Life…

Never lines up with our plans,

Never yields to our demands,

Yet always seems to make us stronger

So we can give our all for longer;

Won’t allow us to control

Those things which lie beyond our soul,

For such a task is quite sufficient

Since in it we’re not oft proficient;

Reminds us we are not the goal,

Rather, part of a greater whole;

Humbles us when we pretend

That our own profit is the end

Of all that should be said and done;

Informs us that we all are one.

Heavy

Some confuse humility

With guilt-ridden eternity.

I, for one, cannot let go

Of all the wrongs that helped me grow.

Though a better man today,

I fear what everyone would say.

If they knew my sordid past,

Would they leave my side so fast?

I know that if it were another,

A regretful, fretful sis or brother,

I’d tell them to be more at ease,

To drop the burden, if you please.

For everybody’s past is stocked

With things for which we could be mocked,

Or judged, or scorned, or cast aside,

Yet from our own, we cannot hide.

But knowing this is true for all,

That we’ve all had our times to fall,

Should cause some kind of clarity,

Or even solidarity.

If these would be my words to you,

Why can’t I know them to be true?

I can, I must, for my own sake,

For shame is just too hard to take.

So step by step, I will be free

To be the best version of me.

The Myth of “Facts Not Feelings”

In recent years, there has been a surge of certainty that I feel has led to an utter breakdown in communication regarding very important topics. I keep seeing posts and quotes pointing to supposed critical thinkers offering a snide remark to the effect of “facts don’t care about your feelings.” While this sounds great (not at all jerk-ish), denying our inherent biases (emotional or otherwise) in a debate is a really… really bad idea. Why?

We trick ourselves into believing we are objective.

Despite what we’d like to think, when it comes to abortion, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, Israel, economics, and pretty much any other policy or issue that affects us personally, no one is objective.

Everyone has feelings that surround and inform their understanding of particular topics. But when we want to be “right” all the damned time, we rationalize and find whatever argument we need to prop us up. We pretend we have no bias driving our perception… and we are quite wrong in doing so.

Our denial of our own bias makes us less compassionate toward that of others. We believe we are right, and that is a truth that cannot and should not be altered no matter who it hurts.

After all, if facts don’t care about feelings, why should we?

This is the hypocritical move that makes steam shoot out of my ears. What B.S. statements like “Facts Not Feelings” actually provide is a means of dismissing other people and making ourselves feel more secure in our own perceptions. However, should the same move be used on us *gasp* we are stunned by the lack of understanding and tolerance on the part of others.

“How dare they go after our beliefs and what I think?!”

My question is: When did feelings become so bad? How did we arrive at a place where we are so willing to find any way to make someone feel stupid so we don’t have to be bothered with their “baggage?” Is there another way?

Of course there is.

CARE.

My point here is that maybe instead of whipping out one-liners that dismiss each other, we should actually listen and respond to one another. Even if someone’s belief doesn’t match your reality, it matches theirs, and as such it needs to be respectfully received and addressed if any headway is to be made toward a more productive conversation.

We all have biases. Most of us have feelings that guide our decision making, and all of us have emotions tied to our positions on particular subjects. I’m not saying that all of those feelings are always “right” or factual, but they exist and need to be handled with concern and compassion.

Will it be difficult? Yes.

Frustrating? You bet.

Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

Right Place, Right Time, Weird Day

Trust in him, and he will help you; make your way straight, and hope in him — Sirach 2:6, RSV

As an Episcopalian, I read the Scriptures according to the Catholic canon, which include books like the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, quoted above. In fact, I was reading this particular quote when a truly powerful moment came upon me at a local Catholic Church. It was a moment I needed, and God, in God-like fashion, provided so much more than I could have asked for.

