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I Can’t Tolerate Tolerance

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I Can’t Tolerate Tolerance

I was talking to some folks about Orlando this morning, and the sense of helplessness and sadness and even despair that many of us feel in the wake of yet another preventable tragedy. People look at the National Rifle Association’s power to completely override common sense and they say, “Could our country be any more broken?” and then they look at Donald Trump and realize that our country is way more broken than anyone ever imagined.

America, “land of the free,” is now held hostage by paranoia, anger, and division, all fueled by fear and hatred of “the other.”

You call your God Allah? Other! Your skin is darker than mine? Other! Are you speaking Spanish? Other! You are sexually attracted to someone with the same type of genitalia as your own? Other! You are a hunter? Other! You are a vegan? Other! You are a {Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party, Democratic Socialist}? Other, other, other!!!

I don’t need to tell you that candidate Trump stokes these sentiments. He’s like some sci-fi monster that feeds on other people’s fear and anger and grows more and more grotesque and powerful with each hateful Tweet, Facebook post, and blog. He can’t abide truth or tolerance — they make him grow smaller and lose his magical powers to control people.

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He’s like the opposite of Jesus, whose power and influence in the world grows stronger each time someone chooses love over fear and compassion over judgement. Each time someone chooses tolerance over division . . . but wait. Tolerance?

Teaching Tolerance

Why yes, of course. Isn’t that what the solution is? “Teaching Tolerance,” they call it. Well, I’m sorry, but I call B.S. on that. Jesus never said, “Tolerate one another.” Jesus said to love one another. And so have many other spiritual sages throughout human history. Loving someone is more than just putting up with them, just tolerating their existence. That may be a necessary beginning for some people, but I think we should aspire to more than tolerating one another.

Be the Change

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Jesus said.

Maybe that’s the place to start — maybe we have to learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others; embrace ourselves, not just tolerate ourselves. We need to look honestly at our inner thoughts, motivations, and promptings, especially the ones that we don’t like, or that confuse us or make us feel ashamed. We need to talk about them with someone else. Pray about them if we are praying people. Let the darkest stuff out into the light so we can see it and heal it if need be.

We can’t change what happened in Orlando, but we can change ourselves. Be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi said.

It’s worth a try, right? Because people who shut off or hide parts of themselves can turn into angry people. They can have heart attacks. They can fall into depression. Some of them might buy guns. They might hurt other people emotionally or physically. They might vote for Donald Trump.

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Are You Faking It?

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Everyone knows that everyone else feels like a fake, right? The term Impostor Syndrome has been around almost forty years, and media outlets regularly do stories on it as if it’s just been discovered.

You would think that knowing we’re not alone would help. Yet somehow, having company doesn’t make us feel any less like a fraud. It’s as if we think we are the only genuine fake because we are comparing our insides to everyone else’s outside persona.

 When clinical psychologists described the syndrome in 1978, they thought it was unique to women. My guess is that women were just more willing to talk about it. Now researchers say that all types of people experience this phenomenon, especially if they feel different from others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other reasons.

I first became aware of it when a good-looking, successful, middle-aged male told me tearfully that “if people really knew me, they’d know I’m a fake. They wouldn’t like me.” I was stunned and deeply saddened that someone could feel that way.

At age eighteen, I was so out of touch with my own emotions that I didn’t know I felt the same way about myself!

Whatever you do, don't take off your mask!

Whatever you do, don’t take off your mask!

Just Say No to Condemnation

As a church leader, I hear the sentiment expressed over and over, in different words: “I am not good enough.” Always in a confessional or shame-filled tone.

Well, hell, of course you’re not good enough to please the scolding, shaming parental voice in your head! You are a human being, flawed and vulnerable and doing your best to muddle through life.

It’s a horror and a crime that many so-called Christian communities enthusiastically add to the judgmental, condemning voices in our heads. Shame! Sin! You’re going to burn in eternity!

Well, thank you.That was super helpful.

Those condemners are nothing like the God they claim to represent. I can’t know God fully, and neither can they. But I do know that if a voice in your head or a belief about yourself is not loving, it does not come from God, because God is love.

“As Yourself”

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he said to love God with everything you’ve got. And then he said to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27). We are meant to be overflowing with love and compassion and grace towards ourselves.

