Blessed in the Bad

I need only say, ‘I am slipping,’ and your love, YHWH, immediately supports me; and in the middle of all my troubles you console me and make me happy. — Psalm 94:18-19, JB

It’s been a trend for quite some time that the Christian world, particularly in the U.S., has associated blessedness with ease of life. When we have faith, our lives should become easier, right? After all, to consider one’s self “blessed” is to acknowledge the smooth ride life has been and/or all the material blessings one has accumulated.

Or not.

Take this quote from Psalm 94. For me, it hearkens back to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In both of those texts, a person is considered blessed right in the middle of their suffering.

Why?

“Blessedness” has to do with one’s connection to God’s love, not the abundant or enjoyable nature of one’s earthly life. Scripture regularly assumes that life is going to be hard, perhaps even more so for the faithful. This is precisely why being “blessed” can’t be related to our comfort. Rather, it refers to our state within our discomfort.

If, when sh*t hits the fan, we consider ourselves to have lost the blessing of God, the situation ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy because we are blinded to the activities of Divine love in the midst of our struggles. When we get stuck thinking God is absent or angry with us, we fail to utilize what befalls us as an occasion to lean on and share the love of God. Our tragedies and failures become means of humiliation rather than transformation.

Does that mean God makes bad things happen to teach us lessons? I don’t believe so. But bad things do happen, and we can either be destroyed by them or educated/transformed through them. This is the choice before us, and whichever one we embrace determines whether or not we are truly blessed.

To connect with God is to choose hope in the face of tragedy, kindness in the face of evil, love in the face of hate. This is the example Jesus leaves us, and to imitate it is to embody the powerful love of God in our own lives.

That, dear reader, is what it means to be blessed.

Last Night, I Was an Atheist

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?George Fox, quoted by Margaret Fell, 1652

So I have this problematic habit of overthinking, especially when it comes to my faith. I become fixated on an idea or problem and compulsively research and question things until I am a tense, unsettled mess. Last night, as I attempted to pray, I had the mother of all internal episodes.

I have had several “atheist moments” in my life. I am sure the same is true for most intellectually honest people of faith. Last night, in my stress-riddled research on theology, I found a bunch of different articles that supposed God was this or that human projection or fantasy, or a result of somesuch psychological tendency.

The Divine is described as a myth, illusion, supreme power, man in the sky wielding lightning bolts, female with 6 arms, or the Force. If you look up a what God is via Google, scripture, or tradition, you’ll be overwhelmed by the variety and sheer volume of opinion on the topic.

In the midst of all this, I had another episode of, “Maybe this is all bullshit.” Maybe there is just nothing and I am driving myself crazy over something that I was indoctrinated with since childhood. There are just too many varied and contradictory views!

But then it came.

What about my view?

I remembered George Fox’s quote that kicked off this article. Yes, this or that person says X. One article or holy book says Y. My childhood church taught P.

But what do I say? What experiences have I had with whatever “God” is? What are my personal beliefs on the subject?

I remembered my mom’s death and the Presence that sustained me through years of turmoil and change afterward. I remembered my call to ministry, my time in seminary, and praying in St. Peter’s basilica. I remembered the mystical experiences that led me to Quakerism and gave voice to what I have always felt to be true.

As I pondered these things and took a shower to calm myself down, I made a choice to believe. That is, after all, what faith is.

It’s a choice.

I choose to believe in “That” which is the Source of all things; “That” in which “we live and move” and “exist” (Acts 17:28, REB). I believe Jesus shows me the Way of Salvation, which is unity with whatever “That” is, showing forth in my life here and now. I have experienced “That” as a reality that is both within me and beyond me.

That’s where I am at, and I am good with it.

Are you a person of faith? Is it by choice or because of what others have told you? At the end of the day, remember that it’s your call.

Peace be with you!

Taking Stock

Abraham answered, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will pay no heed even if someone should rise from the dead.” — Luke 16:31, REB

In Luke 16, Jesus offers us a parable encouraging generosity, hope, and repentance. At the end of this parable, there is also a truth about the nature of change. So let’s take a look!

