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Make America Simple Again

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MAKE AMERICA SIMPLE AGAIN

The man-child president’s supporters mean all manner of things when they chant “Make America great again,” some as obvious as, “Get all these Mexicans out of my 7-11 parking lot,” and some more complicated, entailing tangled ideas of dark global conspiracies and nefarious plots by NBC and CNN.

My hunch is that many of these people — my fellow Americans whom I cannot understand no matter how much I argue with them on Twitter — just want to return to a simpler time.

A time when it was easier to maintain the illusion of control in your life.

  • A time when you turned on the TV and there were only four channels and you knew the four newscasters by name and they were all trustworthy white men;
  • a time before the world was complicated by all those international agreements and organizations with acronyms that don’t tell you who they are or what they do;
  • a time before electronics began running our lives, adding even more incomprehensible acronyms like USB and URL and HTML to confuse us;
  • a time when a man could open up the hood of his car and know where everything was;
  • a time before kids took semesters abroad and went far away to college and came home for Thanksgiving staring into their phones and declaring that they weren’t going to church with you on Sunday. 

Now there’s a man you could trust

Rebellion Against Reality

I get it. I do. Life is very complicated now. I feel out of control most of the time.

I remember that simpler time, and you are right — it was easier.

I understand why you rebel against “experts” who talk about ridiculous, incomprehensible things like humans changing the weather, for Christ’s sake! And I get why you reject the idea of being “politically correct.” It means you need to pay attention to other people who aren’t like you, and listen to (and care about) their experiences. Even though you were here first and they should learn to speak English. Why can’t we just call a maid a maid and a trash man a trash man and a retarded person retarded and a colored person colored?

There are too many voices, too many opinions, too many options. Too many uppity women marching around in pink pussy hats, and you just don’t understand how they can act like that and say those terrible things.

RALLY ON CONSTITUTION

How can they say those terrible things??

Focus, Deep Breaths

So here is something simple to remind you of the days when you thought America was great, only you didn’t know it then but you sure do now.

Just focus on the Bible. Keep it simple. Take deep breaths.

Here are two verses to meditate on. Oh, no, wait. Not meditate, that sounds kinda Buddhist or something. 

Just *think* about them. Maybe pray. Perhaps they will stir in you an image of what America *could* be.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   (Galatians 5:22)

 

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

(Matthew 25:25-36)

 

** A disclaimer: I know this post is a tad snarky. I’m still working towards understanding and forgiveness and those fruits of the Spirit. Give me time. I am still angry. I mean, the Doomsday Clock.

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A Trump-Free Day. Kind Of. Not.

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Finally a day where I’ve done what I was supposed to do! Except for the daily blog, that is. But here’s my offering, just under the wire. Day fifteen.

For purposes of mental health, I’ve committed to creating some psychic distance between myself and Mr. Trump, so I won’t be blogging about him. I spent the day in prayer & meditation, reading the Bible, and working on my sermon.

OK, OK, I checked for new political polling a couple of times, and yeah, I read a few articles about the implosion of the Republican party. And yes, I did check Twitter to see what his fans were saying about his latest escapades. (Wow, do they live in la-la land.) At any rate, I did not spend the majority of the day musing about Trump. Only some. A little.

This evening I’ve been making phone calls on behalf of the Democratic Senate candidate up here in New Hampshire, and that feels good. It’s a super-close race and it’s nice to actually be doing something productive.

So as I say, I won’t blog about Trump. I will just share a psalm that particularly struck me this morning, which has nothing to do with Trump. Absolutely not a thing.

It’s Psalm 52: 1-7

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?

    Why do you boast all day long,

    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

You who practice deceit,

    your tongue plots destruction;

    it is like a sharpened razor.

You love evil rather than good,

    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

You love every harmful word,

    you deceitful tongue!

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:

    [S]he will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;

    [S]he will uproot you from the land of the living.

The righteous will see and fear;

    they will laugh at you, saying,

“Here now is the man

    who did not make God his stronghold

but trusted in his great wealth

    and grew strong by destroying others!”

