We Have All We Need

 

Isaiah 58:1-9 | Psalm 112:1-10 | 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 | Matthew 5:13-20


Knowing how different each of our lives are, I still think I can say with much certainty that we all have a lot on our plate right now. Before we even bring our offering to the Lord’s table, we bring all our anxieties and distress with us when we walk through the door. So, please . . . take a deep breath, drawing in the peace of Christ, and exhale, letting the yoke of all your burdens rest beside you or at your feet, yours to pick up when you leave, if you can’t leave them altogether. Breathe in . . . and out in the luxurious security of this place, with one another, in the presence of Christ. Whatever else is on our plate for today, right now we’re given this time and taking these moments to make way for the light of Christ to break into our reality, perhaps even, as our collect says, to set us free from the bondage of our sins. We need this time more than we realize.

We’re in a place of being perilously close to losing our way, losing our heading of what is true and real.

I share with you a question I was asked on MLK Day. Speaking to a small but beautifully diverse gathering, I was asked sincerely: after all that has happened and is happening, can we be a united people? Sitting here, together, with all our different views, the answer is easy: Of course! We’re all children of God, and we come to the table as one Body in Christ.

But who are we when we’re not gathered on Sunday morning?

The news and media represents all of us as what I call “a hot mess.” Everyone is slapped with a label whether we like it or not, and we navigate our community as part of the majority or minority, the left or the right, the us or the them. A rare news or media outlet will create the safe place of a small group where we can be who we are. Tuesday night at the human trafficking panel, I caught a glimpse of who we are. With care and respect, we delved into a difficult topic. As beloved children of God recognized their woundedness, especially having been harmed by others, they were not helpless victims but strong survivors. Saturated with the Spirit that empowers them to carry on as love warriors, loving of a power greater than themselves and loving of themselves, these women sprinkled their salt generously on those of us present. We couldn’t help but be enriched and hopeful that lives will continue to be touched by grace and saved from harm. However damaged or broken the body might be, the dimmest flicker of light could be tended and kindled to grow ever brighter. At no point did anyone say they did the hard work alone, even though they had to make hard choices for themselves. Their truths sent out ripples of righteousness to all of us gathered.

Beloved child of God we are, but we are also part of a much larger family. We are each of us unique, bestowed with particular gifts and talents, skills and experiences. Unless we have reached a certain point in our life, chances are we’re not sitting still, hiding our light under a bushel.

What are we doing for ourselves and others?

Many of the women who have escaped trafficking or drug abuse find that even getting their life back on track with a steady job, safe home, and healthy kids isn’t as satisfying as reaching back into the darkness to help another escape the pits of destruction. Many today reading the news find that they cannot remain immobile and silent while their neighbors are afraid. That light bearing the brightness of a city on a hill bears the Light of the Body of Christ not to be dampered by the bushels of fear, anger, and indifference the world might try to construct.

Some days we are just trying to breathe under the weight of everything we bear; we’re just trying to survive. Eventually, though, like a candle under a glass jar, the isolation of our self-focus deprives us of the oxygen that fuels our light. Like a single tear dropped into a tub, the saltiness is lost. Even if we’re the most introverted of introverts, we need relationship. We need a friend, a mentor, a teacher. We need the Word, a prayer, and Jesus. We need to listen and be heard. We need to see and be seen.

In our relationships, we have the opportunity to untie some of the complicated knots of deception and injustice, to untangle ourselves from the bondage of sin, of turning away from God, by doing what Jesus tells us to do: to Love. Love God so much we can’t help but love ourselves, and that love is so overwhelming and rich, we can’t keep it all to ourselves but have to share it with others. That doesn’t mean we dance around singing Broadway songs, kissing everyone we meet. It does mean we question our motivations behind our decisions. Is where I spend my money perpetuating justice or enforcing injustice? What am I doing to help release the prisoner trapped either in mind, body, or spirit? Who do I know who is hungry? What am I doing to help feed their hunger? Who needs shelter from whatever storms they are facing? Who is naked and vulnerable? In my wealth and responsibility, what does Jesus command me to do? How can I best love my neighbor?

“Why are you helping me?” someone asked me last week.

“Because you’re a child of God,” I replied, our eyes connecting so he could measure my truth, my heart and soul laid bare.

What are we doing? At our best we are sending out ripples of righteousness not for our sake, not in empty selfish prayers and false piety but for the glory of God, without whom all our works are but dust.

Where do we go from here?

One could say we’re all headed to our death. All living things die as part of our natural order, but we are also a spiritual being. As we move forward in time it seems we make decisions that are either headed toward destruction or restoration, toward isolation or community, toward inadequacy or fulfillment. We move toward death or toward eternal life, to the grave or to the heavenly banquet.

What does it take to move beyond our fear of death long enough to taste true Love, true freedom?