In the parable, the rich man wants Lazarus to rise from the grave to warn his brothers not to live as selfishly as he did (16:27). Ironically, this is selfish, as the rich man wants to make a servant of Lazarus even in the afterlife! It’s at this point that Abraham drops the bomb of free will on the poor fella.

Free will dictates that life is made up of choices. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them” (16:29). All the tools are available in life for us to seek out and embrace the will of God, to change and grow as people. We just have to choose to make use of those resources. No one, not even God, will do this for us.

It’s important that we take stock of our lives and listen for what God is saying to us here and now. We can’t sit around waiting for God to wave His wand and make us into more faithful people. Doing so would violate the very agency He gifted to us from the beginning.

I used to pray and pray that God would just fix all that was “off” in my life. What I failed to realize is that the burden was on me to actively seek and embrace God’s transformative presence. God has done His job by leaving a part of the Divine Self in all of creation, like a spiritual hand extended toward us. But we are tasked with taking hold of it.

So let’s all take a moment to assess our lives and whether or not our practices align us with the will of God. If not, let’s make time to listen for what God is calling us to in this life, and let’s get after it!

Peace be with you!

“The Bible Says…”

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV

Pride Month is here, and with it have come more arguments about what “the Bible says.” Some people are arguing that the Bible is “clear” that any sexual orientation or gender identity that deviates from heterosexual, cisgender classification is to be considered sinful, even damnable. Others appeal to Scriptures like Galatians 3:28, which seem to relax such distinctions insisting that in Christ, “there is no longer male and female.” Everyone seems to be hiding behind the text, declaring that it “says what it says.”

Well I have had it.

Yes, the words of Scripture do promote particular views and concepts, but what you do with those is your choice. I get tired of hearing the false sympathy of conservative Christians who imply they *might* believe differently if only the Bible said something else. I am equally bored by liberal attempts to carve an affirmed, homosexual relationship out of Scripture, usually with David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18.

Horse hockey.

Codswallop.

Nonsense.

All. Of. It.

Such views are attempts to justify pre-existing beliefs by claiming Scripture clearly and objectively supports what the reader thinks. The decision has already been made, usually by way of cultural or familial influences, and we just need the evidence to make it “legit.” This sickening display of confirmation bias runs rampant in Christian circles of all persuasions, and it all amounts to avoiding personal responsibility.

The truth is that the Bible is a very old collection of documents from other countries and cultures. Yes, I believe the authors were inspired by their experience of the Divine, but the language, imagery, and concepts clearly place those authors in a very specific place and time. Therefore, the biblical texts need to be interpreted. 

This is an uncomfortable truth, because interpretation is up to the reader and the reader alone. You choose what to do with what you read in this ancient text, and how you choose to use it will be something you are held accountable for. This isn’t because God is really worried about the Bible, but because our interpretations of it influence our treatment of those who are made in God’s very image and likeness!

We have been sold an insidious lie that to take the Bible seriously means to take it “literally” or at surface level, guided only by the traditional voices of Christian faith. I submit that taking the Bible seriously means taking into account all that went into writing the thing. We must explore the history, cultures, and religious views behind the text, not to “shoot holes” in it, but to actually help it make a lick of sense!

When we do this, there are perfectly valid arguments for maintaining traditional views of sexuality and gender based on long-standing Christian tradition… and for relaxing those distinctions in light of the fact that homosexuals have by and large been proven not to automatically be idolatrous, violent, or exploitative people. What’s left is for everyone to choose an interpretation, and this is where I really want to urge some caution. How you decide to read Scripture will have an impact on other people.

Am I unbiased? NO. But I own it. I also try to base my choice of interpretation on the Scripture quote at the beginning of this article. I ask myself if my interpretation is going to help me better love my neighbor (and thereby God), or not; Will it make me a more generous, peaceful, loving person or not? It is at this point that I want to encourage the same thoughtfulness in all believers before we go spouting off our usual rhetoric regarding our LGBTQ+ people.

If your biblical interpretation has you thinking it’s okay to disown or abuse a gay or transgender child, reconsider.

If your biblical interpretation enables you to disregard the feelings, opinions, and experiences of others because they challenge yours, reconsider.