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Day fifteen: daily blogging pursuit

The Way That You See

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Today is all about seeing, apparently. I didn’t choose this theme for the day, the universe did. Or God. Depending on how you look at it.

photo (78)

First, I read today’s entry from Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life, my hands-down favorite of the dozen-plus “daily readers” that I own. He says you can learn a lot from “religious observances” like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings if you are in a receptive state of mind:

“The word ‘observance’ itself suggests what is perhaps the most important thing about them . . . It is life going on. It is always going on, and it is always precious. It is God that is going on. It is you who are there that is going on. As Henry James advised writers, ‘be one on whom nothing is lost.’ OBSERVE!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that.”

Then I turn on my computer and in my inbox is a daily meditation from Father Richard Rohr called “Nondual Consciousness.” This is his favorite subject, but it’s not as wonky as it sounds. It’s really about how we see ourselves and each other. Which is to say, it’s about love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You give a piece of yourself to the other. You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously). This allows the other to do the same in return. You do not need or demand anything back from them, because you know that you are both participating in a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving  . . . You accept being accepted — for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever! . . .

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other person, to see us in our imperfection and nakedness, as we are — rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and utterly transformative mystery of grace. This is the glue that binds the universe of persons together.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow and accept God’s love for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.”

Richard Rohr is best in small doses, like rich chocolate cake. If you liked that bit, I highly recommend reading his book, Everything Belongs. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it changed my life. It certainly changed how I see.

The Eyes of the Heart

Then I pick up my bible, which has been ever by my side lately as I work on two sermons simultaneously — remind me never to do that again! My head is a complete muddle and I have two messes on my hands, one of which is to be delivered in a week. Anyway, I come across a wonderful prayer from the apostle Paul to his friends in Ephesus, present-day Turkey. He prays that “the eyes of their hearts” would be enlightened so that they can see the hope and abundance in which they’re living. What a timely prayer for today!

Also a good reminder not spend too much time watching or reading about Donald Trump, lest my heart be filled with negativity and darkness — lest his anger and contempt seep into my heart and fill me with hate and fear. Elsewhere in the Bible, you’ll read: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.”

Watch what you see!

Back in my email, I find the daily word prompt from WordPress is “Eyes.” Of course it is.

eye

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite songsters, Bruce Cockburn.

It’s a verse from Child of the Wind:

Little round planet

In a big universe

Sometimes it looks blessed

Sometimes it looks cursed

Depends on what you look at obviously

But even more it depends on the way that you see

Justice Scalia, Meet Spirituality

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Everybody’s all atwitter, alarmed or amused by Justice Antonin Scalia’s silly suggestion to “ask the nearest hippie” about freedom and intimacy. But I’m more dismayed by his admission that he doesn’t have a clue what spirituality means. Really?

That a Supreme Court justice hasn’t paid any attention to society in the past, oh, four decades, is troublesome — he’s apparently still stewing about “free sex” and “women’s lib.” But that a man who prides himself on his “traditional Christian values” has never in his life bothered to ponder spirituality is horrifying.

Let me back up for those of you who may have been stoned and having illicit sex under a peace-sign-covered VW van instead of following the latest news.

In his dissent last week from the historic 5-4 Supreme Court decision to allow marriage equality for gay people, Scalia took issue with the gay-hippie-liberal-flag-burning lawyers on the equality side who opined that: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”

Scalia’s response to this: “Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

So yeah, the hippie reference is funny, the kind of thing your grumpy grandpa might say. But as a follower of Jesus and one who reads the Bible, the spirituality thing sends me over the rainbow, so to speak.

The Spirit of the Bible

I suppose I should not be surprised that Scalia doesn’t get spirituality. He comes from a time period when adolescents simply took the behavioral rules their parents taught them (disguised as values) and their black leather Bibles, and decided they had all the answers they would ever need. About everything.

But the Bible, Justice Scalia, is not an answer book. It’s a story book, part of the story of humans and their God, a story that started long before anybody wrote down the words, and a story that continues today.

In the beginning was the Spirit

In the beginning was the Spirit

Let’s not argue about the inerrancy of the Bible, though. Even if it were an answer book, remember how it starts? In the first sentence of Genesis, it says “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit. Of God.

