Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 29, 2018 - Confession is Good for the Whole

It’s a mystery. Similar to the mysterious rituals of many organized religions in the world, the act of confession is considered one of the mysteries of the Roman Catholic faith. But the word mystery isn’t used in the Bible quite in the way it’s used today. The Biblical Greek word myst─ôrion means something which awaits understanding. I like that way of thinking. It implies that one day we will actually get it. It means God likely has faith in us, too. It indicates that someday perhaps some of the mysteries will be solved, or at the very least comprehended to a degree that we are able to make mindful use of them.
Psychology and science has helped us better understand some of the arcane traditions of many world religions. The Jewish practice of eating kosher, for instance, meaning to eat within the ancient dietary laws, often has health benefits which could not have been understood by those who first followed them. Islam as well. But since, according to their traditions, it was God who gave the rules to them, they were followed with or without comprehension. They were acceptable mysteries fulfilled as an act of faith. Blindly, one might say.
Still today many of these rules confound us, even anger us, when we feel coerced to fulfill them without understanding why. That’s the primary difference between modern and ancient practitioners of faith. We now expect buy-in. We expect to be told what they mean. We, for the most part, insist on knowing why these traditions exist and why we should live up to them before participating. Some perhaps consider this to be unfortunate. But if we seek to achieve a balance between the mysterious and the practical, we might find Goldilocks to be an excellent guide.
Of course many people follow religious traditions gladly without understanding an iota of their meaning or value. But even these would be greatly benefited by a bit more information. And not just for Jews, Muslims or Catholics, but the rest of us as well whose traditions stem from these elder faiths. Or those of us with no faith at all.
Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and many Protestant faiths contain a version of confession in their rituals. But not only religion. There is a secular practice called expressive writing which accomplishes ultimately the same goal: self-reflection through the act of expressing that which troubles us. Something I’d guess to be ultimately the crux of it all.
Get it off your chest. You’ll feel better. Ponder, meditate on and then take the time to express the things which keep you awake at night. Studies have shown that when we do this a number of things improve. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, we become more social in the weeks following an intense session of expressive writing. We subtly let our guards down and literally allow more love in.
With a healthy, formalized expression of our inner selves our sleep improves, our cardiovascular health improves, even our immune system functions better when we are not wasting our lives ruminating over the things which stress us out. Confessing, sharing and expressing our truth helps us to keep things in perspective. Putting our worries in words helps to shape them into more comprehensible sound bytes. This, ultimately, gives us something to work with; something tangible upon which to place our self-improvement efforts.
What I find most interesting to my own faith is that these practices were intuited by those who created the rituals in the first place. They didn’t have psychology degrees, nor did they perform case studies. Something inside them guided them to draft a religious practice that had far greater human benefits than they could have consciously perceived at the time. Who or what gave these ideas to them? That’s a mystery, too. At least in the sense that even if we believe it was God who gave it to them, there is no consensus on the nature or purpose of God. So we struggle with it.
But we need not struggle with the origins of what has been described as divine revelation. Let it go. Allow a bit of mystery to exist alongside our pragmatism, our skepticism, even our doubt. Make an assumption that spiritual practices we don’t understand may have value for us. Explore them. Try them out. If they make you feel better, keep doing them. Perhaps the answer to the question ‘Why?’ will become self-evident. at least to you. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Message: Making Good Neighbors

First, a bit of scripture: And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” — Matthew 22:35-40

     “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the second half of what is often referred to as the Great Commandment. The first half being to love God with all your heart. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each tell this story in nearly identical ways about loving our neighbor. Each of them are referencing Moses’ much earlier proclamations of the same. So the idea had been around for many centuries by this point and each of them tells it.
One version of the story which stands out to me is Luke’s, however. In his version, as a test of Jesus’ knowledge of the Torah, a lawyer asks him how to achieve eternal life. Also, and more importantly in my view, in Luke’s version, Jesus doesn’t just tell him as in the other gospel stories, but answers the lawyer’s question with a question of his own. Luke’s version is the only one where Jesus isn’t answering the question, but makes the lawyer do it. He says to the lawyer, ‘Well, what do you think? It’s all there in the law. How do you interpret it?’ I love this. I love how he turns the lawyer’s test back on him. The lawyer answers that we should love God, and we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus told him that he answered correctly and that if he does this, he will live.
