Explorations Category


Justice

Justice

In no other experience have I grown more in my spiritual journey than in and through my interactions with clients at the food pantry; which is why these encounters are a frequent topic of this site . . .

. . . as it is with this entry.

Homeless, diabetic, confined to a wheelchair due to the loss of a leg below the knee, missing teeth, hygiene issues and a food pantry regular. This 26-year-old man who had been a student at the middle school where I once taught died recently.

In school I did not have any direct contact with him because he was in the BD (Behavior Disorder) classroom, but I knew of him. He lived a difficult life, more challenging than I could ever imagine on my worst day.

We had absolutely nothing in common and yet I am very grateful for his life!

I learned so much from him. Justice taught me what it really means to not judge someone. I do not know and cannot see what is in a person’s heart. Neither do I know the rest of his or her life’s story, nor do I need to know—God knows and that is enough.

In serving Justice, I got to serve Jesus and learn the real value and fullness of love. Matthew 25:40 says . . 

The King will say to them, ‘Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!’

Loving one person is loving all people and loving all is loving One.

And . . . I thought I was a compassionate person—not even close! Thanks to Justice, I learned compassion like that of the good Samaritan . . .

But a man from Shomron (Samaria) who was traveling came upon him; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. So, he went up to him, put oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. Then he set him on his donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out two days’ wages, gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Look after him; and if you spend more than this, I’ll pay you back when I return.’ Luke 10:33-35

Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with each other. Their ancient enmity grew out of favoritism, abandonment, deception and wars. Prior to the Samaritan stopping to care for the Jewish man, two others—a priest and Levite, both Jews and both well versed in Jewish law—intentionally crossed to the other side of the road to avoid helping the victim of a horrendous crime. The man had been beaten, robbed, stripped and left for dead. This is one of the reasons the actions of the Good Samaritan are so remarkable.

Recognizing the suffering of others is not enough, one must take action. Actions that can be financially costly and possibly time consuming; not to mention inconvenient and maybe uncomfortable. Actions that are sacrificial. Actions that are more concerned for the welfare of another, than for oneself. Actions that look beyond the labels of race, religion, sexuality, politics–any ideas that serves to separate and divide. Actions that recognize suffering as universally endured.

One need not believe in God to practice this kind of empathy, kindness and mercy. We are all neighbors while we share this time and space on planet Earth.

Justice called this out in me and I hope you hear him calling it out in you too.

Agape

Agape

There is no way of getting around it, this post may offend you; particularly if you are a white man or more to the point an old, white man. But before you get your panties in a twist, I hope you will hear me out.

At the end of the last school year, my then third-grade granddaughter came home from school excitedly telling me about the women in history her class had been studying in Social Studies. She herself was reading two books—one about Rosa Parks and the other about Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist.

My granddaughter’s genuine dismay was evident as she quizzically yet eagerly said, “Women couldn’t do everything then that they can do now.” This led to a brief, age-appropriate conversation about how women are still working towards equal rights; at which point she said, “I’m not sure I want to be President because some people wouldn’t like the decisions I made.” (All the more reason for her to run, I would say.)

I told her about the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, that is dedicated to, in their words, “Showcasing great women . . . Inspiring all!”

Since I had been wanting to go there and since this seemed like a golden opportunity, I asked her if she would like to go with me to which she responded with an enthusiastic “yes!”

On the drive there, we talked about some of the women who were enshrined in the Hall of Fame like Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Amelia Earhart—to name just a few—and their contributions and accomplishments. As we rode, we further considered what these women had in common. I am quite pleased to say my oldest grandchild surmised that these women all saw a need or problem and were willing to unselfishly and with great endurance put their energy into its solution.

Then she asked “THE” question: why have women had such a difficult time getting equal rights?

To be honest, I was surprised (which I should not have been) she comprehended enough to ask such an astute question. My mind scrambled to decide how to express the unimaginable years of oppression into suitable language.

Unfortunately, the words “white men” popped out of my mouth.

“Unfortunately” because it is not all white men (or men for that matter) and “unfortunately” because it is an overly simplistic generalization and stereotype for a very complicated issue.

Then this happened . . .

Since my mother died, it has become my habit to go to breakfast with my father before church at an establishment he and my mother frequented before her passing. This Sunday morning, I was one of two women among the other eight or so old, white male patrons. The two servers were women as well.

