up these activities so as not to endanger my father’s health—we live in the same house.

He prepares most of his own meals, does his laundry, vacuums, etc., leaving me little to do that is praiseworthy. And yet here we are, both feeling like we are not doing enough for God.

This last couple of weeks my father has been out in the yard spreading mulch, planting grass seed and landscaping. As I watched him, I thought to myself, “this isn’t just about getting the yard the way he wants it; this is also about preparing the place for me, his only daughter, in the time he has left.”

I had just finished reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright where I read the following:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Christ honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. This is the logic of the mission of God.

I think we can both stop worrying, Dad, because that sounds like more than enough to me!

History

History

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The wall built in 1961, separating Easter Berlin from West Berlin, served to further prevent the mass exodus of East Germans seeking democracy’s freedom in West Germany. The barbed wire barricade stood in history as a symbol of the Cold War between the US and USSR. Republican President Ronald Regan commanding General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down the Berlin Wall is a pivotal moment in history.

Should this obstruction have remained standing? After all, it was history.

There are a number of concentration camps in Europe open to the public—among them are Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau—that serve as memorials for one of the most horrific events in our world’s history. After visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC when it first opened, I could not begin to imagine the emotional impact of walking on what one might say is consecrated ground.

These sacred spaces remain as a narrative which we dare not repeat.

The United States of America and its capitol, Washington, DC, are full of memorials—placards, statues, buildings, walls, paintings, museums full of historical artifacts, icons and images—of a seeming contradictory and enigmatic history full of paradox. Some events to be celebrated and others to be forgotten—but which is which?

What makes one historical symbol more valuable to celebrate than another? What are we believing and is it helpful?

Some additional questions to ask ourselves regarding monuments and memorials as we watch statues being toppled and portraits being removed, or perhaps before doing so, are these:

What is its message, and how is it received…?

Does it attempt to avoid the real or full history and outcomes of the person(s), action(s) or event(s) it seeks to memorialize…? Does it attempt to rewrite that history or gloss over it…?

Does it include or imply a message in regards to the truth of what it is about…? In other words is the message helpful to all, that is pro-life (in the large sense of this term), or is it harmful and anti-life, anti-human, arising out of and/or supporting extreme beliefs in separation and alienation…?

Is the monument or memorial honest and helpful in its attempts to reveal the truth behind what it attempts to memorialize, whether it be person(s), actions(s)or event(s) that it is about…? And if the event(s) and/or actions(s) represented were anti-life, anti-human, and arising out of extreme beliefs in separation, does the monument help people see that it must not ever happen again…?

Do not some monuments, for instance memorials to the holocaust, and recently constructed monuments to slavery and lynchings, seem to score high grades in response to such questions…? And for that matter, though maybe to a lesser degree, are not monuments to Lincoln, Washington, Ganhdi, and Martin Luther King, Jr similar, in the sense of pointing and remembering in positive life-affirming ways…?

George Santayana, “philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist” is credited with saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I have mixed feelings about the progress we, as a human race, have made in these regards.

This morning I was reading about Joshua from the book of Joshua in the Old Testament. The story begins after the death of Moses who had led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt where they had been enslaved for hundreds of years. Prior to entering the land that God had promised them and before his death, Moses laid his hands on his apprentice conferring leadership to him, and Joshua was filled with the “spirit of wisdom.”

Preparing Joshua for the challenges ahead, God tells him three times to be “strong and courageous” before leading the Israelites across the Jordan River, which was at flood stage. God told Joshua to tell the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the river. As soon as their feet touched the water, the river stopped flowing and the priests stood on dry ground while the water flowing down stream “piled” high like a wall just upstream from them.

Approximately 40,000 Israelites crossed from one side of the river to the other on dry ground. Prior to this monumental move, God had instructed that twelves stones be collected from the middle of the river, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. After the priests, being the last to cross, set foot on the promised land shore, the river returned to flood level flowing.

Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, ‘When your children ask their parents in time to come, “what do these stones mean?” then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, and so that you may fear (be in awe of) the Lord your God forever. Joshua 4:21-24

Joshua had a very clear-cut answer to the question “what do these stones mean?” Do we as a nation have such unequivocal and precise answers for our children? Is it really enough to say “it’s history” and leave it at that as we decide to keep or remove our nation’s “stones?”

In light of what is currently happening worldwide and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, we as a nation and as a human race are being given a wonderful opportunity to examine the above questions and our motivations.

We may not see eye to eye, but that is okay as long as our discourse is done so within genuine and sincere respect for one another as children of God.

… this is my hope.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_National_Memorial_for_Peace_and_Justice

Surprised By Hope

Surprised By Hope

Surprised by Hope:  Rethinking Heaven, the Resurection, and the Mission of the Church

N. T. Wright

What is “life after life after death” and what does it look like? What is the real meaning of salvation? How ‘is God going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how is He going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all?”  What really happened on Easter and how does it affect the mission of the church? If any of these questions intrigue you, then Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright is the book for you.

Hopeful

Hopeful

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” – Maya Angelou

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

To whom or what do you look for hope?

Friends? I am fortunate and blessed to have the love, support and encouragement of remarkable women friends …

… one recently had successful hip surgery. She never gave up hope that she would one day walk normally even after the procedure was indeterminately delayed due to unforeseen circumstances.

… several others are facing challenging health issues. Each unequivocally believes she will come through whole and healthy.

… others who are grieving the loss of a parent with grace and dignity during the pandemic. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this crisis may make their mourning.

… another who sends me messages for on-line classes to encourage me in my writing and in my journey as a woman.

Nature? Since Easter, Creation and Her bounty fill my heart …

… watching the Jenny Wren gather sticks as she builds her nest in the Wren box outside my kitchen window.

… laughing at the Common Grackles bathe in the bird bath in our yard. The way they splash water all over the place is hilarious!

… watering my 15 sunflower plants! Each plant is only about three to four inches tall and yet already following the sun across the sky.

The myriad of scientists, physicians, and researchers working on a vaccine for Covid-19 gives me hope. The global peaceful protestors give me hope. The Black Lives Matter organization gives me hope. Within these dark and desperate times, the Light of Goodness still shines.

My pastor frequently uses illustrations, book passages and quotes from authors to enhance his messages. Whenever he mentions a writer, I generally investigate him or her on-line, and more often than not, purchase a book by said author. Needless to say, I have a stack of books by my bedside I eagerly anticipate reading.

One such author he routinely recites is biblical scholar N.T. Wright. I am making my way through his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church—which I highly recommend and which has given me cause for great hope.

In it he writes:

“… the gospel of Jesus Christ announces that what God did for Jesus at Easter he will do not only for all those who are ‘in Christ’ but also for the entire cosmos. It will be an act of new creation, parallel to and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.”

Later he says:

“ Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Christ honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. This is the logic of the mission of God.”

Regardless of whether you agree or not with any or all of what is quoted above—engaging in conversation as God’s beloved children around such, would make me hopeful.

I will close with a poem by Hafiz.

TRIPPING OVER JOY

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
― Hafiz, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy

I surrender … to hope.