Live Like We’ve Made It

The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. — Isaiah 11:4, JB

Looking to a perfect future is something religion typically “comes with.” In the Christian faith, prophecies are often read with eyes forward, waiting patiently for the day God sets everything straight. The trouble for me is that I am an “in the moment” kind of man. I don’t really know what to expect if/when the world comes to an end, Jesus returns, or I die, but I do know that I am alive right now in a world that could always use a little more light.

Fortunately, the prophets would have agreed with me! Prophecy in the Bible is less about predicting the future and more about the natural outworkings of our current problems. The prophet’s job is to call people to repentence immediately, forcing us to face the pain and suffering of the world and our part in it.

When reading Isaiah, it becomes clear early on that Israel is in very real trouble and God isn’t happy with them. They are criticized for their unjust practices and false piety, faced with invasion and destruction, but also encouraged by a vision of the possible future (should they decide to get it together).

Now some see such visions as pipe dreams used to provide “hope fuel” for the oppressed. I, on the other hand, view them as instructive, especially when I consider the teachings of Jesus, which emphasize living with the “Kingdom of God” in mind. The images of a final judgment and celestial utopia were not there to simply be believed in, but to give us a target for which to aim every day.

So when we see passages like the one above from Isaiah 11, or the “swords into ploughshares” verse that declares “there will be no more training for war” (chapter 2), it would be wise to see these as a goal rather than an eventual guarantee. Whereas the latter might only prompt us to “hold on tight,” the former is actually a call to action.

Such teachings should serve as ideals for which we strive by living as though they have already been realized. If we hope for a world of peace, we must in turn lead lives saturated with peace. If we dream of a future of equality, prosperity for all, and justice, our daily activities and interactions should reflect such things.

Am I dismissing the hope of some future manifestation of the Kingdom of God? Not necessarily. I just trust that God has such things in hand. What I am advocating for is turning our eyes from what could happen to what is happening, looking for opportunities to live out the future for which we hope.

Peace be with you!

Wait No More

Deprived of signs, with no prophets left, who can say how long this will last? — Psalm 74:9, JB

Religion can be a good thing. For people like me, viewing life as a sacred story full of magic, wonder, struggle, and peace is second nature. The problem comes when the story, with all its rituals and varied perspectives, becomes a means by which we stop doing what we are supposed to do.

Take the Psalm I’ve quoted from, for example. The writer(s) can’t seem to understand why God isn’t swooping down from the sky to fix the temple and save the people from oppressors. They have no signs or prophets, and all that comforts them are the memories of God’s past interventions.

Interestingly enough, though, Moses performed signs, and he was human. The prophets were also human, speaking messages that simply (but powerfully) highlighted the obvious injustices of Israel’s governance and social practices. In fact, when the prophets did speak, they didn’t expect God to fix everything.

They expected the people of Israel to get it together, rather than staring at the sky in anticipation while ignoring what is going on around them. The Spirit is always where It needs to be; we are the “wild cards” in every scenario.

This is a message suitable for all of us today. Particularly in my context (the U.S.), there is a trend of looking for “signs and wonders” from external sources. The “faithful” often look to the sky and wonder when God will make it all work out. Others look to politicians, religious leaders, online personalities, celebrities, anyone we feel might have a special calling or ability to affect change.

Anyone but us.

Perhaps we don’t feel we can make a big enough difference in the world. We could just be lazy or indifferent. Maybe we have lost hope or are too afraid to act.

None of this changes the fact that you, yes, YOU are capable of signs. We are all prophets. We have a voice, something to say or do that contributes to the positive powers of this world. Moreover, we have the God-given freedom and responsibility to utilize what we have for the betterment of this good earth.

Yes, even in our own little corners of the world there are ways we can positively affect the course of the future. Every person, every interaction, every breath is a chance to give a kind word or gesture, a chance to stand up for others. It is these things that should be the sign of one’s faithfulness.

If we follow through, we are the workers of signs and wonders; we are the prophets, as it should be.

Peace be with you!

