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.

“Stand Your Ground” Law: Why I Stopped Killing Spiders

I used to kill spiders, often on command. Spiders or insects of various kinds would enter our dwelling and someone would yell, “Kill it!” I’d do it, usually with no thought at all.

After all, people I love are scared of those things. I have been scared of them. Therefore, I am justified in taking life from them, right?

Our country even defends this behavior with humans. The Zimmerman and Martin case in Florida is a good example. It turns out you can pick a fight with someone, lose that fight, and shoot that someone because you made a stupid decision.

Totally makes sense, yes?

In pre-historic times, sure. Killing things that seemed threatening kept our species alive. The problem is that civilization doesn’t function well under those parameters. That’s A LOT of death when you take into account how often we tend to fear or hate difference. Yet many states are totally fine with validating our fears to the point of violence.

I get the idea. We want people to legally be able to defend themselves, which is great until you factor in prejudice (in the form of unequal threat association based on race or appearance) and a set of lawyers out to manipulate juries for a win. Also, humans get scared of a lot of things, and that fear is subjective, which is not a sound basis for law. Juries are supposed to consider evidence precisely because empathy can interfere with justice because of shared prejudice.

After all, if we legally excuse people based on their mindset at the time, NO ONE would pay for their crimes. There is ALWAYS justification available. We humans can rationalize anything.

When we justify violence based on fear, we set ourselves up for more violence, not less. This works against what I would say is the goal of laws against murder, manslaughter, assault, etc.

But what is the alternative?

Well.

What if we cared more about life (all life) than possessions or our own illusion of safety? What if we as individuals decided ahead of time to act with love and kindness toward others, no matter how others might act toward us? What if we as a society recognized the inherent value of all living creatures as part of this interconnected natural world?

There is inherent risk to this idea. It’s a scary, idealistic approach to complex, dark, and real issues. However, things can’t change if we keep responding “in kind.” You can’t kill your way to peace. It takes an entirely different response to affect change, and I think we can all agree that change is something we need.

So I stopped killing wasps, spiders, roaches, all of it. I catch them, and I move them. I take precautions, but those precautions are selected with love and appreciation in mind, not fear. It’s a small thing, but perhaps we as a society would benefit from finding such a “third way” for how we deal with each other.

Peace be with you!

Try

It’s been hard to find writing inspiration lately! I hate it, but I think I’ve figured out the source. Frankly, I’ve just been really bummed.

I try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. I read the news, check social media, and generally just pay attention. The downside to being informed is the content of that information.

My country is forgetting its roots and trying to base eligibility for citizenship on whether or not the person in question is rich enough to deserve it. Our president has a cult following that will follow him to hell and back because he validates their frustrations and gives them a common enemy to blame.

My fellow citizens seem content to harrass and malign each other based on their political leanings, not caring to acknowledge the fact that the party they’re fighting for couldn’t care less about them.

We are so worried about “rights” that we refuse to temper freedom with duty, endangering one another for the sake of guns, greed, or “god.”

It all makes me sick. I know I participate in these things in my own way, but I can still say I am tired of it all. So what do we do when all of this crap gets so overwhelming?

We try.

Yep. That’s it. No convoluted arguments or attempts to sound wise. Just try, dammit.

Disagree with someone politically? Not a fan of someone’s personal choices? Want a cleaner planet or fewer hungry people in the world? Hoping for more peace and less violence?

Neat.

Get started.

I was recently reminded that we are all responsible for our little corner of the world, and if everyone got on board with the notion of putting effort into what we want to see materialize, this life would look quite different. Call it idealistic, but you have to start somewhere, and having an ideal to strive for doesn’t hurt.

Now, will giving a homeless guy a buck change the nature of poverty in America? No.

Will inviting your liberal/conservative friend to safely vent their frustrations and reasoning behind their ideals lead to a sudden conversion? Nope.

Are you going to end world hunger by collecting canned goods once a month? Or will recycling save us from impending disaster? Nah.

But.

That stuff matters. Kindness, love, and light, in any context, matter. You can positively affect your surroundings every day, as God has given you everything you could possibly need to do so. The trick is consciously making the choice to utilize your gifts as means of service. It won’t happen by accident.

So there it is. Overwhelmed by the bad? Wonder how things could possibly get better? Look in the mirror. There’s your answer. Recognize the Divine in you, that of God in others, and walk your path accordingly.

Just try.

Peace be with you!

Crafting A Kingdom

“… For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17:21, JB

I hope someday we all will see
A much improved reality

Where together every soul abides
Not bullied into choosing sides

Where with each other we sojourn on
Not tripping over lines we’ve drawn

Where words are said in kindest sense
Not wielded just to cause offense

Where all are loved and feel at home
Not judged because of where they’re from

Where people are the point and cause
Not religious texts or backward laws

Where we begin with what’s within
Not with the color of one’s skin

May we all help today to be
A much improved reality.

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!