I have made it a habit to go sit in the sanctuary of this church when I have down time between personal training clients. It’s somewhat “out-of-the-way,” darker, and very quiet. Say what you will about Catholics (unless it’s unnecessarily rude), but they tend to leave the doors open more than anyone, and they also know how to craft a sacred space. On this particular day, I found myself drawn to the Pieta statue, depicting Jesus in the arms of His grieving mother, Mary. I didn’t know why, but I just followed the feeling and took a seat, pulling out my Bible and journal.

I read my “secondary canon” book in the afternoon, so I turned to the chapter of Sirach I was on and read.

For the past few days, I had been vexed. Was I doing enough with my life? Am I really doing anything to change the world for the better? Has my past rendered my present and future minimally effective? These questions had been plaguing me, but as I arrived at the quote above, I closed my eyes in prayer, and a thought came to me.

Jesus didn’t set out to change the world. He focused on what was assigned to Him, what was in front of Him. The only thing I am responsible for is dealing with what’s in front of me in a Christ-like manner, and the rest is for me to entrust to God.

This powerful teaching came upon me, and as I opened my eyes, I kid you not, a woman was kneeling a few rows in front of me, crying. I felt the pull to go and offer to pray with her.

Now.

I also felt the pull to be my usual introvert self and keep to my own business. “I can just meditate like I planned and pray for her from here, ” I thought. But something kept tugging on me, and I realized that this is always the temptation, to help from a distance, not spending too much time actually being with people in their suffering. So, reluctantly, I got my awkward butt up and walked over.

I offered to pray for this sniffling woman, and she immediately broke down and made space for me to kneel beside her. We exchanged names, and without being prompted, she shared a heartbreaking story about the divorce she was suffering through. Many tears and tissues later, we prayed together. She likened her experience to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss, and I gently reminded her that this was not the end of the story. We reminded each other that the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is there to remind us that God knows our pain, and we are not alone.

After this powerful moment of mutual ministry, we prayed again, I lit my usual candle (with a new name attached to it), and I left.

The truth is, it is not all up to us to make the world ideal. We are not strong enough to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, but God is. Our role in this story is to keep our eyes in front of us, as Jesus did, making our way through our lives and interactions with Christ-like love and humility, trusting in God to do what He does best. As Jesus teaches, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow with be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34).

I don’t know where you are on your journey. Maybe you feel like you don’t have what it takes. Maybe you are wondering if you even matter. Perhaps you’re unsure if you have any bearing on the course of the world or if you have anything good to bring. Allow me to share God’s answer on the subject.

You do.

Peace be with you.

“Don’t Talk Religion!”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” — Exodus 3:14, RSV

You know “the rules.” Don’t talk politics. Don’t talk religion. Don’t talk sport (for some of us). For someone like me, though, these rules suck. I am bad at small talk. I don’t care what the weather is like or who won the high school football game on Friday. I want to know what you think about important stuff. I would also like to be able to share how I feel about said important stuff, and introverts like me are crippled by such nonsensical regulation.

GAH!

Anyway, there is a very serious reason I want to discuss these rules, especially the idea of not discussing religion. First of all, I understand. We are passionate about the things we believe, and any perceived criticism can come across as criticism of us if one is not careful. With that said, there is a word for the inability to discuss religion and spirituality.

Idolatry.

God is asked for His name in Exodus 3, and He instead tells Moses, “I am who I am” (3:14). When the Ten Words are offered in Exodus 20, the second word instructs:

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

We all know of the obvious, surface-level implication of this teaching. Don’t carve and worship rocks or pieces of wood and call it “God.” Looking deeper, though, we find why our inability to lovingly and civilly discuss our faith with those who are different might be a violation of God’s instruction.

When discussing religion, we get angry. Why? Because our beliefs about God are being challenged. Notice what I said. Our beliefs about God are being challenged. God is not being challenged, only how we perceive Him.

God is a big Deity. He can take care of Himself.

God can also be a She. God can be whatever God wants to be, and He says as much in Exodus 3, remember? I use a masculine rendering for God because it is what I am used to, but I know I shouldn’t fly off the handle when someone discusses God in feminine terms, because, ultimately, what do I know?