If your biblical interpretation allows you to act toward others in ways you would never accept for yourself, reconsider.

If your biblical interpretation feels safe, comfortable, and doesn’t challenge you, reconsider.

Whatever your interpretation is, be honest about it. The Bible didn’t grab you by the collar and demand you think the way you do. It’s your choice. It’s my prayer that we all make the right one.

Peace be with you!

From Within

there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defileMark 7:15, NRSV

I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.

We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.

We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…

It’s never our fault.

I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.

We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.

Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly(Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.

Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.

When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.

For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.

Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.

Peace be with you!

A Question of Sides

Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Joshua 5:13-14, NRSV

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of always having to have a “stance.” Our world is all about finding ways to divide us, usually over issues that provoke our most intense emotional responses. Pro-choice, pro-life, Republican, Democrat, this or that religion, pro-closed borders, pro-immigration reform, pro-gun, anti-gun, cat people, dog people, and the list just goes on and on and on.

It’s exhausting. There is always someone getting angry, upset, or offended. Sometimes, that’s just life, but it’s also the case that the sharp divisions in our society have left everyone’s nerves exposed.

So what are we to do?

I guess we could keep digging our heels in, willing to fall on whatever sword our “camp” chooses for us. We could keep treating one another as either ally or enemy, unable to discuss the deepest issues of human existence because to do so would cause untold relational damage.

Or…

We could not.

Looking to the passage from Joshua’s story, we see a situation in which he puts to God the question we all face. “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” The divine answer is, “Yeah, man! Your side! Definitely!”

Wait…

God’s answer is actually that the Divine is neither of the Israelites nor of their adversaries. God is on God’s side, the side of mercy, justice, and transformation. So I guess the question is whether or not we who claim to be disciples are on that same side…

More often than not, we choose to be on a path other than God’s. In fact, whenever we draw our lines in the sand over and against the other people in this world that God created, we leave the path of righteousness. But good news!

There is an alternative.

Now, the world tells us there isn’t. We MUST decide, otherwise we are wishy-washy, and the issues that follow are our fault. This isn’t true, though.

To choose God’s side is freedom. We are free to hold a variety of positions that put people first, and not our little tribes. We are at liberty to honor one another (and God) with our choices rather than dismissing or demonizing each other.

This doesn’t mean we don’t stand for something. To honor each other and the life we share is not a timid, neutral stance. It’s also not self-glorifying or “sexy,” full of hashtags, angry articles, and half-truths.

I know it’s ironic for me to write a critique of having to pick sides while offering another one, but hey… That’s just how it’s going to have to be. But the difference here is that God’s side aligns us with the welfare and concerns of all people, not just those in our respective “clans,” and I feel like that is an important distiction.

I pray you will choose the third way, rather than the two sides always being peddled by the world. It’s not an easy path, and it won’t make you famous, but I guarantee it can change the world.

Peace be with you!

The Most Important Decision

Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.Psalm 135:18, NRSV

Everybody worships something. It may not be God, and most often, sadly, it isn’t. Our idols include celebrities, information, politics, institutions (including religious ones), our nations, families, work, money and others.

There are many things we worship, and, as the Psalmist points out in 135:15-18, our lives reflect this. We treat each other in accordance with our idols, and such things hardly cause us to treat one another well. When we fail to honor the One who is known for His compassion and justice (135:14), we also fail to exhibit those traits as a rule. Instead, our love for our neighbor depends on how they relate to the power, wealth, and desires that actually govern us.

For me, Sundays are a day to decide. I worship because I am grateful for my life. Further, I want to renew my commitment to live and love according to my example in Jesus Christ, rather than allowing the many false gods of our time to dictate my thoughts, words, and actions. I may fail at times throughout the week (duh), but I always come back to my center that I may be empowered by God’s grace to try again.

I don’t know where you’re at or what your idols may be. We all have them. I just want to issue an encouragement to make a different choice.

As my Old Testament professor once said, “You become what you worship.” So let’s examine what drives us, and let’s decide to live according to the image of love, for such life has the power to change everything for the better.

Peace be with you!