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“Good” Friday & Stinkin’ Saturday in America

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“GOOD” FRIDAY AND STINKIN’ SATURDAY IN AMERICA

The first “Good” Friday was not a good day. Not at all. That was the day that the “empire” won — the greedy men in power, the violent oppressors, the ones who ruled by fear and hate. You know the ones. They are still around today and seem to be winning again. They talk a lot about winning.

The oppressors murdered Jesus on a Friday, and it was not a good day.

Saturday was godawful, too. All the marginalized people who hoped that Jesus was the guy who would overcome the empire lost that hope on Saturday. They woke up to find that the Friday horror had not been a dream, it had been real. Jesus was dead. Hope was dead.

For all they knew, that was the end of the story.

Easter Always Comes

Today, those of us who follow the way of Jesus know that the crucifixion was not the last word. We never have to lose hope, even when oppression and ugliness and hate seem to be winning. Even when — as was true in Jesus’s time — religious “leaders” are the worst of the worst. Because we know that love wins. Easter Sunday always comes.

The murder of Jesus exposed the extraordinary evil and hatred of which humans are capable. Even so, he died with words of forgiveness on his lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’s love swallowed up the hatred. Grace and mercy pulled out a victory.

Sometimes a society has to bottom out, to plumb the depths of darkness before it begins to reach again for the light. Maybe that’s where we are as a nation right now. Maybe it’s Stinkin’ Saturday here in America. Ugliness and greed and hatred has won, and hope is hard to come by. 

We worship guns, we worship money, we worship pride. We fear “the other.” Self-proclaimed Christians argue for higher military budgets and no support for refugees. We are spiraling down into the darkness, dismantling all the protections we have put in place for the poor, minorities, our health, our children, and God’s creation. It looks dark.

But I will take a lesson from Holy Week. You never know what God has up her sleeve.

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In Search of Silence

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IN SEARCH OF SILENCE

Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.

Pilgrimage

Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.

Reflections

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Today’s word prompt: Noise

What Are Evangelicals Reading This Christmas?

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As evangelicals give thanks for their president this year, I wonder if they will have read that after signing the tax bill, trump told his millionaire friends at Mar-a-Lago, “You all just got a lot richer.” I wonder also if they will have read that trump’s latest junket put the taxpayer costs of his golf trips at over $91 million this past year. I wonder if they will think about all the housing, food, or healthcare that money could have covered.
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“Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27 
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
1 Timothy 6:10
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I wonder too if the evangelicals will have read the Christmas story from Luke where the mother of Jesus says,
“God has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:51-53
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May it be so, God.
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I’ll share one last Advent poem here. This one is called Into The Darkest Hour, and it’s written by Madeleine L’Engle.

It was a time like this,

War & tumult of war,

a horror in the air.

Hungry yawned the abyss-

and yet there came the star

and the child most wonderfully there.

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It was a time like this

of fear & lust for power,

license & greed and blight-

and yet the Prince of bliss

came into the darkest hour

in quiet & silent light.

♥♥

And in a time like this

how celebrate his birth

when all things fall apart?

Ah! Wonderful it is

with no room on the earth

the stable is our heart.

An Advent Poem For Shameless Republicans

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Still no brilliance or profundity for an Advent offering. I spent my “quiet time” today, such as it was, finishing a little paperback mystery and occasionally nodding off, tired from rising at dawn with my Druid family to welcome the winter solstice sunrise.

Headed out to greet the sunrise on winter solstice

After a pancake brunch and a leisurely morning spent opening and admiring gifts, our afternoon was filled with the blasts and booms of the new Star Wars movie, a film doubtless bursting with spiritual depth and hidden meanings entirely lost on me.

So as much as I would like to share my Advent thoughts and feelings, instead I’ll share another Advent poem that I did not write. Yesterday I shared a poem from Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian and civil rights leader.

Today I’ll post a poem by Oscar Romero, a human rights leader and advocate for the poor who was assassinated during the Salvadoran civil war.

I dedicate this to the shameless members of the Republican Congress and the administration who just passed a tax bill that will endanger millions of lower income Americans for the benefit of the filthy rich. Merry Christmas.

The God We Hardly Knew

“No one can celebrate

a genuine Christmas

without being truly poor.

The self-sufficient, the proud,

those who, because they have

everything, look down on others,

those who have no need

even of God- for them there

will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry,

those who need someone

to come on their behalf,

will have that someone.

That someone is God.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.

Without poverty of spirit

there can be no abundance of God.”

Celebrating Advent at Solstice

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Advent is one of my favorite times of year, and I fully intended to write frequently about the rich sensory experiences and the deeper meaning of the season. Turns out I’ve been much too busy living life lately and haven’t had time to reflect or write much at all.

And here we are just a few days before Christmas!

Tonight I celebrated Solstice with my Druid nephew and his wife and kids. Druids are big on storytelling, so we all shared stories and lit candles after a bit of ritual and guided meditation. Tomorrow we’ll be up to greet the dawn (my least favorite part of the Solstice celebration). Then like all good Druids, we will head to Friendly’s for a pancake breakfast, after which we’ll trash the living room with brightly colored paper and gift bags.

In the absence of any meaningful Advent reflection on my part, I offer this beautiful poem from Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.

Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice!!

“May the sounds of Advent stir a longing in your people, O God. Come again to set us free from the dullness of routine and the poverty of our imaginations. Break the patterns which bind us to small commitments and to the stale answers we have given to questions of no importance. Let the Advent trumpet blow, let the walls of our defenses crumble, and make a place in our lives for the freshness of your love, well-lived in the Spirit, and still given to all who know their need and dare receive it. Amen.”