Likewise, when we find ourselves being challenged on the topic of religion, and when we find ourselves interacting on a basis other than love and mutual respect, we are guilty of letting our images of God get in the way of treating our neighbor in the manner God asks of us. For all we know, God could have a powerful lesson waiting for us in the midst of a difficult conversation, and we could be spitting on it by being too enamored with our own ideas to be silent and listen.

This same teaching holds true for any of our “causes for stumbling.” Many can’t talk politics because their ideas have become idols that cannot be challenged, and that is not okay. We have become a society that cannot communicate because our own perceptions have become our gods. We cannot act righteously because we carry our idols with us everywhere we go, and we will do anything to keep them sacred.

My prayer for all of us is that we can set down our idols and turn to the One Who Is. In doing so, our hearts will become open and we can finally talk about the things that really matter. We should be talking about our beliefs, our thoughts, our feelings, and our concerns. We should be listening respectfully and carefully to perceptions of others, and we should all be looking for a way forward together.

Finding Hope In Judas

The Gospel of Matthew has long been my favorite. Mostly, I love the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. I also dig the promise of God’s presence with us that bookends the entire narrative (1:23, 28:20).

Another plus for me, though, is the fact that Judas gets a fair shake. I know, I shouldn’t care because this is the guy that betrayed Jesus. Hang with me, though. It’s worth it.

In Matthew 27, Jesus has been betrayed and is about to be condemned by Pilate and the people (acting as puppets on behalf of the religious authorities). Before all of this, though, Judas makes one last appearance.

We are told that “he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders” (27:3, NRSV). Further, he openly admits that he “sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4). The response by those who were supposed to be his religious leaders, his pastors in a way, is cold and unconcerned.

What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

That is the actual, screwed up quote from 27:4. After this, with no hope in sight, Judas flees the temple and hangs himself. In the words of the chorus in Jesus Christ Superstar, “So long Judas. Poor, old Judas” (PLEASE watch this somewhat corny scene. It is disturbingly moving).

Judas repents. Do we really get that? The man REPENTS. He realizes his sin and tries to fix it, only to be partnered with Christ as a victim of the authorities.

It’s true that Luke and John (especially John) smear Judas pretty badly. He doesn’t repent in any other Gospel. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t take this seriously.

Have you ever royally screwed up? Yes, you have. I have, too. We all have.

I am also willing to bet that all of us have tried to make up for our failings, only to be disappointed by the results. Like Judas, we know what it is to feel trapped by seemingly hopeless and irreparable circumstances. Often we fall deeper into our destructive spirals, fulfilling what appears to be the end of his story.

I want to propose we try something different, though. Remember how Jesus and Judas are both victims of corrupt authority? Well Jesus doesn’t stay that way. In fact, He defeats the deathly powers wielded by the Empire. He rises again, assuring those who repent of their sin and believe in Him that they will share in eternal life.

So if Judas repented and recognized Jesus as innocent, meaning He was who He said He was, perhaps the story of the traitor ends differently. I believe there is a chance Judas is at peace, reconciled to God. I also believe our stories can end this way.

Instead of continuing down the path of destruction, acting as though we are unworthy of anything good until we meet a miserable end, how about we repent? Why not turn around and realize that just as there is hope for the one who betrayed God in the Flesh, there is also hope for you and I! Our story is not over until we are gone from here, and even then, we need to remember Jesus’ resurrection promise.

As long as breath remains in our lungs, we can make a different choice and take a different path. I don’t know where you are in life or what spiral you feel trapped in, but I do know this: there is hope for you, just as I now know there is hope for me.

In Christ, even the darkest and most dismal circumstamces can be turned into occasions for repentance and positive transformation. A betrayer can become an advocate, a sinner can become a saint, and the lost can be found. No matter where you are in your life’s journey, I hope you will join me in learning from poor Judas. After all, the story may not end how we think.

Peace be with you!