There are several things which are interesting about this exchange. First, is the fact that the first character is described as a lawyer. It’s not a lawyer in the sense we understand it today. This is more of a person who is exceptionally learned in the 613 laws which Moses described in the Old Testament. Back then, a lawyer was really a religious scholar.
These “lawyers” are often depicted in scripture as having a bit of a chip on their shoulders. For they, by tradition, are the ones to whom people turn with their questions regarding right behavior. They are the authority. The lawyers are the ones typically handing out the gold stars. But in Luke’s version, Jesus tests the lawyer on his knowledge instead of the other way around.
I can picture a person who has a sense of superiority about his knowledge of the rules striding up to the teacher to challenge him. Clearly he is not convinced that Jesus knows what he’s talking about so he tests his knowledge of the rules with the most important two of them all: Whom shall we love? And, What’s in it for me?
The answer to the question of ‘whom?’ is God and neighbor. That’s whom you should love. God and neighbor. Which could be argued to be the exact same thing. In Matthew’s version of the exact same story, even Jesus suggests that they might actually be the same thing. And the answer to the second question ‘What’s in it for me?’ is a reward. A reward described as eternal life.
I sometimes have a problem with this one. For in my belief we are all eternal beings already whose eternal nature is immutable. It can’t be dinged or dented. It can’t be done or undone. We are eternal spiritual beings having a human experience with a deliberate shelf life. So how can our eternal nature be described as a reward for good behavior? How can it be something which is described as a gold star we get in eternity by living up to a rule here on earth?
I think it’s possibly more accurate to interpret the idea of gaining eternal life through our actions here on earth as an earthly reward rather than a heavenly one. In Universalism, the belief is held that we are all loved equally, we are all saved equally, and we all have the same future. We shy away from the idea of hell. But even that is described as an eternal experience of its own. So yet again, our nature is described as being eternal; no beginning, no end. So, also again, how can eternity be granted as a reward? It’s life that we’re really talking about in scripture. And life occurs here on earth. And our experience of our time here on earth can be relatively heavenly, or a very much living hell.
Loving God is somewhat of a moving target. How can we love something we cannot comprehend? Or perhaps not even believe in? But we can love our neighbor. I make the assumption, arrogant or not, that to treat our neighbor with respect and dignity is the actual activity of loving God. I think that’s why Jesus groups them together. Because the first one is such a conceptual challenge that we are offered the second one as the linear human pathway toward it.
And we humans love our nice, linear checklists. We get anxious about conceptual things. We want solid, clearly defined parameters. We want guidance and certainty. I think the Great Commandment, given as it is in two parts, is a two-fold description of the exact same thing: a primer on how to love.
Here’s where selfishness comes in a little bit. Didn’t see that coming, did you? But selfishness, as a word with a definable root and suffix, does not describe a negative act. The word selfish describes an action done with an awareness of self. It doesn’t imply the exclusion of anyone else, it just is careful to include our own needs, our own feelings and desires, in the equation. We cannot exclude our own awareness of self in any action we perform, because we are always present in all of our actions. I cannot give a homeless person a meal or a place to sleep without considering how such an activity will make me feel, how it will impact my bank account or my family. I cannot extract myself from the soup of my actions. Think about that for a moment.
The best and worst of our actions are always done with an awareness of how we feel, how it will make us feel, what we will get out of it. That’s sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? But is it a bad thing to wonder what our benefit is? It’s natural. For certainly we cannot avoid it. We feel good when we do something good and we feel guilty when we do something bad. Sometimes we even feel guilty when we do something good. And sometimes we feel great when we do something bad.
The reason I bring this up in the context of being a good neighbor is because we are advised to love them as we love ourselves. Which means we have to know how to love ourselves first. We have to know how we want to be treated if we wish to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We have to know, or at least imagine, what it feels like to have a good neighbor in order to be one.