And the very same spirit that hovered over the waters and that inspired humans to write that beautiful book is still around today! That’s right, Justice Scalia. The Spirit of God is still working. And the story of God and humanity continues to be written every day by every human being who has a longing for peace and wholeness and justice.

So that’s what spirituality is, in my opinion. People of good will — people wanting to bring good to the world, and willing to work for it — seeking a power greater than themselves to give them the inspiration, guidance, and strength to persevere as they slowly bend that “arc of history,” as Martin Luther King said, “toward justice.” Some of these people call themselves Christians, some don’t.

An awful lot of spirit-led people have been hanging on the end of that arc for a long time, pulling and pulling it towards compassion and justice for all people. It bent quite a bit last week.

Speaking of hanging on the arc of justice, did you see this video of Bree Newsome taking down the confederate flag in Charleston? (What a week!) Did you hear what she said? As she hung from the flagpole and removed that flapping symbol of racism, she called out, “In the name of God, this flag comes down today . . . the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”

In the name of God, this flag comes down!

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

That’s spirituality, Justice Scalia. Christian spirituality. That, right there, is someone connected to the power and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Fear of Love

I personally think that the only power strong enough to conquer fear (which leads to anger and hate) is love. Fear comes from not knowing, not understanding, not being in control — many people are afraid of gay people, black people, and even spirituality for these reasons.

The Spirit of God is a fearful thing in some ways. You can’t control it. Like love. (The Bible says that God is love.) As Jesus says in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Our little ego-selves — the defensive shells we’ve built around our vulnerable, loving selves — don’t like this windy spirit one bit. The ego needs to maintain its illusion of control, and to hold fast to its world views, so that it can sit in judgment on everyone else. And have all the answers. Our egos — our “false selves” as Thomas Merton called them — don’t care for authentic spirituality. They prefer religion and its prescriptive rules; it’s easier to control. All in one book. Feels safer.

Why Would Jesus Do?

Turns out, though, Jesus did not come to establish a religion or to write a book. He came to help us better know and connect with God so that we all “might have life, and have it to the full,” a life with the freedom and dignity to be fully who we were made to be and who we already are: beloved children of God, carrying that wild spirit inside us. Yup, even gay people. And hippies.

And speaking of hippies  . . .

And speaking of hippies . . .

Jesus also said that he could help us all be One, reconciled to God and to everyone else through what he called the Spirit of Truth. He told his followers that this spirit would “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Such as “love your neighbors” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Something that Jesus never said, by the way, was one word about homosexuality. Not one word. If it were important to him, wouldn’t he have mentioned it?

So my closing argument, Justice Scalia, is that, yes, it’s risky when you acknowledge the Spirit and pay attention to where it might be leading you. It opens you up to all kinds of people who aren’t like you, and you find yourself looking for points of connection, things to love, instead of differences and things that separate you. You might even have to change your mind about some things.

The Bible says that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I think those might be nice qualities in a Supreme Court Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Not to Write a Sermon

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How Not to Write a Sermon:

I have no holy credentials. Well, I have a certificate from Cathedral College declaring that I’m an official Spiritual Companion, but aren’t we all spiritual companions in our own ways? And a few years ago I took seminary classes on spiritual formation, but never finished the certificate because I got chicken pox. A sign that I was not meant to pastor?

Anyway, only an unaffiliated rag-tag group of Jesus followers like the ones at my church would allow me to preach a sermon. It didn’t start out as a sermon, it was supposed to be a “story,” one in a series about hope. Initially our pastor (who also did not graduate from seminary, by the way) asked me to talk for ten or fifteen minutes about finding hope in grief and loss. No problem, I thought, I’ve blogged about that. Then I was told that it was to be an entire thirty-five to forty minute sermon.

So that’s where my head’s been the past few weeks, and why I haven’t been blogging. Sorry about that. I hope you’ve been managing OK without my brilliant insights. I’m afraid I have none for you today, either, but I’m trying to avoid writing this sermon, so here I am.

