Explorations Category


Dissatisfied

Dissatisfied

For several months at the beginning of the pandemic, my church went totally on-line for worship using Zoom and other social media platforms. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would have such a deep and meaningful sense of unity and belonging as I experienced. We continued to use our same worship format and litany, but there was something very deeply connective in the “being in it together” mentality of that time.

Our building has resumed in-person worship using strict protocols, while maintaining electronic platforms for those still not comfortable worshiping in person due to COVID concerns.

I am almost sorry the building has been re-opened for services because the sense of unity I felt when we were all on-line seems to be missing, for me anyway.

I find myself asking questions like: why am I tithing to keep an essentially empty building maintained when I could be giving it all to boots-on-the-ground charities and missions?

What if worship was a group of people meeting at an elderly person’s house and doing their yard work? What if the church building was repurposed for housing the homeless and giving them responsibilities to clean and keep up the maintenance in exchange for a place to stay? What if we continued to worship online but it looks more like a place of sharing our joys and concerns within a non-judgmental, grace-filled space? How do we do this?

What if the monthly mission focus was weekly and people shared what they did for missions or better yet an interactive bulletin board of needs in the community?

I am concerned that our current church model is no longer a fit for the times in which we are living and that the technology that united us so strongly and which could be used so creatively, is now being taken for granted until we can return to “normal.”  I don’t know what to do about any of this other than ask questions.

But it is not just my church with which I am dissatisfied.

In a larger sense, we are being called to do and be differently in every way of doing and being. Unfortunately, people have not been listening—some have, but many have not.

I would not say I am depressed or even alarmed; just a quiet reverence for what is and has been calling through this collective illusion of misbelief and a deep yearning for a vision of something more.

Washing Feet

Washing Feet

“Gathering for one of the final times with his students and closest friends, he (Jesus) rises from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, assumes a servant’s posture, and begins to wash their feet . . . in attendance at the meal is Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray Jesus and precipitate his arrest, beating—and execution.” John Pavlovitz, The Bigger Table

Did I read that correctly? As many times as I have read the story of the Last Supper, how did I miss this important detail? If I didn’t miss it, then why is it making such an impact on me now?

I went searching.

While the details vary slightly in the sequence of events, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include Judas seeking money to betray Jesus, logistical preparation for the meal, announcement of the betrayer—although not by name—and the celebration of what is now known as Communion or the Eucharist within Christian denominations. The book of John is the only gospel that includes the foot washing anecdote.

The narrative reads as follows from the NSRV translation of John 13: 1-11.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Only after Jesus finishes washing their feet, does he reveal the identity of the betrayer. Yet he does it in such a subtle way that the other eleven disciples think Judas is dismissed from the gathering to run some errands. They are seemingly oblivious to Judas’s nefarious scheme.

Jesus washed the feet of his traitor!

Whatever your spiritual practice, shouldn’t this veritable act of humility stop you in your tracks?

Judas was not a stranger to Jesus. These men spent three years together, day and night, in each other’s company. Judas observed the many miracles and healings Jesus performed and listened to his countless teachings and prayers.

Not only was this a gesture of lowliness on Jesus’s part, but also an action of hope. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

“The book of John uses an unusual Aramaic word for wash. It is ‘shug.’ I could not find this word in any extra Biblical literature and of course Biblical sources simply says it means to wash. However, the word is found in the Hebrew but it means to help or encourage growth, like watering a plant will help it to grow.

The connection lies in the idea of watering for the purpose of growth. As a Rabbi, Jesus would often make a play on Hebrew words bringing them into the normal conversation in Aramaic. What the disciples should have picked up on was that to grow spiritually, they had to lower themselves. They were never to consider themselves better than others.” Chaim Bentorah

This optimistic act in service to the person who would betray you especially knowing your life in this earthly form was soon ending, is jaw dropping and mind boggling.

Regardless of Judas’s motivation, why I am feeling what I am feeling about Jesus’s act of grace towards him?

As Mr. Trump desperately promotes his iniquitous ‘us-versus-them’ narrative, the animosity in our divided nation continues to grow exponentially. I find myself very far away from some of those whom I love and respect and who claim to love and respect me, and not knowing what to do about the divide or how to communicate with them.

Therein lies the answer to my conundrum . . . wash their feet.

But what does that look like? Metaphorically speaking how do I wash the feet of those who believe me to be deceived? How do I show the same mind-bending grace as Jesus did to those friends and acquaintances who think I am a ‘left-wing-radical-liberalist’ who lost her way from the teachings of Jesus?

After all, in the four years since my mother died, I have ‘come out’ as pro-choice, an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, a supporter of BLM, and have frequently posted my opinions about Mr. Trump’s abominable leadership “skills.” I cannot say that I blame my friends and family if they are confused. Prior to my mother’s death, I did my best to fly under the radar and led many people to believe that I felt the same way they did, whether it be left or right, not wanting to confront anyone perhaps least of all myself.