So what do we want from our neighbors? Well, we definitely don’t want them to steal from us, or sleep with our spouses, or to lie to us, or lie about us to others. Or kill us. But those are referred to as negative commandments, meaning things we should not do. Positive commandments are things we should. What are the positive commandments about being a good neighbor? One that comes to mind is also from Moses that we should treat the foreign-born as if they were native-born. Because our Christian forebears, when they were still Jewish, were foreigners in Egypt. The advice is to remember what it’s like to feel out of place, out of home, so that we remain hospitable. Our government would do well to remember this in our immigration policy.
The Christian life practice is one which is mostly about positive commandments. Be forgiving, be hospitable, be compassionate, be nonresistant, be empowering to others. Seek out those who are sick and do your best to heal them. Seek out those who feel alienated and welcome them. Visit those in prison. Forgive them for their crimes. Soothe their fearful hearts. Empower them to do better. Love them right where they are with the expectation that if we accept them as they are, they will have the capacity to transform into something better. That doesn’t mean to excuse negative behavior, but it does redefine the ways we should approach crime and criminals. We cannot arrest or incarcerate our way into a more loving world. Lead us not into the temptation of vengeance. Don’t resist their fearful hearts, give them something better to do with them. It is a highly active practice meant to, over time, end the cycles of violence and bring about peace on earth it is in heaven.
So, we are asked, advised, even commanded to love our neighbor. What shall you do with that suggestion? What do you expect to be the reward for living up to it? What peace exists in our future if only we were be even a little bit more purposeful in our loving actions toward others? We might just find that our hearts are a bit more at ease. That we feel a little bit safer in the presence of our neighbor. And when tragedy strikes, as it will often do, we shall not be alone in our grief. Nor shall we celebrate alone when we find ourselves blessed.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 22, 2018 - The Language of Prayer

Prayer is a confusing exercise sometimes. For the non-religious, it conjures up thoughts of compelled speech, rote memorization and even banging one’s head against a wall. We hear scriptural ideas like “ask and ye shall receive,” but how’s that working for you?
The likely truth is that what often comes out of our mouths is not what’s coming from our hearts. That’s where the confusion originates. I’d guess it’s not only confusing for us, but for God, too. For how can a prayer be answered when we often send such conflicting messages? How can we get that million we are asking for when our hearts are projecting a lack of self-worth? And how can we have faith in the act of prayer when it seems those prayers are rarely, if ever answered?
I can’t say that I fully believe in the idea that all we have to do is ask and what we want will be given to us. At least not in ways that we understand. What of a little boy whose mother is dying? He prays and prays, but still his mother is taken from him. Should be he compelled to believe that all prayers are answered? Should he be made to feel that he somehow did it wrong or simply wasn’t a good enough little boy to deserve his prayers be heard?
This is a problem that I, and so many others, wrestle with on a continuing basis. And frankly, I don’t have the answer for it. Greater things are at work than any of us has the capacity to understand. We are encouraged not to ask why because it is an unanswerable question.
Yet I still believe in prayer. Because I believe that we have a power within us so compelling, so connected to the web of all reality, that to imagine we are not in possession of a direct line is the same as imagining being cast adrift in space. Maybe that’s just my faith talking. I don’t know. But I feel that all reality is connected. And just like a spider web, the plucking of one tiny thread in one out of the way corner by even the smallest versions of life makes the whole thing vibrate.
So what shall we do with this power? Especially since it seems that we love to ask for things which do not appear to be deliverable. First, be at ease with our limitations. Find a way to relax about things over which we have no power to change so that we enhance our power to change the things we can.
To me God is listening and willing to speak to us in whatever language we choose. I see no difficulty in the idea that traditional Christian prayers are equally powerful tools for communicating with the divine as tarot cards, tea leaves or symbols in the clouds. If God is listening at all, then It is listening to everything. Perhaps God is just waiting for us to choose a language through which It can speak to us. Waiting for us to refine our definitions to the point that we actually hear through our symbols and signs. Perhaps there is so much love out there just waiting for us to grasp it.
But the one, overarching idea which seems to be available to us all is knowledge. So the question I would ask God if It were a being standing in front of me is, “What would you have me know?” Because then I might understand a bit more about why that little boy is motherless, or why the million dollars I asked for years ago isn’t filling my bank account right now. Maybe there is a perfectly good reason for suffering and I just can’t comprehend it.
