For God Alone . . .

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 | Psalm 62:6-14 | 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 | Mark 1:14-20

I don’t normally talk about specific theologies, but there’s one out there called “prosperity theology” or “prosperity gospel.” What do you think of when you hear the word prosperity? Success? Wealth? Favor? You’re doing good, right? The main premise, as I understand it, is that if you’re doing good, living right, giving generously (especially to your church), then God will bless you with an abundance of health and wealth. It’s like the really good Good News. Actually, someone sent me an email linking to an article that said one of these prosperity gospel pastors was calling for her congregation to give the equivalent of one month’s salary to the church. I don’t know if this was to tithe or if it was a bonus gift requirement, but the joke was that this could help us shore up the budget at All Saints’. But that’s not what we do or how we do it. Because what happens when you’re doing everything right, and suddenly the wheels fall of? What happens when bad things happen to good people? Does that mean God has rejected you or punished you? When everything’s going right, it’s easy to celebrate abundance. It’s easy to celebrate Nineveh’s repentance and God changing God’s mind. Our Psalm is like a cheerful lullaby, for of course we wait for God alone our hope and strength. And of course the disciples are just going to pick up and follow the charismatic Jesus along his way. All is good! The kingdom of God is theirs. Honestly, this view of doing good and being good and getting abundance and blessing in return sounds conditional and very me-centered. What am I getting out of my living a seemingly godly life?

Anymore, when things seem a little too good to be true or a little too shiny, perfect, or easy, I wonder where the mess is. Because real life is messy and complicated. Real life has uncompromising people and shutdowns, poverty and illness, affluence and addiction. Real life has bad things happen to good people without our understanding why, and if our whole view of God is that we get the good when we are good, then to get reality means that we’re bad. That’s not our theology. That’s not our understanding of God because that’s not what’s been revealed to us in our Scripture nor in the life of Jesus Christ.

Did you hear the reading from Jonah? Was this account from his first call from God? No. It’s the second time…because the first time he got a call from God, he thought it would be a good idea to run the other way; only that plan led him to the belly of a big fish. He ended up in Nineveh anyway. This, the second time, he decided to go ahead and do what God told him to. I imagine him walking across a big city like Little Rock, a three days’ walk across, proclaiming the city’s doom. But the people actually listen and repent, and then what’s God do but see their repentance and change God’s mind! That’s great for the people and God, but where does that leave Jonah? What kind of prophet is he if what he says doesn’t come true? What kind of credibility does he have? Jonah goes into a pretty deep pity party, feeling sorry for himself, and he more accurately reflects the Psalms that describe the doubt and despair than hope and praise.

When we hear about faithful and imperfect lives of people more like ourselves, what do we see revealed about God? How do we read “For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, there is my hope”? It comes not always from a place of richness and abundance with a tone of rejoicing; we can read the same line from a place of wondering, wandering . . . a place of wilderness . . . a place where we are really hoping there is hope at all.

Maybe we can hear the letter to the Corinthians not as a dismissal of things of this world but of a non-attachment grounded in the assurance of the kingdom of heaven, consistent with love of neighbor and self and God. As we navigate the reality of our lives, we see that it is but for the grace of God that any of us experience the gift of life, let alone that of abundance. And our concept and perception of what is rich in this life truly depends on what we value . . . and not just materially. Jesus’s Way set forth the example of living into a life of radical hospitality and welcome, of invitation and generosity, and of inverting the status quo. I repeat often: this doesn’t mean it will be easy. Jesus shows us the way of life, death, and resurrection; therein lies our hope.

Before we hear about Simon and Andrew, James and John dropping what they’re doing to follow Jesus, we hear that this happens after John has been arrested. John was doing what he did, being the prophet that he was. He had said that he would decrease and that the one to come would increase. We know John doesn’t get a happy ending. Lest we too lightly see the apostles cheerfully following Jesus, we’re given the simple fact that John had been arrested. There is reason for pause. There are risks to be taken. Risks not just in living life as we are given it to live but especially if we are living into who God has called us to be.

Here’s a big clue for whether or not we’re following the way of Christ: who stands to receive the glory? If we are living deeply into a life for the glory of God, it’s God who gets the glory, and that’s not something our ego likes to hear.

But it’s so good for our hearts.

I took the time to hear Scarlett Lewis talk about the Choose Love Movement when she came to St. Thomas in Springdale. Her child Jesse was one of those murdered at Sandy Hook. Rather than be anchored by the weight of the tragedy, she had the presence to notice signs that surrounded her and grace to give her strength that the best thing she could do would be to choose love and to forgive. What an incredible witness to following Christ.

I also know that we’re forming a Faith Voices NWA, a regional group of Faith Voices Arkansas. As a regional group, the intent is to bring together clergy in our area so that we can share a united voice that can be louder and stronger on moral issues of our time. But before we can be united in one voice, we have to build relationships not just between faiths but even between denominations. What can we do to reach across the denominational divide so that we can actually be one Body? Such relationship-building truly requires us to know ourselves and be open enough to let God work through us.

For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, there is my hope.