We must first learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others from a place of healthy humility and self-acceptance. When we accept how beloved we are, just as we are, we won’t need to achieve or perform or prove ourselves. We won’t need to compete or manipulate. We can just be real. Now that’s freedom!

Thanks for the daily prompt of “fake,” WordPress.

I Wish You Joy! (And Maybe Merry Christmas.)

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I wish you joy this Christmas day, whether or not you celebrate Christmas, whether or not you consider yourself a Christian, whether or not you get angry if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas.

Mind you, I am not wishing you a Merry Christmas, unless you would like me to, in which case, I wish you the merriest of Christmases! Otherwise, I wish you joy: big, robust, impossible-to-resist joy.

Of course, being a follower of Jesus, I consider the Christmas message and the state of joy very closely related. The bible says — and my experience is — that when you are truly connected to the spirit of God, you will experience complete joy, along with love and peace and patience all kinds of other good stuff that you can’t buy and wrap up in packages.

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The Joy of Jesus

Throughout the Bible, Jesus brought joy wherever he went, beginning with the Christmas story. Angels heralded his arrival as tidings of great joy to all people, lowly shepherds celebrated, and the magi were overjoyed at the star over Bethlehem.

Later, Jesus hung out at big dinner parties with “undesirables,” celebrated at weddings, and cooked out on the beach with friends. He turned water into wine at a wedding party, and when faced with hungry crowds of thousands, he handed out endless bread and fish, showing that God’s abundance and capacity for celebration never runs out. His enemies even accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard! Despite being homeless and hated by many, Jesus surely knew how to bring joy.

laughing jesus

Imagine the joy that followed this guy as he healed people from every kind of brokenness and illness. He told them to leave their baggage behind, to go and be free from shame. He freed people bound by unhealthy exclusive religion, releasing them from legalistic rules and toxic preconceived notions about God.

The Non-Joy of Too Many “Christians”

That’s why it’s so sad that today, many people who consider themselves Christians (never mind that Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion) have lost their joy and put themselves back into bondage. They appear to believe it’s their job to judge other people in a serious, somber, and sometimes angry manner, constantly warning about the wages of sin. An Onward Christian Soldier attitude: life is a battle, suit up. Attack!

How is that reflecting Jesus? Even at Christmas, these people wage a campaign of negativity and victimhood and resentment: “There’s a war on Christmas, poor us!” Trust me, I know what it’s like to have your faith mocked, to have your beliefs attacked, to feel belittled by people you love, behind your back and on Facebook.

But Christians: get over it. You shouldn’t become part of this divisiveness. Pray that you would be filled with love and compassion and forgiveness, not pettiness. The peace of Jesus doesn’t come from this world, and our joy does not depend on other people.

Followers of Christ should be leading a counter-cultural campaign of joy against the darkness and division in the world, not an angry pity party.

I saw a bill-board in Pennsylvania yesterday: a big “Happy Holidays” crossed out and “Merry Christmas” written over the top of it. Really? REALLY?

Jesus-filled people should be wishing everyone joy in a way that brings joy, not in an aggressive way intended to make people angry. How dumb (or worse, mean-spirited) is that? The joy of Jesus is not an exclusive joy or a joy that creates divisions; it comes from love, not anger or fear.

love thy neighbor

Party On!

Here’s the thing: There’s a cosmic party going on, and everyone belongs! It’s a joyful place right here, right now, not just in some puffy, pink-clouded after-life, and it is much stronger than the dark side of the Force. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God,” and he said that everyone is welcome.

That’s what I’m celebrating at Christmas: There’s an open door, come on in. Just ignore those misguided, cheerless “Christians” in the corner. Celebrate with the rest of us!

Joy to the world! And joy to you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

Adoration Happens: Advent Eve

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I’m trying to avoid Christmas music until Advent, which starts tomorrow. I don’t have a TV, so it’s not impossible, but it does mean staying out of stores and abstaining from the radio completely. It’s silly, really, my meaningless protest against the extended Christmas season that creeps across the calendar pages, earlier and earlier each autumn, all in the service of greed, consumption, and profit margins.

I stage this rebellion most years, but by the time we reach so-called Black Friday – one of the most abhorrent plagues in America – it’s a fool’s errand, trying to avoid the jingly jangly carols.

This morning as I was driving around the D.C. beltway, I accidentally broke my own abstinence and began warbling, “Oh come let us adore him…”

Adoration happens.