God would likely know the source of my suffering or the scope of my desire. Also, God would know the shortest pathway to my relief and fulfillment. Would the answer come through direct speech? Likely not. But if I remain open, if I hold the question of “What would you have me know?” deeply in both my mind and my heart, the answer will probably come. It might arrive at my feet in ways that I might never have expected and faster that I’d believe possible.
But the most compelling form of prayer I can imagine is likely not a prayer at all, but the most loving act imaginable: Simply listening.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - Pick Your Worldview

Go ahead. Call me Pollyanna. Accuse me of seeing the world entirely through rose-colored glasses. I’m fine with that. More than fine, actually. I’m proud of it. I wear my optimism like a badge of honor.
But that’s just my own worldview. You are free to choose your own. Which one will you pick? When I see talking heads on the news or look at social media discussions about the state of our world it’s easy to see the color of their glasses. There’s enough evidence, imaginary or legitimate, to support nearly any idea. Good or bad. Tragic or joyous. Everything from conspiracy theories, to aliens, to pending global annihilation has a tangible basis for debate. There’s plenty of so-called evidence out there to back up virtually any claim imaginable. We are free to believe anything we wish.
So what do you choose?
Because we actually do have to make a choice. How we choose determines a lot about how we conduct our lives. Everything from our emotional and physical health to our day-to-day choices are a direct result of our own personal worldview.
Of course there’s darkness in the world. But do you believe that the darkness has a power of its own, or is merely allowed to exist at the behest of our own fears and lack of action? In looking at your own hometown, what do you see? Do you see trees and flowers, or trash and abandonment? Do you see people caring or do you see only apathy? Needles lying the the street or social workers trying to save people from themselves? Because both exist. But which one do you support with your thinking?
In my own hometown I see much of both. We all live in the same little city, but each has their own experience of it entirely. For instance, I love my city deeply. My sister, on the other hand, couldn’t move away fast enough. What is it that makes us feel so differently about the exact same place? All the facts are the same, the people are the same, the buildings, river, trees, all the same. Yet we couldn’t be more opposite about how we view them and how they make us feel.
The same can be said for the state of the world.
How do you feel about the world? Do you think it is in the process of slowly raising its vibration and the drama we are seeing is the symptom of growth pains, or are we witnessing its demise? In other words, toward which reality are you contributing your energy?
Do you have inner peace? Perhaps not to the ideal degree, but are you at least facing in that direction? Does it give you ease to delve into the seemingly ceaseless tragedy of the world or to find ways of improving it?
Complaining is a fascinating exercise. It is practically a religion of its own. Many of us are literally addicted to the act of stressfully ruminating over all that the world has taken from us without ever feeling the need to count our blessings. How does this affect our bodies? Stress releases harmful chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones do have a use in the biological function of fight or flight, but how good is a steady, continuous drip of them? And when you engage in constant worry over all things, that’s exactly what you’re doing. One may as well put an IV of poison straight into a main artery. Our bodies literally calcify from the abundance of negativity with which we choose to surround ourselves.
Choose something better for yourself. Reach for a higher thought. It won’t change the reality of the world. Or will it?
What would happen if everyone started to see a slightly brighter picture of things? Would that change the darkness? I believe incrementally yes. Because when we are in a more relaxed state we make better decisions. We relate to people differently. We see them as less of a threat to our well-being and find friends in those we previously distrusted. The loving network of the world is enhanced.
Complaining about the state of our planet without taking any action to improve it is the same as complaining about politics without voting. In my book, we have no right to either.
That’s not to say we should be blind to hardship nor give a pass to things which damage us. Quite the opposite. But if we take a more loving stance in our worldview, the things we fear have a stronger likelihood of transforming into the best possible version of themselves. Don’t forget that. It is a peace which has the capacity to save us all.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday Message: Be the Bridge

My daughter Lavender and I have lots of fascinating conversations. Even though she has challenges in learning, she has very little problem knowing. Once something is adequately explained to her, she always gets it. Better than that, she actually cognizes it and makes it her own. She understands a lot of difficult concepts which many of us fail to ever grasp. Genetics is one of them. Music is of course one of them. But spirituality even more. From the very beginning of our friendship she has been an intellectual companion to my many ways of thinking about philosophy, religion, the law of attraction, history and the concept of time.