I was reminded of what it feels like to let go in a very physical way when I was at Disneyland just over a week ago. In the 8 hours I was there–from 4pm until midnight–we rode as many rides as we could. Of course not all rides are equal. The caterpillar ride through Alice’s Wonderland differs greatly from the Indiana Jones Adventure ride complete with oncoming boulder I thought I must dodge physically. (I couldn’t get any lower in my seat!) It was on Space Mountain that I felt certain in the twist, turns, and utter darkness that I would die. At one of the crests, I relaxed my death-grip and let my heart leap and expand. In that moment of darkness with pinpricks of light like galaxy stars, I let my eyes be wide open and smiled with peace and sheer joy . . . before being yanked into a valley and slung around another curve, surely going faster than the 35mph the stats say it goes.

As I watched a video being circulated from the New York Times of people at the top of a 10 Meter dive tower, I wondered how different it was for them. They weren’t strapped in a moving vehicle. They climbed the tower stairs and walked to the edge, some more bravely than others. Nearly all the people shown backed away first. Would we willingly take a dangerous plunge? Would we go weak at the knees, or give ourselves a pep talk? Would we give up, declare it an impossibility, and ease ourselves back down the steps we ascended, or would we listen to the encouragement of a friend? Could we dive into the deep end, completely vulnerable, breaking through our irrational yet resounding fear? “I’ll go first,” more than one person said to their companion.

In this high-speed, one-way life of ours, we die many deaths; we take many risks. The Good News, dear Christians, is that we have all that we need to be a people united if we choose to keep moving toward God. We have all that we need to be free, to love fiercely. We have the gift of each other to help us in areas where we are weak, others who are honest, sincere, and righteous. God gave us discerning hearts to know the truth, that we could follow the light and love of Christ and keep moving toward eternal life. This isn’t idealistic spiritual talk; this is our true north. Following the Light, giving glory to God, we’ll not lose our way.

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Stories Not Yet Written

Having just finished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, I find myself re-introduced into contemporary fiction and, consequently, how little I know about the swelling tide of book-dom.  This was a chance encounter at the library; I didn’t know there were at least four others in the “Thursday Next” novels, though after reading one, I can see the cause of popularity.  It was intelligent, crafty, and, as it says on the cover praise, “filled with clever wordplay, literary allusion and bibliowit.”  I didn’t even know there was such a word as “bibliowit,” but it makes perfect sense.

. . . Maybe I’ll pretend I didn’t spend half an hour reading the community.penguin blog . . . or signing up for GoodReads.  Before I continue down that rabbit hole . . .

One of the premises in Fforde’s novel is that the stories in the novel are relatively real.  The written stories play out repeatedly, always, and concurrently in their parallel universe.  (You have to read it first hand to understand.  That’s his genius, not mine.)  While the characters are human, they are sentenced to the role they’ve been given by the writer.  Their fate and destiny is very much determined.  It takes no small miracle to change the course of the stories, but it’s not impossible (in this fiction story, mind you).

It reminded me that sometimes I live my life as if my story has already been written.  I submit to my stereotype, conform to society, and maintain the appearance that is most convenient to others and often to myself.  When I have the potential to take an alternate route, I defer to what is known and comfortable, even laziness.  “What ifs” are unsettling at best when one strives to maintain a sense of stability and security, regardless of whether the potential is success or failure.

My story is not yet written, though.  I’m still alive.  I still have choices to make.  While that within me wants to stick to what has been done all these many generations, it feels as though I also have within me ties to that which is deviant.  If I can step off the well-trodden path, if I can greet each day as a page upon which I determine the destiny of the heroine, then perhaps a new cycle can begin.  It doesn’t have to garner the popular vote.

Most of the heroes in our world are unsung, virtually unknown.  Each of us, however, are the authors of our lives, the heroes/heroines of our own stories.  Each day is an adventure, each moment filled with choice and possibility.  The protagonist, of course, is anyone or anything that draws us away from creation, away from compassion.  What can I say?  I’m an optimist and a romantic.

“How strange is the lot of us mortals!  Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” ~Albert Einstein

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Recurring Lesson: Choice

In philosophy classes in college, I remember much discussion about free will.  I remember how difficult it was for me to work with the soft clay of my spirituality/religion/philosophy of the time; at once there was form but no form, convictions but infinite potentiality.  There were times when I wondered why these philosophers made such a big deal about it anyway.  (Obviously philosophy wasn’t my major.)

My faith and beliefs aren’t so much clay anymore but a beautiful tree that grows even from the clay of the earth.  The belief that we have choice and free will is one of those branches.  Having children, especially older ones, and following my life path, I see this in every moment, day in and day out.

My older son chooses what he does in the morning.  He’s the early riser, but often he’s the last to walk out the door.  Our youngest is choosing whether or not to tell the truth these days.  Our oldest is choosing to speak with kind words or anger.  We can watch the wheels moving in the mind of our six-year-old as he chooses to do what he wants to do or what he knows he should do.

While we do make choices in every moment, not all of them seemingly life-altering, there are those times when we deliberate and discern.  We try our best to look down the road to see what future that choice will hold for us.