Christmas at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

Controlling Fear

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CONTROLLING FEAR

I was talking with friends the other night about fear and the way it affects our lives. I grew up in what might charitably be called “a funky family,” and I was left with some behaviors and beliefs that aren’t helpful. Over time, I’ve discovered that most of these unwanted character traits are fear-based.

This makes sense, because when you are a little kid and there’s yelling and door-slamming and incomprehensible behavior that is later denied, you do not feel safe. And there’s no sense of degree when you’re little. When you don’t get breakfast, you fear you might starve, and when your father forgets to leave the bar and come home to dinner, you fear he may never come home again and your whole family will be on the streets.

You learn the fine art of “catastrophizing” and spend hours lost in the dreaded land of “what if?” which, if you’re like me, will turn you into a control freak. No matter your age, at some level your inner child believes that if you are not in absolute control of absolutely everyone and everything, terrible things could happen.

You could die.

Managing, Manipulating, and Mothering

Your body is grown-up, but your emotions are stuck in childhood, over-reacting and trying desperately to control things you can’t control and have no business trying to control.

We are all familiar with the manager type, the one who knows just how everything should be and who insists on having everyone meet her demands. If she doesn’t get her way, she usually responds with rage. Anger is a great way to manipulate people. Also useful are shaming, guilt-tripping, and enabling — doing for others what they can do for themselves so that all are dependent on the “mothering” manipulator.

Such people can be unpleasant to be around. They haven’t healed  their childhood wounds and they are bleeding pain and fear all over everybody. Look at the man-child in the White House. A perfect example (if a highly pathological one).

Fear of Self-Care

At any rate, ever since my friends and I had this discussion about the ways that fear can mess us up, God keeps putting more examples in front of me. Today I realized that I’m afraid to take care of myself. Wow.

I was reading Frederick Buechner as follows:

“Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment. The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself . . . “Mind your own business” means butt out of other people’s lives because in the long run they must live their lives for themselves, but it also means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.”

I knew I struggled with self-care because of low self-worth — I mean if you don’t consider yourself of much value, why care for yourself, right? But I hadn’t thought about it in the context of fear and control. I mean seriously, if I am concentrating on myself and my own well-being, who is going to run the rest of the world? Who is going to make sure that something dreadful doesn’t happen?

Recovering from Fear in These Fearful Days

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the election of the man-child has helped me cope with my fears. I know I can’t control his madness, and so I have to “let go and let God,” as the twelve-steppers say. For my own sanity, I am allowing God to pry my clutching fingers from around the globe. I cannot save the world. I cannot control this.

“One day at a time” is another bit of twelve-step wisdom that helps me. Here again, the rise of the man-child has been a lesson for me. Catastrophizing about tomorrow or next week is entirely unnecessary when the president of the United States may daily taunt an unstable nuclear-armed dictator, purposefully escalate religious violence in the Middle East, intentionally increase global warming emissions, and attempt to undermine the free press or the justice system.

The words of Jesus are a lifeline for living in the age of trump: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The upshot of releasing fear and control to a higher power is that I don’t have to spend my days fretting about tomorrow and trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead I have time to focus on my own self-care.

I think I’ll put on some Christmas music and cook up a pot of healthy veggie soup on this snowy afternoon.

Practicing self-care

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”    — Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

Bring Back Mercy!

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BRING BACK MERCY!

Don’t you love the word “mercy?” I guess if you grew up with the image of an angry God and you were yelled at by a preacher about hellfire & brimstone and how you’d damn well better pray for God’s mercy, etc., etc. etc., maybe the word isn’t so comforting to you.

I was fortunate not to grow up in that type of “religious” home, although I still absorbed the angry-white-man-in-the-sky image and am working to banish it from my psyche. When I see the damage such shaming and haranguing has done to many of my friends, I can only pray for God’s mercy!

Today, though, “mercy” seems like a quaint, outmoded word, a word our grandparents might have used. In fact, my father often used the phrase, “Lord, have mercy!” — something I’m sure he picked up from his childhood in Texas. Daddy usually wheezed out these words when he was laughing so hard he was gasping for breath.

Mercy is an old-fashioned concept. With an economic system built on competition and greed, America is not designed for it. Certainly the last remnants of mercy (and grace) departed America during the 2016 election and its aftermath. In the U.S. now, there are only winners and losers, and the one who fancies himself on top glories in dumping on the people he views as “losers.”

Saddest of all, it’s the people who call themselves “true Christians” who seem to be rejoicing in the deportation of refugees and the loss of healthcare for the poor. A guy told me on Twitter last night that I wasn’t a “true Christian” because I didn’t believe in sending all LGBTQ people to hell.

Heart of mercy, right there.

Anyway, Lord have mercy, and keep me from politics this morning!

Bathed in Mercy

Mercy makes me think of water. It’s free and powerful and lovely, and it envelops you and holds you up when you’re immersed in it. It may be gratuitous glistening drops of dew that seemingly appear from nowhere, or a gently flowing stream that accompanies you as you journey in an unfamiliar place, or it may be a rushing river that picks you up off your muddy knees and carries you to a safer place downstream where the banks are sturdier.

In my experience, when I recognize how seriously messed up I am and I decide I want to heal, mercy abounds. I don’t have to do the guilty grovel or say the “sinner’s prayer.” The God I know is a God of grace and mercy who just wants us to help Her make the world a better, more loving place.

The Bible says that all God requires of us is to “love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

Isn’t it fitting that the French word “merci” is related to mercy? I just want to say “thank you” to God and to all my merciful friends and family who put up with my (slight) imperfections.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have mercy on the beasts!

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