We’ve also talked a lot about subjects like political correctness. We talk about how difficult it is to do it sometimes. Not because we feel that we shouldn’t strive to find better and more inclusive language. But because we know we aren’t being unloving in our use of them. We’re not like that. To us they’re just words, not slurs. Right? Not diminishments of people.
Even though they are.
And when we use them, even if not in hostility, we teach others it’s ok to do the same. We keep the words in use like keeping a balloon aloft. We further normalize it. We show by our example that we believe words don’t matter.
Even though they do.
It’s easy to see how people even slightly less intentional than we are about things like this would find it a great and pointless struggle to remember to call someone a “person with autism” rather than “an autistic.” Or “a gay.” Not that we prefer to be called “a person with homosexuality” either, so perhaps that’s not the best example.
The difference between “an autistic” and “a person with autism” doesn’t seem like much of a difference to some people and so, why bother? However, it’s a subtle yet very important distinction which has everything to do with remembering they are, in fact, a person, not a condition. As a person with conditions of my own I am not my diagnosis. I’m a person. And even the words I choose to describe myself should reflect that. I hope you hear me on this. We use words against ourselves all the time that continually pollute our own way of thinking about ourselves. And because it’s us we think it’s ok. I’m telling you it’s not.
Don’t call yourself stupid, even in jest. Don’t call yourself fat if you think fat is a bad thing. Because that’s the part that does all the work when it comes to the words we use about ourselves. Not the word, but what the word means to us. Someone told me the other day that my shoes were sick. I agree. But that’s because I know the word used that way is millennial-speak for awesome. And they are sick. But I am not. Loving words should start with those we use to describe ourselves first.
People don’t realize that by using the wrong words we subconsciously relegate people with disabilities to thinking of them only in terms of their disability, not their humanity. They become a walking diagnosis. Subtle thinking like this affects our choices in ways that mean the difference between giving someone a hand up or a hand out. Whether we teach them to fish and make them our equals (because we think they’re capable of it), or whether we give them a fish and make them our dependents (because we think they’re incapable of it).
People have a right to live to their fullest capacity. Their fullest dignity. And with our words we systematically strip them of options before they even know they exist. When we give them a fish we are saying to them that we don’t think they’re capable of learning to do it. And because it’s so subtle they come believe that about themselves without our ever having said it directly. Or worse, we are preventing them from learning on purpose to control them. That’s a thing.
Our language matters. The way we choose to describe things says a lot about our relationship with them. We either give away our hatred or our ignorance when we use terms now mostly out of date like ‘colored person,’ for instance. Of course, it’s not the ‘N’ word, but it’s not far. And when people use it, it shows that either they are aware of the fact that terms like that are considered unloving and display their bigotry by using them on purpose, or they are unaware of the history and use them in ignorance. For the record, ignorance is more forgivable. People can learn. But deliberate use requires a bit more effort to forgive. It’s hard to look hatred in the eye and remember that it’s really fear. Pray for them. It will ease your heart, too.
Our world is looking deeply in the mirror right now. A process that will and has taken generations to undergo. We are far from the brass ring of world peace. But how do we get from point A to point B?
Lavender and I talk a lot about what it means to “be a bridge.” I can tell you, it’s almost always difficult. Standing astride two separate shores and holding up all who cross. The weight of sojourners travelling from one land to another. Confused. Tired. Hungry. The dirt of the road clinging to them. Perhaps they don’t know the language. Perhaps they are afraid. I wonder if the bridge becomes as weary as the travellers who cross it. Perhaps yes. But for very different reasons.
I have a thought for you: Perhaps those of us who have embraced this new age in our world history rather than fear it could make a deliberate choice to help those across who are having a hard time. Because we are many of us standing on a brand new shore now. In hope, we built a foundation along the old shoreline before we left. The water we have crossed has been choppy, to say the least. But we have made it to the other side. Drenched, but alive. We can lay the foundations of a bridge over here also and build our way back across to the one we made before leaving. Bridging the gap between. We can help guide the others over.
