Keep a constant watch.
Guard against prideful surety.
It’s frightening for me to share
My work, my words, myself laid bare
Yet I know I simply must
A gesture of my faith and trust
For all of this world’s troubles lie
In our refusal to even try
How can I ask for openness
If I’m concealing my own mess?
No, even though it scares me so
My fullest self I have to show
For if I want this world to be
Better, it must start with me.
I’ve reached a point in my life where I have stopped caring about how I am perceived by others because of my interests, thoughts, or hobbies. I pray, read the Bible, and read Tarot. I am a Quaker, but practice martial arts. I live with hope and idealism yet my all-time favorite artist is Nine Inch Nails.
You get the idea.
Back in the day (up to a few years ago, actually), I never wanted to catch hell for being a hypocrite or “out there.” I wanted to be accepted, normal. It was always implied that variatious aspects my life was inconsistent with what others expected of me, and that such a disconnect was worrisome, a “bad witness,” or just plain strange.
So I buried things. Music I loved, opinions I held, beliefs that bothered me, all packaged and sorted according to whatever criteria would get me through the situation at hand with as little damage as possible. All the while, I was only suffocating myself. No one knew (all of) the real me.
The truth is, though, that contradiction is part of life. It comes with experience. I’ve experienced relentless love and hope, but also abuse, loss, and despair. These realities are all a part of me and my story, so I find ways to express them.
I’ve experienced the power of Christ, and over the past five or so years I’ve also experienced an expansion in my view of God’s activitites in various traditions all over the world. Ergo, my spirituality is hybridized, yet powerful and effective. Some criticize this by saying I’m crafting my religion according to my own rules, but what’s the alternative? Let someone else do it for me? Thanks, but no.
My point is that people are complex. YOU are complex. You have beliefs, hobbies, and insights that are unique to you and your life experience. Further, I bet you have also felt the need to stifle or cover up those unique aspects of yourself for the comfort of others.
What if someone needs to hear you?
What if someone needs to know they’re not alone and you have just the words or interests to make that happen?
What if what you have to contribute could be just what’s needed to add depth and insight to a conversation?
We all have a story that’s supposed to be told. With every story that’s fully expressed and shared, the narrative of humanity gains more depth and meaning. This is indispensible work, as we are constantly being sold oversimplified narratives that serve the powers that be.
So how do we tell our stories? First, we must accept them ourselves. Stop denying the things that make you… You! Secondly, we have to let go of the idea of normality. For every place we “fit in,” we will be alienated from ten others, so outsider opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. Finally, we must live out loud. Share what gives you peace and passion. Embrace what makes you kind, what makes you feel. what makes you think. Take your place as a member of the human family and contribute to it in your own way.
Don’t be afraid of contradiction. Embrace tension and mystery. After all, it’s in the midst of these things that life is found.
Peace be with you!
Woe betide those who are wise in their own sight and prudent in their own esteem. — Isaiah 5:21, REB
People like certainty. In our world, the one thing we can count on is that horrifying thing we call “change.” Life is uncertain, unpredictable; with that in mind, it makes sense that we desperately seek something we can grasp and return to when we need to step away from the fluctuations of life.
There is nothing wrong with seeking peace. It’s good to have a strong foundation to uphold us as we engage with the world. What becomes problematic is the human tendency to allow our certainty to turn us into obstinate, closed hearted, closed minded, even cruel people.
Certainty becomes dangerous when we are so convinced of our rightness that (we) our beliefs, opinions, and truths can’t be questioned. Our standards are intentionally and impossibly placed in order to preserve what we consider to be fact.
In the U.S., our current political climate is evidence of the harm wrought from allowing certainty to close our minds, ears, and hearts (but not our mouths). Religious certainty is just as bad, making God into our personal justification station while all others must clearly be wrong or of the devil.
We can also be too certain about people. We want a short cut to having them all figured out, and we use race, nationality, religion, social status, rumors, and/or their past mistakes to form a usually biased opinion. After all, life is too complicated if we actually have to get to know someone… if we acknowledged we could be wrong.
The truth is that life is uncertain… and that needs to be okay. We are often wrong and we never have it fully figured out… and that needs to be okay. We are all on this journey together and it’s my belief that Sacredness is present in all of us, which means we have to be brave enough to take a chance on one another, even if it means risking our beloved certainty.
Peace be with you!
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. — 1 John 3:14, NRSV
I’m always surprised at the lengths people will go to not have to love any more people than they would prefer. Even at seminary, there were proposed interpretations of Scripture that were geared toward narrowing the field of people we are responsible for loving… And they were put forward by future priests and pastors!