Towards the end of our meal, one gentleman upon leaving asked another gentleman, “What’s your sermon on today?” to which he responded, “ornery women.” I reacted by saying out loud with a disdain-filled voice “that’s hilarious.” My response went unnoticed, save my father, as another gentleman joined in the raucous discourse with “There are two times men don’t understand women—before marriage and after marriage.” My emphatic “men don’t understand us” was drowned out by uproarious laughter. Regrettably my comeback was not as clever as it could have been; perhaps “and whose fault is that?” Instead, my anger and frustration at this “boys will be boys” one upmanship mentality overwhelmed me.

That’s it, isn’t it?

That unenlightened, unawakened, uninformed, ignorant mindset has kept all manner of God’s children oppressed, exploited, bullied and browbeaten.

So, what is the answer? What is the antidote to hardened hearts such as these?

Speak up . . .!

. . . like 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student who is calling for “immediate action to combat climate change” . . .

. . . or 19-year-old Emma Gonzalez, Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and gun control activist . . .

. . . or 5-year-old Sophie Cruz, immigration rights activist . . .

. . . or 13-year-old Marley Dias, founder of #1000blackgirlbooks.

These future Women Hall of Famers and so many others are pointing towards what Thomas Aquinas so eloquently and succinctly spoke of . . .

“To will the good for the other.”

. . . to love others as if our very own life depended upon their survival . . . which it does!

This kind of love is not always pretty, and it can be quite messy, but it is absolutely and unequivocally necessary!

See

See

How do you see me?

When I was a teenager, I gave my father a Bible with the inscription, “use and read it every day.”  Fast forward thirty years—to my father writing me a letter in which he describes that moment saying “it made me wonder what I looked like to you.”

Recent e-mail and text exchanges with a friend have brought this pondering to the forefront of my mind and heart . . . what do we look like to each other?

The circumstances of our birth and our life experiences do determine a particular frame of reference, or context, if you will, for how we are seen and how we see others.

My being inhabits a white female of almost 60 years of age with graying hair. Although I have had a “Lily Munster” gray streak in my hair for 30 plus years, which has prompted more than one person to say “did you do that on purpose?” I am of short stature, and getting shorter as time passes it seems, and am of average weight for my height. I’m an only child and grew up in a middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C. in the 60’s and 70’s.

I come from a protestant background having attended United Methodist churches most of my life. Although I did attend a Brethren, Baptist and Four Square church for short periods of time. My youngest son, and later my cousin, introduced me to Eastern ways of spirituality which both broadened and deepened my past and current understandings about God.

Married, divorced, re-married . . . raised three boys . . . daughter . . . mother . . . wife . . . grandmother . . . college graduate . . . retired teacher . . . what do these conditions and situations make me look like?  How am I perceived?  And in what ways do I use them to disregard, misconceive or misinterpret others?

Perhaps this is one reason part way through his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says:

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For the way you judge others is how you will be judged—the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure you. Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!” Matthew 7:1-5

Calling us hypocrites seems rather harsh for such a compassionate man.  That could be intentional because how we see, our judgements, limit our ability to see ourselves and each other clearly.

A guest pastor at the church I attend, gave a message about this very topic.  She suggested that when we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror to say out loud, “I’m God’s beloved.”  She strongly enjoined, adjured, and exhorted us to see ourselves and others through God’s eyes—simply yet profoundly as His beloveds.  This enlightened perspective places all of us within a broader context which doesn’t appear to be open to narrow contextual perceptions.

Because of a quiet and reflective mood, this post is not my most impassioned, but written with a heartfelt desire for us to see one another with only God’s eyes.  I fail and will fail miserably, but it is my earnest daily and moment to moment desire.

As I do maybe all will become transparent . . . and Light will truly shine through the prism of His Love . . . and I will see and be seen,

. . . as God’s beloved.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It’s gonna be a bright, (bright), bright, (bright) sun-shiny day.
It’s gonna be a bright, (bright), bright, (bright) sun-shiny day.

I think I can make it now the pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for.
It’s gonna be a bright, (bright), bright, (bright) sun-shiny day.
It’s gonna be a bright, (bright), bright, (bright) sun-shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin but blue sky.
Look straight ahead, nothin but blue sky.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It’s gonna be a bright, (bright), bright, (bright) sun-shiny day.
It’s gonna be a bright, (bright), bright, (bright) sun-shiny day.