It’s okay to be still. It’s okay to step aside and let the Holy Spirit move through us. Because isn’t the hope for us all that God’s dream for us be manifest, that the presence of Christ be realized in, through, and by us and our neighbors? That’s our invitation. Jesus, in inviting the apostles to follow him, is likewise inviting us. “Follow me, and I’ll teach you to fish for people,” he’s saying. Follow him, and we’ll learn how to be caught up in the net of unconditional love, grace, and mercy of God. Therein lies our hope.

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“Intuitive, Brash Hope”

Despite the boys’ bickering noise and the monkey brain I was having yesterday during our priest’s sermon, I managed to listen to most of his message.  One thing he said shined through the rest.

“. . . Live with intuitive, brash hope . . . even though you know you will fail.”

Even today, it makes me sigh, not as in “oh, well, there’s no use,” but in an “okay, full speed ahead” sort of way.

At first I thought of all my activisms — mother-friendly birth, women’s spirituality, sustainability and such.  These struggles are huge and up against great walls of consumerism and ego.  The chances of me doing anything significant are small, almost infinitely so.  Now, as part of the larger organizations I’m associated with, our chances are much greater.  I’m inclined to be more daring, more hopeful.  Now I find another meaning in the words.  I can live with my intuitive, brash hope in these ideal causes because I know they are good ones.  I also know I will fail, my ego will be dissolved in the effort, especially if the obstacles are overcome.  Life is just ironic like that.

But what about my life as a whole?  Two stories came my way yesterday.

One was as I shared this bit of the sermon with my husband.  He said, “Yeah, (our friend) said his wife devoted her life to activism, and then she died.”  Was I to take this as a sort of dramatic foreshadowing?  Or could it be emphasis to the point I mentioned earlier?  Would I change my lifestyle, do anything different if I knew I wasn’t to live much longer, or would I live even more brashly?  (When I think of “brash,” I think of it more as without shame.)

The second story came from a woman in my writing workshop class (yes, I made it to another one!).  She said that us younger women needed to write while we were young and full of passion, that opinions grew less potent as we age.  She said that a friend told her once she reached 57 that she wasn’t as full of fire as she had been when she was younger.  “Write now.  Write while you have these strong opinions.”  Was she really telling me this?

It felt like a long weekend, and to receive so much in one day leaves one much to consider.  So here I am, writing, sharing, learning and hopefully growing.  I continue in my activism, and my activism is fueled by my intuition.  With a deep breath, I go forward from here.  I’ll consider it a blessing to have my ego die, and when it comes the day for my body to die, may it be said that I lived with “intuitive, brash hope” that good would prevail.

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When We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

I received an e-mail that reminded me today marks the anniversary of when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  The nuclear weapon was named “Little Boy.”  The one that was dropped on Nagasaki three days later was called “Fat Man.” (for more on the events of those days, you can visit Wikipedia.

In sixty-three years, am I correct in believing that weapons such as these have not been used?  But the potential of them is weighty, ever-present.  The intent for using them hasn’t gone away, either — power, domination, intimidation, destruction.  These are decidedly masculine attributes.  Is it mere irony that the names of the bombs are masculine, too?

We all have infinite potentiality within.  We have our feminine and masculine attributes.  We have our strengths and weaknesses, our superiorities and inferiorities, that which we build and that which we destroy within each of our feminine and masculine selves.  It is our responsibility to hold these in balance, yes?

That’s why we need each other, our community, to help one another find our balance, share our insights, give us another perspective.   Alone we can convince ourselves that we mean well, that our intent is good and true, our course of action the only way.  But our ego is strongest when given an attentive audience, the slope slippery once we yield to it.  And any one person in power is just as susceptible as the rest of us.

That’s why in America we’re supposed to have the system of checks and balances.  That’s why in families it can work best where there are two raising the children.  Left to our own devices, we can do some incredibly regrettable, irreversible things — when we are out of balance, out of sync.

For our own sake and for the sake of others, may we know peace, the true peace that resides within, lest we be our own worst enemy.

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Life Is But a Dream

My husband shared a poem with me referenced in a Zen book he liked very much by Charlotte Joko Beck called Nothing Special: Living Zen.  It’s a poem by WH Auden:

We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.

Searching for the poem, I found that it is often quoted, for motivational purposes, Zen talks and literary purposes, to name a few.  Perhaps I’ve heard or read it before myself.  But I believe that important words cross our paths at different points in our life with particular relevance.  Last week, it might not have spoken to me in the way it did today, and it may not reverberate for me next month, either.  So this day, how is it significant for me?  Does it speak to you, too?

I think I have made great strides in accepting change, facing death.  Something happens every day where I have a choice to be bull-headed and go forward with my horns or let the ego die another death, take another blow.  Of course, some times it’s easier than others to take the proverbial higher road, but that isn’t always the case.

There are changes I still want to make, changes that my ego isn’t prepared for and is applying all resistance toward.  My illusions hold strong, my dread ever present.  I want to have what I have, live the way I live, says one part of me.  You don’t need all this, for there is a better way to live, more healthy, less debt and attachments, says the other.  I don’t think I need to emphasize which part represents which.  This dichotomy epitomizes many of my struggles, grand epic battles that are seemingly brought up weekly if not daily.