I still love God with “all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind, and all my strength.” I still love “my neighbor as myself.” Although most of the time this simply means not being an a**hole, and not getting caught in the illusions of this present world.  Or as Paul says in Romans 12:18–

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

What did Jesus do when engaged with those who thought he had lost his mind, who supposed him to be deceived, whose minds and hearts seemed to be set in stone? How did he wash their feet?

Among other things he broke the “rules,” he told stories, and he asked questions.

Of these deeds, the one I most resonate with is asking questions. Jesus silenced many people simply by asking a question.

When confronted by spies of the scribes and pharisees about the lawfulness of paying taxes, Jesus asked, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” When they responded, “the emperor’s” he said, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

With one question, Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. The trap they laid was not about paying taxes, but about whom they worshipped—the living God, or the emperor on the coin.

Earlier in the same chapter of Luke, the same folks question Jesus’s authority and he responds with “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” Their reaction is pitiful because they know they are caught in the very trap they set and so they refuse to answer him. Knowing this, Jesus is under no obligation to reply to their query.

“Who do people say that I am?”
“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
“Why do you call me good?”

Beyond gathering facts and figures, questions have the potential to bring about metacognition and transformation—spiritual growth—within the spaciousness of humility, hope and grace.

“There’s no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep. Even if you encounter a rock, use dynamite and keep going down. If you leave that to dig another well, all the first effort is wasted and there is no proof you won’t hit rock again. Sri S. Satchidananda

Asking questions of ourselves and others allows us to dig deep, deep wells where we will find “rivers of living water” to quench our thirst.

Jesus said:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

I may never be as good at asking questions as Jesus was, but I know I will never be content with the superficiality of a life lived in and through the confining boundaries of either/or thinking. I see the divide, I hear the Divine calling me and I will continue to ask you, as well as myself, questions—difficult, challenging, possibly unanswerable questions.

Can you think of anything better to do?

https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2018/02/aramaic-word-study-wash/
https://www.teloscollective.com/engaging-through-asking-5-ways-jesus-asked-questions/

Hatred

Hatred

Mr. President,

Contrary to what you or the readers of this letter and my past correspondence to you may think, I do not hate you.

I hate your words, actions, and decisions. I hate your divisive, derogatory, disrespectful, and dangerously harmful attitude towards all life forms. I hate that you are president–NOT because you are a Republican, NOT because you are supposedly conservative, and NOT because you are a white, privileged male.

I hate that you are president because of the unimaginable grief and overwhelming destruction you have caused to God’s beloveds and Her creation.

The Christian Bible you placed your hand on when you took the oath of office and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States says …

The good person produces good things from the store of good in his heart, while the evil person produces evil things from the store of evil in his heart. For his mouth speaks what overflows from his heart. Luke 6:45

… which is why I have such a difficult time understanding your supporters and fans.

Your cruel and bitter comments, tweets, and speeches are clearly indicative of an ungodly, unholy, and vile hardened heart. Obviously, you are totally unaware of your own traumas and suppressed emotions you have been projecting on the United States and the world; which is all the more reason you are to be pitied, rather than mimicked, lampooned and parodied.

Perhaps this is why your words and actions resonate with so many people because, they too, are incapable of multidimensional and mindful thinking—more’s the pity.

Prayerfully,
Susan Fridinger

This letter comes from wondering what I must look like to my friends who identify as Republicans and Conservative Christians. I know many of my posts have called into question their ideals and beliefs. I must appear to them as a left-wing, radicalized liberal when in actuality I identify more as an activist centrist, politically speaking.

One friend sent me some scripture verses to read because he saw me as “mad” at the President. I appreciate his thoughtfulness, but what is wrong with being “mad” at the President? If it was okay for him and other folks to be angry with President Obama, why is my apparent anger with President Trump wrong?

If it is acceptable for this same person to call Senator Kamala Harris a “disaster,” or for another “friend” to say “I don’t like anyone from the left,” then why is my frustration over President Trump’s extremely questionable leadership inappropriate?

But isn’t it this exact kind of thinking altogether that is the true issue?

Absolutely nothing in this world can be resolved with a “this or that” mentality especially with regards to the complicated, serious, multifaceted problems we face as a nation. Valued and respected opposing points of view can work together for good; however, everyone loses when those on seeming opposite sides demonize one another.

In all of the above, my thoughts continually returned to Jesus hanging on the cross. One of his final prayers was, “Father, forgive them, for they no not what they do.” He held no grudge toward the very people that vilified him.

I am NOT comparing myself or anyone to Jesus.

I am asking instead, shouldn’t our default position be “I don’t know what I am doing” and go from there?