Johnny Nash

Obituary

Obituary

For the season of Lent, my pastor has been leading a study on the Apostles’ Creed. He gave us “homework,” write an obituary for Jesus. My imagination ran amok with the creative possibilities. The end result is what follows . . .

Jesus bar Joseph, 33, died Friday afternoon after being severely beaten, scourged, and crucified for his so-called blasphemous claims of Messiahship. In testimony before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pontius Pilate, Jesus testified that he was, in fact, the Son of God.

Jesus, also known as the King of the Jews, according to prosecutorial signage hung above his thorn-crowned head, was born to Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem sometime before 4 B.C. His exact birth date is unknown. Evidence suggests a summer or fall birth due to a very bright star.  This “star” depended upon planetary alignment, according to Magi from the east that supposedly followed it to Jesus’ birthplace in a stable. There was no room in the local inns because of a census being conducted at the time.  However, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks nearby, offer an alternative spring birth date.

Questions abounded about his paternity as it was asserted his conception was immaculate and his mother a virgin. These claims have not been adequately substantiated.

Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Nazareth in Galilee, where he was raised as a devout Jew.

Preceded in death by his father and close cousin, John the baptizer, and never married, he is survived by his mother, siblings and a ragtag band of disciples (fishermen, tax collectors and others including a few women). They followed Jesus for three years in the hopes he was the Christ, the Savior, and the King that would overthrow the Roman Government.

At the age of 30, he gave up his father’s trade of stone masonry and carpentry to go into full-time ministry, having stated early on he had to be about his father’s business. While Mary is said to have treasured this in her heart, other family members and friends were puzzled by this quizzical statement.

The lakeside village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee seems to have been his home base where he spent the last three years of his life ministering to the least, the last, the lost and the lonely. He preached and taught in homes, synagogues, open fields and the temple in Jerusalem using parables about God and God’s will for their lives. His best-known teachings came to be known in time as the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.

A deeply compassionate man, he healed all who came to him with illnesses, and never hesitated to touch lepers or use whatever means necessary for these so-called miracles. Because his teachings seemed to contradict Jewish law, due to large crowds that followed him and the fact that many of the miracles occurred on the Sabbath, Jesus often found himself at “odds and on a collision course with the religious authorities.”

Additionally, he was known to have exorcised demons, most notably from Mary of Magdela. Other supernatural powers reported were: turning water to wine at a wedding in Cana; calming storms at sea; walking on water; feeding over 5,000 people with a single loaf of bread and few fish on one occasion and over 4,000 on another; and raising the dead. Lazarus of Bethany claims he was one of those dead and resurrected. He and his sisters—Mary and Martha—can be contacted for further testimony to the validity of this particular event.

Three days have passed, with no services held and no flowers or donations given. His followers are insisting he has risen from the dead—as Jesus once said he would, citing the tall tale of Jonah and the Whale.

Roman guards are stating his body was stolen in the middle of the night by his disciples. Yet the unanswered question of how the moving of a huge boulder was not seen or heard is troubling. The matter is further complicated and truthfulness doubted because the first eyewitnesses were women who came to anoint his body with oils and spices.

However, his disciples are adamant, as Simon, also known as Peter, and John, the “beloved disciple,” ran to the tomb and found it empty.  The napkin said to have been wrapped about the head of Jesus, was found folded and lying separately from the other grave cloths.  The significance of this gesture can only be deciphered through the knowledge and understanding of Hebrew meal time traditions.

The body has not yet been recovered and there are assertions the guards were paid for their testimony.

Certainly, a controversial figure, his life begs the question: who was this Jesus—Son of God or delusional huckster? You decide.

Some would call this decision a “leap of faith.”

I call it trust.

Word

Word

Why do people seem to get so hung up on the men who wrote the books of the Bible?

Why is it easier for some to believe that the Koran “the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel” is the word of God and the Bible less so?

What about A Course in Miracles transcribed by Helen Schucman?

“‘This is a course in miracles.’ That was my introduction to the Voice. It made no sound, but seemed to be giving me a kind of rapid, inner dictation, which I took down in a shorthand notebook.”

Why does this “Voice” appear to have more legitimacy than the prophets and apostles of the Bible, because she’s a woman? Why does it seem more permissible to believe other holy writings are God’s word, but not the Bible?