Attention Deficit, Depression, and a Drum

In typical ADD fashion, I began in hyper-focus mode, completely re-living my mother’s death, my brother’s death, and even my dear friend’s head-on with a tractor trailer that resulted in a nine-month coma and then death. I sat at the computer from 9 a.m. till the sun went down two days in a row, writing about hospitals and death.

Then, of course, I plunged into depression and stopped writing completely.

I became terrified by the whole project. How am I stuck writing a sermon about a trifling matter like finding hope in death? I’m not even a pastor. But maybe that’s a good thing, because a pastor might be tempted to rely on Bible verses about angels and resurrection and the afterlife, and I don’t even know how to find those verses. (I love the Bible, I just never remember chapter and verse.)

Heaven and eternal life are good, but I want to help the people sitting in chairs on Sunday morning to cope with the very real, very present, very today challenge of grieving life’s losses. “Everything will be OK once you’re dead, and not before,” is not comforting to me, and I don’t believe it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here, now, among us, at hand. But how does that help us grieve? Where does one find hope?

I’ve now pulled out of “the sads,” and my ADD has flipped from fierce focus to bouncing puppy mode. I sit surrounded by dozens of pages of unconnected scrawls and phrases like: Mom-Beth-orange slices; Willie, Uncle Rolphe, winged creatures; MVA letter, gym, miracle; and, I bought a drum. They meant something when I scribbled them.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am. My deadline looms. Today is the day I must pull  it together or be in serious trouble. Which is why I decided to write a blog post instead. Please pray for me!

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Strolling into the Future

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He’s walking fast, Starbucks coffee clutched in his right hand, rolled black umbrella in his left.  As he strides past me — confident eye contact, slight nod, no smile — I can smell the fresh scent of his morning shave and shower. His posture is erect, made more so by a tightly tied, tidy backpack. No lose straps here; he’s all business. Although he’s dressed in khakis and wearing gym shoes, everything about him says suit and tie.

I, on the other hand, am strolling. A teabag tag dangles from my dented and decidedly uncool thermos mug, and my umbrella swings in lazy circles from my wrist. I’m wearing my hiking boots because they are the only walking shoes I have that don’t hurt my feet.

He’s headed somewhere. I’m headed nowhere.

Boots on the Ground

Boots Going Nowhere

Church Lady

I spent last evening organizing greeters for my church and preparing to lead an Advent Quiet Day later in the month. I read my Bible and did my centering prayer meditation. I wrote a couple of memos for a local environmental group, had a cup of chamomile tea, and went to bed with a heating pad because I was sore from the gym after a four-month hiatus with broken ribs.

When did I become an achy, middle-aged church lady? One who strolls while others stride? Sipping chamomile instead of espresso? I used to be cool; I really did.

Way Cool

Way Cool

This transition to the other side has been gradual.

Why, just the other day I was striding the halls of Congress doing my best impersonation of a mover and a shaker. I was becoming like the young strider. Creating myself, shaping who I would be in life, looking eagerly to the future.

Unbecoming

Now, I’m unbecoming. Well, not in the traditional sense of the word. I do still shower and brush my teeth. Rather, I’m dismantling the ego-driven, competitive persona that built a successful lobbying career. I’m taking the time to heal childhood emotional wounds that have always caused me to be less than who I wanted to be. I’m stripping away the character traits that used to serve me well, but which now only make me wince.

I’m processing, reflecting, and writing. Most of these young folks don’t have time for that. They hear the call of success, whatever that might mean for them. Nothing wrong with that — it’s what they are supposed to be doing at this time in their lives.

A Call to Aging

I’m still figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing in this phase of my life. We all have unique cycles of call in our lives, right up until we breathe our final breath. Learning how to navigate aging is one of our most important calls.

Tick Tock, Tick tock

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

I’m not there yet. There’s a lot I want to do before I’m deposited in a rocker to relate and re-relate stories of my youth to a circle of what I’m certain will be enthralled children. I’m finishing up my Masters in Writing and might be doing some teaching in addition to becoming a famous author.

OK, maybe I am still shoring up my ego in some ways.

But I feel pretty good about where I am and where I’m going. I don’t think I’m going to be one of those bitter older people who resents the young. Yeah, I wish my feet and knees didn’t hurt, but I don’t begrudge the spry among us.