I guess it’s Advent Eve.

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I want to be more mindful of Advent this year, the season during which those who follow Jesus (or say they do) prepare for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ: the day “love came down,” as we say. I know, I know, it’s not really his “birthday;” we don’t know when that was. But early Christians piggy-backed on a Roman pagan celebration, so there were parties all around: still are.

Anyway, I’m going to write about Advent this month, so prepare yourselves, my non-Jesus-type friends.

Right now, though, I’m off to my fourth celebratory feast of the week. Just wrapping up Thanksgiving before entering Advent.

“About Those Refugees,” Says Jesus

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A favorite character from film, theater, or literature with whom I’d like to have a heart-to-heart, and what would I talk about — kudos to the creator of this daily blogging prompt!

It’s hardly an original answer, given that the Bible is the most read book in history, with four billion copies having been sold since I arrived on this planet, but my answer is Jesus. 

I’d have a lot to ask and would struggle to shut up and listen to his answers, before posing another question. I’d set aside all the God-sized questions, because the relationship between God and Jesus is no doubt complicated and might monopolize the conversation — that whole Trinity thing and all. So I wouldn’t get into suffering and eternal life and whether there is a hell, etc.

No, I’d start with, “Couldn’t you have been a little more clear, Jesus? Parables are great in their place, but we’ve got a mess on our hands and could use some clear direction. Terrorists, climate change, social injustice, sick people with weapons, corrupt political leaders . . .”

He might answer that except for climate change, they had all that back in his day. Now we just see it on a grander scale because of technology and the media. The problem, he would say, is and always has been the human heart.

“What can we do?” I’d wail.

“I think I suggested that you try loving God with everything you’ve got and then loving your neighbor as yourself. If you start with getting to know God, you will realize how crazy-much God loves you, and then you would learn to love yourself, and it would overflow to your neighbor. Isn’t that clear?”

“Well, it sounds clear,” I would answer. “Kind of. But it’s not practical. I mean loving your neighbor could get out of hand. Look at all these Syrian refugees wandering the globe! There might be terrorists in those masses. We’ve got to think of the safety of our kids. Surely, those people aren’t our neighbors.”

At this point, I would probably have to hand Jesus a tissue, because the Bible tells us that Jesus weeps.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

“How many times did I tell folks back in the day, ‘do not be afraid?’ Like, constantly! Love, don’t fear, I said. Remain in my love, and your joy will be complete, I said. I don’t see enough joy around here lately. All this hate and division? It’s just fear.”

He’s not looking particularly joyful, and grabs another tissue. “I thought I was pretty clear on this, but just in case — I said that if you want to be aligned with God, here’s the deal: 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; naked, and you clothed me. When you do it for anyone, you do it for me. Those Syrians? They’re me. We’re all one.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

“Go do that, and then get back to me.”

Syrian refugee camp

Syrian refugee camp

Photo courtesy: Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief

In What Do We Trust?

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On this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law making the statement “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. A few years before, he’d added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance.

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

Over the ensuing decades as the U.S. has become more secular, Eisenhower’s religious language has been the subject of an ongoing debate.  America’s founding fathers were fairly clear about the separation of church and state — on the other hand, they talked about God all the time, and “In God We Trust” has been on our coinage since the Civil War; Eisenhower simply added it to the paper currency.

I don’t have a strong opinion on the language. As a mature adult, I no longer have to have an opinion on everything, and that’s a relief. I’ll let others argue about it. Besides, what would our motto be if we re-wrote it today?

“We Trust Nothing and Nobody?”

“We’re Better Than Everyone Else?”

“Bombs R Us?”

“We Can’t Agree on a Damn Thing?”

“Shop Till Ya Drop?”

“We Want More Stuff, Screw The Planet?”

Transcending Our iPhones

So I’m not weighing in on President Eisenhower’s action on July 30, 1956. I do, however, have a strong opinion on his apparent motivations. In a Flag Day Speech in 1954, he explained that by putting “under God” in the pledge, “. . . we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

I have to agree with Ike that our nation could do with some transcendence, now more than ever. I wish that my fellow citizens had a transcendent belief in something beyond themselves, their cemented opinions, their rights, their money, their electronics, their sacred iThings.