In a discussion with my husband, I told him I almost felt I didn’t have a choice regarding what may very well be my life’s work.  He helped me much when he said he was sorry that my God didn’t give me a choice.  An awakening in my awareness occurred.  Of course I have a choice.  God has granted us free will.  It’s my choice.  But I can’t think of many times in this life when I have chosen to do anything because it was easier.  This life to me isn’t about just barely getting by.  I have a responsibility to learn and grow and evolve and mature, not only for my own benefit.  I don’t believe one can embody positive change without affecting others, too.  Ultimately, I have made a choice to choose the road that pushes my limits until they break open a new understanding.

I cannot force this perspective on others, let alone my kids.  I may very well have a child or two or four who are content to be here now and enjoy the moment simply for the sake of being blissfully present and unaware of greater suffering.  This is hard for me to imagine, but it’s possible.

As ever, I have a choice whether to be personally entangled in the lives of my children and others, or I can choose to love unconditionally.  To live compassion.  It sounds stronger than “to live compassionately.”  Oh, that we all could and would choose compassion in every moment.

We always have a choice.  The lesson continues.

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Women Finding Their Voice through Birth

For those of you who don’t know me well, I am a birth advocate.  I teach childbirth classes through the Bradley Method (r), I’ve done the DONA doula training, I’m a La Leche League member, and I am now active in our local BirthNetwork chapter as a co-leader.  While I definitely advocate natural birth and breastfeeding, more than that I advocate education, informed decisions, and healthy families.  No two women are exactly alike, but every woman has a voice.  Often, in birth, a woman meets herself, finds her true voice and place in the world as a mother.  She surrenders everything to give birth to new life — hers and the baby’s.  For this not to be a traumatic experience, she needs to be on her own terms.  It’s much like making love.  Sex is beautiful as an act of consent, mutual desire and surrender on behalf of both partners to glimpse the other’s soul.  Sex without consent, without mutual surrender, is violent in every way, traumatic and scarring.  As we hope a baby is conceived, so we would the baby the could emerge into our world, through love, with surrender and joy.  If the baby is conceived out of consent, the mother will hopefully have help to work through the scars to give the baby a loving entrance to the world.

This being said (and I realize there are many topics that could be expounded upon), I want to focus on the woman’s voice, her choice, in choosing where she births (how she births is again another topic!).

There are many films, clips, etc., out there that show birth at a hospital, in a birth center, and at home.  The best one I’ve seen lately is The Business of Being Born by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.  Apparently, it has struck a nerve.  The birthing community is saying “YES!”  This is what we need to inform mothers that they have a choice.  You are not a number, an insurance claim, a machine or a cow being herded through the system.  YOU can decide what YOU want.  How do YOU want your baby to be born?  How do YOU want your body treated?  How do YOU want your spiritual transformation to occur?  Where do YOU want to be?  Who do YOU want to be with you?  Are these questions you were asked when you gave birth?  Were these questions you asked yourself?  When I asked myself these questions, after three births in the hospital, I chose to be home, with my family and my midwives.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.  I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

Visit the Childbirth Connection and study the results of their Listening to Mothers Survey. (You can view a free summary with registration).  The results are mind-opening.

Now, read the ACOG Statement in their press release.  Take a deep breath and think positive — even if that’s not your first reaction (it wasn’t mine).

Positive notes:

  • ACOG admits “childbirth is a normal physiologic process that most women experience without problems” — actually, greater than 90% of women equals their “most”
  • ACOG
    acknowledges a woman’s right to make informed decisions regarding her
    delivery and to have a choice in choosing her health care provider.”
  • The cesarean delivery rate has concerned ACOG for the past several decades and ACOG remains committed to reducing it.”
  • ACOG encourages all pregnant women to get prenatal care and to make a birth plan.”
  • The main goal should be a healthy and safe outcome for both mother and baby.”

All this, we can agree agree on, undoubtedly.  We all support women’s rights and health.  What these points fail to factor in are the barriers that are leading women to either birth at home unassisted or to succomb to a controlled hospital birth.

Consider these questions and find the barriers:

  • Does every woman have access to childbirth education that will encourage her to ask questions?
  • Are midwives legal in every state?
  • Are there midwives in every hospital?
  • Is there a doula available to every mother?
  • Are insurance companies limiting a mother’s choice in providers?
  • Are malpractice insurance premiums keeping doctors from performing in the mother’s best interest?
  • Do hospitals allow VBACs?
  • Are doctors encouraging VBACs?
  • What has ACOG done to reduce the cesarean rate?
  • Are birth plans honored?
  • Does a rise in maternal/infant mortality suggest that maybe our current system isn’t safest for everyone?
  • Do other countries/cultures have models that suggest home birth is a safe alternative?

I could probably rant for a very long time about what needs to be different about our maternity care.  Fortunately, there have already been guidelines set as to what counts as mother-friendly and baby-friendly.  There are places out there.   There is a hospital less than two hours from me that is mother-friendly.  Two hours is a long ways away when you’re in labor.  I know moms who have made the drive, though . . . in labor.  There is a hospital less than 10 minutes from my house, too.  Wouldn’t it be nice if I could with good conscious refer mothers there?

Isn’t there something we can do?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,”  Gandhi said.  Positively support a mother’s right, a woman’s right.  When we each find our voice, our strength, eventually our collective effort will become a beautiful song, and that’s what we want recorded in the history books.

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