We can be of service to this new age. In fact, we must. We understand that there is now a more loving countenance which has swept the earth, terrifying those who held power under different rules, in darker corners of our society now held to the light by things like cell phone cameras and the power of the internet. It’s easy to see why there is so much outrage. Very few people enjoy the process of being suddenly woken up. They resist to remain asleep. Just five minutes more...
How we respond to their resistance is everything. It also reveals the flaw in our thinking regarding how to approach those who are afraid of our new age. We should not think of things in terms of resistance. That’s exactly what they’re doing. They are the ones resisting us, resisting the new energy, the new world. What good does it do for us to resist them resisting us? Viva la resistance is a French term we’ve often heard which means ‘long live... the resistance.’ Itself? Well, if that’s what you’re going for have fun with that. I hope your tail is tasty, cause that’s all you’re chasing. If resistance is what you want, keep praying for it. You’ll keep getting more things to resist in your life. I personally would rather use my arms for hugging.
I also need my arms for building. Bridges, not walls. For carving out new pathways. new canals in the earth to help those more afraid than I am get here more easily than I did. That’s always been the job of a bridge builder. Or a teacher. A minister. A healer. These are the archetypes who help people go from one side of the river to the other. These are the ones who can say, “I’ve been where you are and I will show you how to get here.” These are the bridges.
There are those of us still in darkness. Some are in a darkness of their own making and they pull others into the dark along with them. Close your eyes for a moment and picture them there. Nothing but blinking eyes in the dark. Afraid, attacking, conspiring together to enclose their fear in an illusion of safety which is impossible to achieve, but still their fear compels them to try. Pray for them right now. Pray with me that their hearts be eased, that the peace of Spirit settle into them, softening them. Revealing the illusion, the lies, the fear for what it truly is. Pray that the truth sets them free. Be for them a spiritual bridge to a land they may still fear, but which will ultimately soothe their quaking souls. May they find welcome here on these new shores. Amen.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 8, 2018 - People Never Don’t Do Their Best

All around us we find people who are angry, hurt, sick, lonely, vengeful. How do we cope with that? Are we supposed to constantly just look away, trying to think of something more pleasant, ignoring the reality of suffering in our world? Why not? People do it all the time.
Early in life we are taught to always do our best. What does that mean? Often it seems that doing our best means living up to the expectations of people we love, respect or admire rather than our own actual best. Exactly whose best are we expected to be doing?
The truth is we never don’t do our own version of “best.” We constantly strive to feel better, live better, to end cycles of anger and torment inside ourselves, to be stronger, even when it looks like the opposite. Even when it is the opposite. That is the prime directive of all species, including human. Strive to improve. Work to flourish. Fail in order to succeed.
Which brings us to the concept of capacity. How capable are you of living up to the standards of modern society? And what are they? To live compassionately, honestly, abundantly, faithfully and lovingly. That appears to be what society asks of us. Can you do it? Do you have the capacity to live a principled life?
Few of us do. At least not to the extent we would prefer. So what is a person’s individual capacity to live well? It’s different for each of us. Because each of us sees life through a different lens, a different set of experiences, a different set of wounds. We many of us perceive life almost exclusively through our pain and make our daily choices using that as our guide. We know not what we do. Nor whom we hurt. In our attempt to feel better we often leave a wake of destruction.
But even in this, even when we are at our lowest, we never fail to do our best. We are doing the very best we are capable of at any given moment. Choosing what we feel will create the most relief, if not the most joy, if not the least pain. We do things to feel better. Sometimes we make deliberate sacrifices because we think we will feel better about it in the end. Or because we love someone so much we give endlessly of ourselves. Even to the death.
When you look at someone, what do you see? Whose best are you evaluating them against? When someone has to make a choice between theft and hunger (because sometimes people are down enough to see no other options) they will choose the one that they think will make them feel better. To be desperately hungry is to know firsthand how low the moral bar can go. People never don’t move toward comfort. Even when theft is the answer they feel compelled to choose.