I believe that if we spent significant time in prayer and meditation, opening our personal and collective hearts to the universal source of goodness and love, then we might learn to listen to — and even care about — our neighbors and maybe even non-Americans, and our country would not be so screwed up. Probably wouldn’t hurt to get outside and contemplate the beauty and power and order of nature, either. People are just so angry and vitriolic these days, and I think that’s a spiritual illness.

But that kind of transcendence doesn’t seem to be what Ike is getting at. No, he’s looking to “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons” to be a “powerful resource” for our nation. Sigh. Those bombs bursting in air and that bald eagle’s sharp beak and talons.

Spirituality is Not a Weapon

Here’s the thing: spirituality is not a weapon. The Bible tells us that the fruit of true spirituality is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, all that good stuff.

Connecting with the Spirit is not about winning, it’s not about fighting. I know a lot of Christians who talk about “victory” and “battles” and “putting on armor,” but that’s a mindset and language taken from a warlike culture thousands of years ago. Of course, Christians aren’t the only religious folks who have this mindset. We’ve all had our fill of “holy wars” and beheadings.

But Christians like Eisenhower — people “under God” — ought to be able to get beyond this dualistic, divisive worldview. Jesus transcended all that self-absorption and came with a different message: Spirituality is about surrendering, relinquishing our warlike competitive egos, and relying on the strength of Love (for God is Love) to be peacemakers in the world. Jesus surrendered his very life without a fight, showing us what God is like. How very un-American of him.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” says Jesus. “Send in the drones,” says one nation under God.

flowers and Dayspring 026

A Place of Peace

Dwight Eisenhower was raised Mennonite, a peace-loving sect that he rejected when he joined the military. (He later became a Presbyterian.) It’s possible that his warlike spirituality mellowed later in life: the chapel on the grounds of the presidential library where he and his wife Mamie are buried is called an interfaith “Place of Meditation.”

Maybe America will mellow later in its life, too. Just imagine if our peacemaking budget were even the teensiest fraction of our defense budget. That’s the kind of “force” I want us to be in the world.

Maybe someday our motto will be “In Peace We Trust.” Maybe I’m delusional. But — maybe I’m not. In God I trust.

flowers and Dayspring 051

I’m a blogger for peace. Check us out:

https://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/about/

https://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Peace and Justice in Vivid Color

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Vivid — what a fine word. I think it’s a psychomime, also a very fine word. A psychomime is a word connoting the state or condition to which it refers, like mushy or funky, and is not to be confused with a phenomime, a word which brings to mind a psychological state or emotion, like maybe giddy. Not to be confused with the more familiar onomatopoeia that you learned in school, which refers to a word that literally sounds like what it describes, like whoosh or crack.

(You know it’s a questionable blog post when the second sentence leads to a serious digression which then necessitates an apologetic parenthetical phrase. Sigh – it’s Monday.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t going to be one of my wildly popular stream-of-consciousness posts about a favorite word, though my digressive mental state might indicate that it’s almost time for one.

No, this post is simply a response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: the word vivid. So here is my photo:

Vivid!

Vivid!

I love, love, love this photo. It was a banner at the Wild Goose Festival last year, which is coming up again in July, and you really must come. I can almost promise it will change your life, especially if you’re feeling hopeless or sad or cynical, and who isn’t these days? The world’s about to blow up or melt down in any number of ways.

Wild Goose is a progressive (very) Christian event, but anyone might enjoy it — “the intersection of spirit, justice, music, and art.” This year’s theme is Blessed are the Peacemakers, and it fits right in with what my church has been talking about the last few months — social justice and how we as followers of Jesus can help bring light and reconciliation to a time of darkness and fear, instead of adding to the divisions and hatred as so many “Christian” politicians and media mavens sadly do. We’ve been talking about confronting and healing racism and war and violence and oppression and toxic religion.

So the word vivid resonates with me right now. I’m in the light, and I’m ready to hope again. I am coming out of my grief over my brother’s passing, beginning to de-clutter the depressing masses of stuff that somehow piled up around me while I was doing eight years of caregiving/grieving, and getting just the teensiest glimpse of the gifts I might bring to my new role as Pastor of Prayer and Healing at my church.

So yes, please: I want to “live out loud” in vivid color this summer.

Meet me at the Beer & Hymns tent at Wild Goose!

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’”

– Emile Zola

 

 

 

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