I daresay that when people (including myself) talk about true balance, what we might mean is a balance of the inner struggles, a balance between mind, body and soul.  Complete harmony, I would imagine, would be a balance between the three yet where the mind doesn’t represent the “i” ego but the true I, the Self.  Your balance, your harmony, is possible because you have let go of your illusions, experience the moments for what they are, accepting at once your limitations and infinite possibilities and potentialities.  Ah, isn’t it pretty to think so?

Our lives are mere dreams when we live enshrouded in our illusions, living solely in the mirror.  When we can let go of what we think we see and live here and now, we dare to live this life for what it is — the real thing.

Feel free to comment, share your thoughts and experiences, even disagree if you feel so inclined.  Blessed be.

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Why Make Things Difficult?

daisy_green_blue_242467_l.jpgIt’s a sunny spring day here, and I am inspired to accomplish much, including making some honest commitments to do good for myself.  Along with eating well (which I am doing), I want to sincerely simplify my life.  Who doesn’t?

Chances are, you might share this characteristic with me — making things harder than they have to be.  Why do we do this?

So, as we strive to make every day simple and less complicated, let’s make note of our steps along the way.  Here are a few things I’ve done in the few months since starting this blog:

  • More times for crafts/hobbies
  • Increased environmental awareness
  • Planning meals better

I keep saying I’m ready to clear out the clutter, but I have yet to make the giant leap.  I’m taking baby steps in that regard, I suppose.

Life is easy, right?

Live in the now, filled with compassion for yourself and others, with no attachments.

Like I’ve said before, it is definitely easier said than done.  It fails to mention the small stuff, right?  The bills, the errands, the cleaning.  But isn’t that part of the “now”?  And isn’t there a book about not sweating the small stuff and another about chopping wood, carrying water?

When I think about choices I’ve made in my life that seemingly complicate things, I daresay that these choices have also helped me.  Lessons come my way that illuminate my ways of thinking, my way of life.  Without the attention the “drama” brings, I may not have noticed my own patterns of behavior.

It’s finally Friday of what has been a particularly difficult week with the kids.  A friend of mine agreed that she, too, had a hard week but didn’t know if it was her or the kids.  Were my week and the kids really difficult, or did I make it so because I let my ego get in the way?  Did I get trapped somewhere not in the present, lose some compassion and get too attached to what I thought had to get done or be done?  Sounds to me like a sure recipe for a rough week.  I wish I would have thought of that on Monday.

So this weekend, go forth with awareness, love and non-attachment.  It’ll be a weekend.  That’s all we can promise.  May it be a simple one.

(photo from everystockphoto.com, by Henkster)

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I Died Last Night

After a particularly grueling day of parenting, my husband and I enjoyed several minutes of drowsy pillow conversation, quietly over the babe nursing/sleeping between us.  I vented.  We pondered and wondered how best to discipline, how best to exemplify the behavior we hope for them to embody.  We fell asleep before any epiphanies.

I know I am dying.  Sitting up in bed, I see it in my husband’s face.  Our younger sonmoon.jpg lays his head across my tummy.  While I’ve been strong up till now, as I run my hands through his unruly hair, my resolve breaks; my heart aches.  I love him so much.  No.  I’m not ready to die yet.  The bright white light comes.  No.  I need to see my older children first.  They have to know, have to hear me tell them I love them.  They’re here.  It’s okay now.

I awoke with that sense of breathlessness near panic.  I wasn’t dead, no matter how real it had seemed.  It was a short dream for me, one who tends to have the epic variety, but its strength and clarity remain with me still.

I’m not proficient at dream interpretation, but I’ve experimented enough myself and have been with others enough to know that dreams speak to us in ways we might not otherwise understand.  I’ve been fortunate to be in groups to facilitate dream work.  At a meeting recently, one of my spiritual teachers was there, too.  We had been in a dream group together, and I admire her immensely.  “In dream symbology, what does it mean when you die?” I asked her.  “Usually it’s the ego,” she answered.  (We could have been asking each other about the weather.  It’s good to have friends you can talk to without the small talk.)  It clicked into place, as it will when you get your right understanding of a dream.

I had fallen asleep wondering how best to deal with my children.  I must have offered my query to the Divine, for it was received and answered.  To best relate to my kids, I have to get out of the way and let love lead.  That doesn’t mean I am a pushover and let them run wild.  Kids need boundaries for what is acceptable or not, and there are consequences for inappropriate behaviors and actions.  What’s important, though, is that I shouldn’t completely freak out just because something isn’t done the way I think it should be done.  These kids may come from my womb, but I believe they’re designed by and for God.  Heaven forbid I mess that up.

So I’m grateful for this dream that reminds me to let go and to love as if this were my last moments.  It sounds so simple.  The lesson is so easy.  It’s the homework that’s hard.

The other morning, not long after my dream of dying, my husband told me that when he awoke the older kids to get ready for school, they both said the same thing.  “I had the most wonderful dream.”  I wonder what lesson they were given.  May they remember their dreams.

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