When someone suffers from addiction, what is their capacity? Of what are they actually capable? For many, there is literally no capacity to save themselves. All better options are invisible to them. The thought of quitting their drug of choice is equal to the thought of deliberately killing a loved one. What is their capacity to turn away from that lie? Their neck is stuck and their eyes glued to it. Tricked into believing there is only one choice for survival: More of the same.
It’s easy to see how trauma, illness and abuse can become like mythological demons setting up house in our psyches. They grow into seemingly rabid personalities vying for your full attention at all costs. Lying to you, distorting the truth, limiting your capacity to thrive, withholding you from doing a little better than your best to date.
A wounded soul never doesn’t do their best to feel better. Remember that. Because it’s true no matter who we are talking about. Think about this when faced with challenging people. They are doing their best. Think of this when wondering how someone can be so evil, so twisted, so lost. They too, are doing their best, even when it’s a far cry from what we expect of them.
The key to it all is helping others to expand their list of options, and remembering to expand our own as well. Keep learning, keep healing, keep examining. Raise others up. But most of all, remember that the most direct pathway to forgiveness—the literal easing of your heart—is to recognize that even those about whom you are the most angry, the most afraid, the most distrusting, are still human. They are doing their best to survive, too. And they often make bad choices. Help protect them from themselves by being loving in our actions toward them. Be generous also in your prayers for them, because they do not have the capacity for the same. Yet.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, Sept 1, 2018 - Christianity Has an Image Problem

After attending an evening vespers service last week I am stuck with a tune in my head. Not just the tune, really. It’s the words. The refrain sings, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
I remember learning the song as a child. Of course it didn’t make much of an impact on me then. But now, hearing those words again after decades of thought on the subject, I don’t really agree with them anymore. Christians are not just known for their love. In fact, the public perception held by the majority of non-churchgoers is that Christians are among the most unloving citizens in our country. I wish I had a bag of canned goods for every time I’ve heard someone say they don’t go to church because Christians are too judgmental.
A new seam began to develop in American mainstream Christianity in the years following World War II. A crack then a chasm, polarizing the tradition along a divisive liberal-conservative spectrum increasing in depth as the millennium approached. Why that happened can be chalked up to ideas ranging from doomsday prophesies to spurious political agendas. But it revealed a weakness in the interpretation of scripture. We either interpret them through a metric of fear or of love. The difference comes down to the focus. Either the sins, or the sinners. Liberals tend to seek out the sinners to raise them up, conservatives seem hellbent on targeting them for punishment. We tend to notice the latter. They are generally much louder because they are more afraid. We hear their cries of anguish as torrents of judgement and even hate.
Fr. Peter Scholtes wrote the hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians” in the 1960’s recalling the very earliest days when Christians were persecuted and killed while at the same time being ironically recognized for their goodness. He would not be able to say the same for us today. The persecuted have already long become the persecutors.
To be fair, the Christians who live up to their spiritual practice know who they are and will not feel offended by these words; they know they are not for them. I know Christians of all denominations who are anything but hypocritical. I admire them and their dedication to what their faith instructs them about elevating the poor, healing the sick, and visiting those in prison.
But these faithful ones are not on the news.
Those we see in public forums being pandered to by fear-mongering and deceitful leadership, those with signs denouncing love in all but the forms they are not challenged by, those with walls to build and families to destroy, these are the voices which echo loudest. These are not Christians. They are against what Christianity truly stands for. Pray for them. And pray for those who quietly (or not so quietly) set about the work we are genuinely asked by our faith to do: Love others as we love ourselves.
I am a Christian, but I flinch a bit when I say it. Because I know what some people think about it. They don’t know there is more to this soup than the film which develops on the top when it sits too long. They don’t know there are those who actually do their best to live up to the teachings of its master.
It’s not easy of course. Being nice is usually quite a challenge. Tolerance is sometimes all we can muster even though acceptance is better. But that’s all it really is. Do your best. Be nice. Make friends. Learn about each other. Learn from each other. Lift each other up. Save the world. Fear not.
The image problem Christianity has can be fixed. But only with faith and courage to stand for something more loving will it ever be done. Whatever seed we water, will grow.