It Depends

then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.Genesis 2:7, RSV

Taken literally, Genesis 2 is about how the original human was hand-crafted from clay by the Guy in the Sky. In light of historical criticism, one may say this is a perfectly dismissable near eastern myth about the origins of people. Luckily, there is a middle ground.

For me, “truth” goes beyond the coldly factual approach taken by the extremes of interpretation. Even if a story doesn’t appear to be recounting a historical event as we define it, I believe it can still be used by Spirit to impart some truth to us about ourselves and our place in this life. With that in mind, what does Genesis 2 teach me?

Well, a lot.

Today, though, I am struck by the reminder of our (humanity’s) natural connection and dependence. Further, I’m disturbed to look up from the story and see what our world has become.

We exploit, pollute, and devalue all of nature, including other people. All forms of life are viewed in terms of their usefulness. Our planet has been trampled underfoot and bled dry by our constant self-centeredness as a species.

It needs to stop.

The story of Genesis paints humanity as one with the “created world.” We are formed from the same earth as other animals and vegetation. The same “breath of life” fills all lungs, yet we act as though we operate independently of the rest of the planet. Particularly in “the West,” we value our autonomy.

The problem is there really is no such thing.

We were designed with dependence in mind. We depend on earth, air, fire, and water for our sustenance, our very existence. We depend on each other to be born, taught, supported, loved, and remembered. No person is self-made, for we all owe a debt to someone. When we forget that, we end with the society we have now.

So what does this truth of dependence do for us?

Hopefully, we are reminded to care for our earth. We can reduce, reuse. recycle, and be grateful for what this earth provides for us. We can give to wildlife conservation efforts, and spread awareness about this miraculous planet. We can eat meat and animal products from creatures who are properly cared for, and remember to honor the life that fed ours. We can purchase products that won’t take away more of our precious forests.

We can remember that no matter how different someone is from us, no matter what they choose to do with their life, we are of the same “dust.” Every person is sacred by virtue of existing, and so they should be treated even if they aren’t choosing to reciprocate. When our religion, doctrine, politics, or preconceived notions would have us do differently. we ought to set those aside rather than the person in front of us.

So there you have it. Remember that we are all each other has. This earth, this life, and each other are all we can sure of, and we are all interconnected and interdependent. With that in mind, I hope we can start acting like it.

Peace be with you!

On the Way

Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” — John 14:6, REB

Being a follower of Jesus was once referred to as The Way, according to the biblical book known as Acts or The Acts of the Apostles (9:2, for example). In the Letter of James, faith is a way of life, demonstrated by what one does (1:22), for without a change of lifestyle, all the belief in the world is for naught (2:14). In all of God’s revelations, all of Jesus’ teachings, every epistle and apocalypse, there is always a behavioral component. All of these things are intended to amount to a change in the way a person lives.

When we look through the revelations of God from Eve and Adam to Jesus and beyond, every single one of them pointed to the way humanity and the Divine can achieve and maintain unity in a way that positively impacts the world. It’s God’s stated desire from the beginning that those in covenant with Him would be a blessing to “all the peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:3). Relationship with the Source of all life and being is meant to produce a way of living.

So why are we so caught up in belief?

Yes, beliefs tend to show in our actions. I’m not saying they aren’t important. But at the same time, the amount of death, destruction, and vitriol that has resulted from our obsession with metaphysical truth claims and our awful need to be right is pretty striking. Christians have gone to war with non-believers and each other over their understanding of God, even when there weren’t that many practical differences to separate them.

Even today, different denominations judge and condemn each other because one has a pope, the other won’t baptize infants, and another one believes Jesus is coming back to Independence, Missouri at the end of days to save only their congregation.

No, I didn’t make that last line up. I wish I had.

My point is that the obsession over “right” beliefs has gotten in the way of actually living out the point of those beliefs. If our metaphysical claims get in the way of loving, forgiving, and sharing of ourselves with others, we’ve become the very thing Jesus and the prophets criticized. Christ didn’t come to establish what amounts to another reason to mistreat people, but a way of life that provides healing to those we encounter, regardless of whether or not we agree with them theologically, politically, or otherwise.