It’s true, though, that thanks to mainline denominations and pandering politicians, the word “love” has taken on a squishy, almost manipulative quality. Too many leaders and speakers use the term as a means of pushing their political or social agenda, guilt-tripping some into either falling in line or pushing others away to new levels of anger and spite. This, however, doesn’t mean that the teaching of Jesus doesn’t have any merit.
On the contrary, it is more important than ever that we recover the intent and actions of love that Christ intended for us. The love of Christ involves calculated and accepted risk, not merely a general pleasantness. Too many people confuse active love for “not pissing anyone off,” and that is not at all what the crucified Messiah has in mind. Truly loving others is a path that leaves us open to pain and being taken advantage of. It means setting ourselves aside for the good of each other, and looking to the crucifix as a reminder that even in moments of deep darkness that are bound to come, God is there, bringing us life.
In the First Epistle of John, chapter 3, we encounter a conversation about love. “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (3:11). The fundamental teaching of Christian living and belief is love, both of God for us and of us for each other. Further, this love is an indication of Eternal Life that abides within us here and now. As John says, “Whoever loves a brother or sister[c] lives in the light, and in such a person[d] there is no cause for stumbling” (2:10).
Conversely, when we lead self-serving lives, we turn our backs on Eternal Life, and we cease living in relationship not just with each other, but with God. “Whoever does not love abides in death” (3:14). Love is a way of life, and it is Life itself! It is living in a way that brings the eternal life of God into every situation and interaction. When we choose ourselves, and when we do all we can to narrow our field of affection and concern, we opt for the opposite.
I am aware of the concerns regarding the context of this passage. It is clear that John is talking about love as it exists between fellow Christians, but let me ask you a question. Does John’s emphasis of the Christian community mean that we are free to be un-loving toward those who are not “in the fold?”
I think you and I both know that this is not the teaching of John or Jesus.
So instead of narrowing our perception of who does and doesn’t deserve our love and consideration, I think it is time we take the calculated risk. We will be taken advantage of. We will be hurt. But that is love, putting ourselves out there that others may know the grace of God by our words and actions, even if it is not received the way we would like. We are not responsible for what others do in response to what we give. We are not responsible for whether or not certain others deserve what we offer. We are only responsible for whether or not we give.
It’s time to decide. Our world cannot sustain any more hatred or self-service. Make the choice today to keep your circle wide. How wide? As wide as the arms of Christ, stretched upon the wood of the cross in the hopes that we all might cease abiding in death, and choose Life.
Peace be with you!
He came to his hometown and began to teach the people[h] in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? — Matthew 13:54-55, NRSV
We limit our perspectives a lot, especially when we are being confronted with information we have already decided not to believe or entertain. Look at how we treat various news sources. If we lean “left” on the political spectrum, we sneer at Fox News or The Federalist. If we tend “right,” we dismiss out of hand reporting done by CNN, NBC, or NPR.
When I was working in ministry professionally, and even still today, my seminary education from Perkins School of Theology would be counted against me under the assumption that I was nothing more than an indoctrinated theological liberal. My lack of military experience counts against me when I argue on behalf of my Muslim friends, or if I dare to question the reasons our brave service members are sent to risk their lives. Knowledge of my past sins sometimes causes others to take any wisdom I may offer with a grain of salt.
For Jesus, in the story I quote above, the fact that he was in his hometown, surrounded by people with whom he had grown up and share life, counted against His being understood as the Messiah. We are told that “he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Because the people of Nazareth knew His family and His humble beginnings, they missed out on the powerful Good News Jesus had been bringing to other places.
In the same way, when we dismiss others before we even get a chance to hear what they are saying, we miss out on countless moments in which the Holy Spirit might be trying to speak to us. Even if we have heard the same words countless times, this next encounter could reveal something completely different for us to consider and be affected by if we would only leave our ears and hearts open. As Balaam learned in Numbers 22, whatever source we view as unlikely or beneath us may actually be the way in which God chooses to get our attention.
So what does this mean for us?
We must stop dismissing each other just because we assume we know the truth. When we fail to listen and be open to one another, we harm our relationships and potentially limit the means by which God might speak to us. God can do what God wants, but He wants our active participation in Eternal Life, which means loving Him by loving our neighbor. If we ignore, dismiss, or deride our neighbor, it’s safe to say that we are not open to the work of God either.
My prayer for you, myself, and this world of ours is that we may all go forward from this moment with open ears, open eyes, and open hearts. This does not mean that we don’t get to have our own opinions, but it does mean that we don’t let our opinions get in the way of loving and respecting each other, no matter how much we don’t know or how much we think we know. This is a difficult, lifelong, but totally worthy endeavor that can transform and enhance our encounters with our neighbors and the living God. So let’s get started!
Peace be with you!