I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences to be back in striding mode. Even the grief, loss, and failures are golden. They help me empathize with other people who are going through those things. The Bible says you comfort the suffering with the comfort you have received from God. God has been there for me, and now I can share that comforting spirit with others, whether or not they personally believe in God. That’s a calling to aspire to.

Six Tips on How to Rise from the Dead

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Today is the day that Christians celebrate what seems the silliest premise of their religion (the virgin birth being a close second). Resurrection from the dead.

Mystery

Mystery

Somewhere in the Bible, one of Jesus’ followers says something like, “Well, of course it sounds crazy – if it sounded sane, it wouldn’t take any faith to believe in it!” Good point.

I’m just crazy enough to believe in this stuff, and I thank God (oh – there I go again) that I do. At times I read the Bible and think, “What??” But at other times, the words go down like a draught of pure truth and transcendental joy.

Still, it is not just “crazy” Bible stories that make me believe; it is also my personal experience — the miracles I have experienced in my own “resurrection.” I know for a fact that I would not have had the strength to overcome drug addiction, or Marlboro Lights for that matter, without the power of prayer.

More miraculous are the “smaller” things I’ve experienced through the grace of God, which aren’t really smaller at all. They are all addictions in their own right. I am NOT here to tell you I’ve recovered from any of these. But I have definitely made progress in the twenty years I’ve been a committed Christian, and as they say, “progress, not perfection.” I have been raised from the dead zone of many a curse.

So here are six tips on how you can rise from the dead . . . whether or not you think Jesus did.

1. Get over yourself.

You are not the center of the universe. Other people are just as important as you are. The best way to do this is to have a kid – then they become the center of your universe.

The Center of the Universe

The Center of the Universe

But I didn’t have one of those, so I have had to work harder at this one. Humiliating and embarrassing myself works well, so I do this regularly.

2. Embrace it: nobody is any better than you are.

This is a careful balance with #1. I find that most people are a bizarre mix of grandiosity and massive low self-esteem. It’s weird. Anyway, you are a beautiful gift to the universe –please accept and love yourself, unconditionally and just the way you are. There has never been and never will be another you. I am glad you are alive.

3. You have unique contributions to make with your life. You should not waste the chance.

It’s important to get #1 and #2 above balanced, or you might miss your chance to help bend the arc of history towards love and justice. Because as Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault writes, even if you are doing “good things,” if you  have unhealthy motivations (getting noticed, being loved, even getting to heaven) then you could actually be putting negative energy into the universe.

4. You can’t help much in the world – you probably won’t even want to – unless you stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Victimhood. Oh my God, don’t get me started. When I see this in myself, and I often do, I immediately do some serious spiritual intervention in the form of prayer and journaling and sometimes even fasting, if it’s a doozy. I think the fastest way to change your life — to rise up from under – is to drop your expectations of the world and other people. You will be so much happier, and so will your family and friends. Expectations are just pre-meditated resentments.

5. Forgive yourself and other people.

We are all broken, messed up people, and we will all hurt each other (and ourselves) horribly. Release yourself from the burdens of resentment, anger, guilt, and bitterness. Obsess instead about how lovely the spring flowers are.

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Which leads me to this most important resurrection tip:

6. Practice gratitude.

If you release the victimhood curse, gratitude will naturally follow. It is the best gift you can give yourself and the world. There’s no earthly reason you should have woken up breathing this morning, but you did. Be grateful for that. And for a roof over your head, people you love, pets to feed, coffee or tea to drink, gifts that you have that you can share with the world. Perhaps you might want to make a gratitude list in celebration of this new day, this new life that you can choose if you want. Rise up from the things that hold you down! Even if you don’t believe in Jesus and you’re not celebrating Easter, a gratitude list might be a nice present to yourself on this particular Sunday. Maybe a few chocolate eggs, too.

And if you are a Christian, I wish you a meaningful and joyful Easter day! May you be constantly mindful of swimming in an ocean of love and rising on a cloud of hope. Amen.

Lenten Rose

Lenten Rose

What are you grateful for this Easter??

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