I’m not questioning the validity, trustworthiness or authority of any of these or other sacred texts, or God’s ability to speak through them. I just want to know . . .

. . . why does the Bible appear to get such a bum rap?

Maybe these other spiritual works have their critics as well . . . maybe the Bible doesn’t get as much unfair treatment as I believe . . . the misinterpretation of the Bible has certainly caused much misery and heartache over the centuries, and continues to do so.

In defense of itself as the Word of God, the Bible says:

Then Adonai gave me (Moses) the two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God; and on them was written every word Adonai had said to you . . . Deuteronomy 9:10 . . . and he is to read in it every day, as long as he lives; so that he will learn to fear Adonai his God and keep all the words of this Torah . . . Deuteronomy 17:19 . . . See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword — it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart . . . Hebrews 4:12 . . . All scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living . . . 2 Timothy 3:16.

The men who compiled the Bible and the men who wrote it may have had less than honorable motives. Considering the time frame in which it was written, the authors probably didn’t have much in common. However, through all the verses, chapters, and books, one theme seems to unite these scribes—God’s desire above all else to be in harmony with Herself, through that which He created, in, with and for Love.

“God-breathed” . . . theopneustos in Greek . . . “inspired by God, due to the inspiration of God; relates directly to God’s Spirit (pneuma) or breath; breathed out by God.” This, I believe, is the key to the writing and reading of the Bible—the power and revelation of the Holy Spirit—God’s breath.

The real question, then, is not “why does the Bible appear to get such a bum rap?” The real question is, through which conditioned belief are you reading the Bible?

To read it outside of Her Breath—patriarchal supremacy, Christian fundamentalism, black/white power, feminism, whatever label with which you may most identify—is to take the Word out of context and use it to abuse others who may not share your particular identity.

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored . . . and together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land . . . And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride . . . And all praise to the Spirit, Who makes us one.” Peter Scholtes

Despite their differences and regardless of their reasons, intentions, awareness (or lack thereof)

. . . God was writing.

Justice

Creed

During the season of Lent, our pastor is doing a study on the Apostles’ Creed. This past week we discussed the middle section which also happens to be the longest portion . . .

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again, he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Half of the creed is devoted to one of, if not the most, controversial figures in history; not only in our time, but in his own as well.

Just prior to his transfiguration, he questions his disciples, “Who are people saying I am?” They answer, “Some say you are Yochanan (John) the Immerser, others say Eliyahu (Elijah), and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8: 27-28

As our study was drawing to a close, we discussed different parts of the central portion of the Creed. The most thought-provoking claim or perhaps mysterious or implausible (depending on your perspective) was his conception and birth.

Some may say, “what difference does it make if Jesus was conceived like the rest of us?”

Even before pondering His beginnings, I’ve never had an issue with his conception and birth because this is God—the Creator that brought everything into existence; who is outside of time, space, and matter . . . yet paradoxically moving and working within all three—what could be too difficult or impossible for Him?

However, for me, another revelation began with Eve.

When contrasting Eve and Mary, a few simple insights came to light. After Eve came to be, she and Adam “knew” each other and shortly thereafter she was intimate with the adversary, (serpent, Satan, or devil, if you prefer) and “birthed” sin into the world. Mary, on the other hand, had “known” no man, was intimate with the Holy Spirit and birthed sinless redemption into the world. Sinfulness or alienation cannot save, or redeem, sinfulness; it would be like saying two wrongs make a right.

In essence the immaculate conception and virgin birth point to God knowing Herself, entering the world through Herself as Himself to justify all that is Himself.

Clearly there are deeper and more expansive themes to be explored; such as being conceived and born in this manner. Jesus never saw himself separate from God—something with which we often struggle. And this notion of separateness beginning in the garden with Adam and Eve embracing temptation, and identifying with power and control in and of themselves.

You may not agree with any of this; it may seem far-fetched or unimaginable . . .

. . . that’s okay.

I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish, if anything, by presenting these thoughts. God knows I miss the mark more often than not when it comes to living this life, but my heart longs to Love and my Light longs to shine.

What I do know is that when life gets tough and answers are not forthcoming, like Peter, I say “Lord, to whom would I go? You have the word of eternal life. I have trusted, and I know that you are the Holy One of God.”

. . . the rest, as they say, is His-story.