Seems to me this is where we are called to mindful and considerate spaciousness.

Human being, you have already been told what is good, what Adonai (the LORD) demands of you —no more than to act justly, love grace and walk in purity (humility) with your God.  Micah 6:8

Radicalized

Radicalized

One definition of the word ‘radical’ as defined by Oxford Languages is “representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party.” Therefore to ‘radicalize’ someone is to “cause (that person) to adopt radical (extreme or progressive) positions on political or social issues.”

Five years ago, in an article by “The Atlantic,” Franklin Graham was quoted as saying the following with regards to Vladimir Putin’s LGBTQ+ policies:

“Putin is right on these issues,” Graham said. “He has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

Graham’s agreement with the vile and repugnant politics of such an individual should be a huge red flag for his followers and those who identify as Conservative Christians.

The same article states that “Graham proclaimed that all Muslims should be barred from immigrating to America and treated like the Japanese and Germans during World War II” because of their potential to be radicalized.

Maybe it’s just me, but that seems racist.

In another article in “Sojourner” magazine, Graham disagreed with Pope Francis’s assessment “that all religions, including Catholicism, have ‘fundamentalist’ splinter groups that can commit violence.”

Since when did God become a ‘religion?’ God is not a religion! Religion is a man-made institution predicated on extreme beliefs in illusions of separation. Many religious people go to church and profess their love of God every Sunday and then in the same breath proclaim their hatred of ‘sinners.’

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20

The more articles I read from varying perspectives about Reverend Graham, and other evangelicals like him, the more I began to ponder the term “radicalize.” While the idea that those who unwaveringly identify with the doctrines of conservative Christianity are Radicalized Christians is not a new idea, it is overwhelmingly pertinent to our current times especially with regards to our upcoming election.

Perhaps you disagree by using the following logic: “These folks have not killed innocent people in the name of Allah, like radicalized Muslims.”

Haven’t they?

What about hating and ostracizing a group of people so much that it causes individuals within that group to take their own lives due to agonizing desperation?

When discussing the theory of radicalized Christians with my son, he said:

“Then they will quote scripture at you while completely ignoring the context that shows it means the opposite of how they are using it or the fact that they are guilty of the very thing the verse is condemning. They will find the smallest reason not to like a Democrat or basically anyone Trump tells them not to like. They’ll baselessly attack Biden for being a pedophile, but the mountains of evidence that Trump is and more, will just be brushed aside.

They’ll believe the craziest conspiracies and monumental lies at the drop of a hat, but fact-based rebuttals are just the ravings of brainwashed sheeple.

The amount of projecting they do is ridiculous! But they don’t debate; they shout their peace and then plug their ears and scream ‘LALALA’ when you try to reply.

And, for as much as they’ll preach ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘stop all of this hate’ when they see attacks on Trump or Republicans, when they see BLM posts or Biden posts or Bernie posts they turn into giant f***ing hypocrites and start name calling and spewing hateful rhetoric.”

In their book, Ten Words That Will Change Everything You Know About God: Seeing God as He Really Is, Dr. Jim Richards and Chaim Bentorah say the following about Jesus:

“Jesus never made a well person sick, and He never used harm, guilt or fear to influence people to follow Him. He demonstrated the love of God. His only harsh words were to the religious leaders who distorted God’s image and led believers into captivity.”

I’m not sure this is the same Jesus radicalized Christians follow.  Personally, I think God would say to Franklin Graham, evangelicals, and their followers …

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” and “he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4: 8, 21

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/franklin-grahams-turn-toward-intolerance/398924/

https://sojo.net/articles/franklin-graham-rebuts-pope-islam-war-religion

Greatest Commandment

Greatest Commandment

During a study on the book, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, my Pastor asked us to select some words of Jesus to memorize. I chose Mark 12:29-31:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other command greater than these.”

In the book of Matthew, Jesus says everything—all the law and all the words of the prophets—hang on these two commandments.

Are these two commandments the bottom line or a lofty goal?

I accompanied my father to Home Depot very early one morning because there were a few things he wanted to purchase and some lumber he wanted to look at for a project he is working on in the basement. While inside the store, I noticed a handful of male customers who were not wearing masks even though the sign on the entrance stated quite clearly that masks were required.

Feeling very protective of my father, I became very perturbed and said rather loudly to no one in particular but to everyone within hearing distance, “I guess you think you are too macho to wear a mask.” I am afraid I embarrassed my dad.

No one said anything in return and I had no expectation of anyone “picking on” a middle-aged woman or the “old man” with her. Once inside my truck, my father and I had a humorous discussion about my behavior and what we would have done had someone retaliated in some form or fashion.

My intent here is not to make a statement for or against wearing masks, but to explore what Jesus really meant by these commandments.