The neat thing about practicing the Way of Jesus is that doing so renders worrying about orthodoxy unnecessary. Being the “faithful servant” of Christ puts us in a good position should the world be renewed by fire and brimstone, signaled by the angel’s trumpet, as some believe. It ensures a heavenly reward for those worried about afterlife issues. The Way is pleasing to God, whether He be explicitly Triune or not, and it affords us unity with Him according to the pattern set in Christ, making Him (directly or not) our Lord and Savior. Further, imitating Jesus and His Way requires continual connection to the Source of that Way, listening for what It has to say to us each day, so the relational component is accounted for.

Every theological concern and “belief box” is checked by walking according to Christ’s Way. The added bonus is that it comes with none of the damage that is caused by prioritizing doctrine over people. Arrogance and selfishness are nipped in the bud while we honor the truth revealed in Jesus. It seems like a win-win to me.

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!

Is This Going to Help?

“Take note: even if I were never actually to perform an evil act, but still willed what is evil, then sin would be as much in me as if I had carried out the deed.” — Meister Eckhart

This quote from Eckhart ties nicely into yesterday’s post about what we entertain internally and its effects on our outward presence in the world. It should also, however, make us think about our intent in what we do or want to do.

In Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus is addressing the righteous ones who cared for “the least of these,” it is interesting to note their intent. They respond to Jesus’ praise with the question of when they ever served Jesus in the way he describes (verses 37-39). This means they weren’t striving for a reward, nor were they attempting to serve Jesus. They chose to serve the down-trodden because it was the right thing to do.

Especially in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus gives some indication that the “last will be first, and some who are first will be last” (Luke 13:30). In Matthew 6, Jesus even criticizes the seemingly righteous for their self-aggrandizing piety. Being faithful isn’t about reward or honor, but about doing what is right because it’s right. In short, our intent matters just as much as our actions.

In today’s world, many seemingly selfless efforts are enacted as an indirect means of self-service, from mission trips to charity organizations. Likewise, many failed efforts at changing the world come from a rrue desire to help. Further, many things are said and done on a daily basis with veiled intent, but because the “front” is palatable, we don’t mind.

For example, I live in the southern U.S., which is “bless your heart” territory. If you have any southern experience, you know that the phrase “bless your heart” is typically a veiled insult that represents southern passive aggression.

If we care about intent, though, as Jesus certainly does in the Gospels, it might be best that we clean up such niceties.

For me, the message God is giving to me is to judge every word, deed, and intention by the standard of whether or not it will help.

Will this help shine the Light of Christ?

Will this help my neighbor?

Will this be an act of love and help the situation, or will it be an act of spite only to make things worse?

I am convicted by these questions, and, if we are honest, most of us probably should be. Conviction is good, though, assuming it leads to change. I pray you will join me in honestly trying to be a helpful force for love, good, and light in this world.

Just a thought.

Peace be with you!

From the Heart

“Good people produce good from the store of good within themselves; and evil people produce evil from the evil within them. For the words that the mouth utters come from the overflowing of the heart.” — Luke 6:45, REB

In the ancient world, the heart was where thinking was supposed to occur. Feeling occured in the stomach and the head… was there. When someone in the Bible is referred to as hard-hearted, it means they are stupid as opposed to the common interpretation that they lack compassion (though there is a correlation).

So in the sixth chapter of Luke, when Jesus is in the midst of a sermon, he drops a lovely nugget (more like ten) for today’s seeker. He speaks of our good and bad produce, that they “come from the overflowing of the heart.” In today’s terminology, we might say that such thing come from the overflowing of our mind.

What we occupy ourselves with internally will always manifest externally.

If we are bitter, insecure, wrathful, hateful, or prejudiced in our mind, we will behave accordingly. Likewise, if we are in the habit of internally practicing forgiveness, compassion, love, acceptance, and gratitude, our lives with bear evidence of such meditations. Where we place our energy is important, as it determines what we contribute to this world.

Let’s go forward with a mind that will help us produce something good in our lives. It’s so easy in the current political and social climate to become full of self-righteous negativity. But no matter how justified we may feel in our darkness, it’s still darkness, and it doesn’t help.

Instead, let the Light shine. First, let it shine within you. Once we do that, it will inevitably shine through us for others.

Peace be with you!