I wonder if we—or maybe just me–too often take the depth and breadth of this kind of love Jesus calls up to for granted. Do I really understand it? Do I really occupy it? Did my behavior at Home Depot show the bare minimum or the highest regard for “the greatest of these” commands?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I am not afraid of the mess these kinds of questions create in my mind, heart and spirit. I am at peace, because I know God inhabits that spacious disarray with me.

Maybe Jesus knew that these two precepts were the greatest because they would challenge us to question our conditioned beliefs.

Could it be that loving the way Jesus teaches means regularly asking ourselves questions like …

“Why do I believe what I am believing?”
“Why am I feeling, what I am feeling?”
“What does that–belief, idea, or action–say about my thinking”

… in any given situation and circumstance.

As a follower of Christ, I am called “in everything do to others as I would have them do to me; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Everything in this platitude hangs on one tiny two letter word, AS. What a humbling call to remembering—remembering that …

The Lord our God, the Lord is one …

God knows no ‘otherness.’ Clearly it is only humans who incorrectly believe we are alienated or separate from God. We, not God, have imagined the labels and identities that make that which is NOT separate from us separate. Love is the Divine calling to awareness, awakening us to health, healing and wholeness.

Chaim Bentorah interprets the commandment to love this way in his word study “Honor.”

First, I do not believe we are commanded to love God. I believe that the Vav that introduces the words “And thou shalt love” is not a Vav conversive. The word love is in a Qal perfect form. If the preceding Vav had a pathah underneath it, it would be a conversive that is it would convert the perfect into an imperfect. As, I do not see this Vav as a conversive the word love remains in a perfect form or a completed action form.

Thus, it is rendered: “You do love the Lord your God.” In Deuteronomy 30:6 we learn that God will circumcise our hearts so that we will love Him. The word circumcise as described in an earlier study is the word mul which also means to scrape.

God will scrape our hearts, He will scrape that harden shell from our hearts to release the love He has put in there. But He has given us a free will and we can choose to harden our hearts so that that love for Him is never released or awakened.

We either remember until Knowing is all there is, or we don’t.

Rumi says it much more succinctly.

“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.”

May it be so.

https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2020/08/hebrew-word-study-honor/?inf_contact_key=57cc4e20a548336d2852c4caded8f234680f8914173f9191b1c0223e68310bb1

Puzzled

Puzzled

You know what I find puzzling?

I am puzzled by the contradictory behavior of those who identify as conservative Christians and/or Right-wing Republicans

Don’t these Christians believe that “God is love?” If so, then why do they praise and support the behavior of Mr. Trump, a man that freely endorses the hatred of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks through his conduct, repressive tweets, abhorrent Facebook posts, and oppressive, ignorant words and speeches?

That really puzzles me.

If Christians believe these words of Jesus, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned,” then why is acceptable to say, “Having God’s unconditional love does not mean you have God’s unconditional approval?” (Miles Mcpherson). Do they want me to be afraid of God; the very God that repeatedly says throughout the Christian Bible, “do not fear, for I Am with you?” What is there to approve or disapprove of? What is there to be afraid of?

Going to Hell?

As much as you believe you are separate from God, from others, from the natural world and from creation itself, you are in hell. The more you believe this, the more hellish it becomes–it is that simple. Many people, here and now, are living in, through and out of that illusion.

If God “loves a cheerful giver,” then why do these folks validate policies and legislation that ‘steal from the poor and give to the rich’ in the service of greed and partisan politics? Jesus said to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned, welcome the stranger, and give the thirsty something to drink.

Maybe these are the people to whom the eighth century prophet Isaiah was referring when he said,

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who change darkness into light
and light into darkness,
who change bitter into sweet
and sweet into bitter!
Isaiah 5:20

I have heard this verse and others like it used to reprimand those of us who will NOT shame or reprimand anyone of the LGBTQ+ community, women who have had abortions, and/or any other such “Sins.”

I am genuinely perplexed by people who preach the ideals of community, love, unity, and profess to believe in Jesus’s words, yet openly castigate those who, whether they believe in Jesus or not, willingly abide by the precept “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I don’t get it. But then what is there to understand?

We are here in this world together to “concentrate not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since things seen are temporary, but things unseen are eternal.” In order to remember in this way, we must fully surrender to Love.

“One could say all of this human world in the beliefs of separation can be boiled down to one simple thing, forgetting … forgetting that we are also Christ, extension(s) of and therefore One with God… And then of course the corollary, that awakening is simply a journey of remembering.”  J.F.

Or as Paul says in Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

How do you “remember?” How do you “renew your mind?”

Prayer, meditation, quiet time, enjoying nature, being creative, reading, playing music, dancing, recreating, compassionate conversations … ?

Whatever your preference, just remember Whose you are and to Whom you belong.