Crisis and Good News

 

Jeremiah 2:4-13 | Psalm 81:1, 10-16 | Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 | Luke 14:1, 7-14

If you were in Christian Ed last week, you heard Jill Johnson from CCMC (Cooperative Christian Ministries & Clinic) talk about the Bridges Out of Poverty program. She pointed out that if we have our sight set on a goal, be it getting out of poverty or simply finding our way on a map, it’s tremendously helpful to have that “You are Here” star pinpointing our location so we have an accurate picture of reality and can establish a sense of direction.

If we know where we are, we have a better chance of getting where we want to go.

So, where are we?

Are we, like Jeremiah’s audience and like the Hebrews, at a time of crisis? Like the house of Jacob, have we defiled our land, transgressed against God, and chased after that which does not profit? Like the Hebrews in the epistle, have we become frustrated with or suffered shame for our faith? If we evaluate where we are right now, maybe it’s not too far of a stretch to say that we are in crisis, too. These past weeks in Christian Ed we’ve intentionally highlighted the poverty crisis, which is closely linked with the homeless crisis, the unemployment crisis, the mental health crisis, and so on. There’s also the refugee crisis, water crisis, and other humanitarian crises worldwide.

You probably realize by now how much I like to know what we really mean by the words that we use and say. So when we say things are a crisis or in crisis, do we mean that they are situations in dire straits, with no simple solution or easy way out? Or when we use or consider the word “crisis,” do we borrow from the medical connotation and see “crisis” as meaning a turning point–as in a disease–that indicates an outcome pointing either toward recovery or toward death? We seem to have blended the two: I understand a crisis to be a situation at a tipping point that could either lead toward that which is life-giving or death-dealing in some way, shape, or form, depending on the next move. If every issue we face is at a point of making or breaking it–“it” being life itself–then we have very important decisions to make.

Jeremiah calls his people out on their crisis. Even though he thought he was just a boy, God empowered Jeremiah to speak out, to be the voice of God among the people. We hear today that two evils are proclaimed: the people of the house of Jacob have forsaken the Almighty, “the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” Their crisis? Do they even recognize it? Without God, they will perish. Without God, their life abundant will devolve into conflict, death, and destruction. Forsaking that which gives them life, the people have sought to provide for themselves, taking it upon themselves to choose and to control their lives, their laws, their loyalties. Their point of crisis hinged on whether or not to live in relationship with God. Jeremiah tells them, speaking for the LORD, that they stand at the precipice and choose death by turning away from God.

I’ve probably told you before that I often tell my children to “make good choices.” I’m thinking that I want them to do what is right and good, but if I’m completely honest with myself, there’s part of me that knows they can reach a crisis moment when they least expect it, and the choice they make will hinge on the cusp of what is life-giving or death-dealing. I could probably rationalize every moment as life-giving or death-dealing: are we relating in the moment in a way that promotes life, especially life in Christ? Or are we turning away from God in the moment, even in how we look at a person? If sin is turning away from God, and sin leads to death, is every moment I turn away from God and toward death a moment of crisis? It would seem so. Maybe I should start telling my kids to “make life-giving choices” in case they lose sight of what is good…because we are so easily lost when left to our own devices.

Our self-made cisterns aren’t enough. We cannot create a holding tank for God’s love or grace or mercy. Our self-interest isn’t enough. We will never have enough, be enough, understand “enough” unless we know in the depth of our being that there is always enough in God. There’s enough water, enough food, enough shelter, enough employment, enough opportunity, enough resources, enough love . . . for all of us.

The crisis of our moment in history hinges on whether or not we are willing to sacrifice our self-sufficiency that we might tip the scale toward that which is truly life-giving and in full relationship with God. Are we willing to evaluate whether our personal agendas, however great or small, are for a greater good or for our personal glory? And, yes, we do so much good in this place and in this world. Yet for all the good we do, why is our society, our world overrun with systemic crises?

There is brokenness in the systems, just as there is brokenness in each of us.

There’s a beautiful sculpture that I’d love to see in person. It was in one of those videos on Facebook highlighting the most fantastic sculptures in the world. I searched out the artist’s page, where she has more images of it. A naked woman, sitting upright with her head uplifted, is cracked, as if fissures throughout her body just split open. Having been thinking of crises all week, I couldn’t help but think of cracked cisterns and of brokenness. I thought of all the women I hear stories about in the realm of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking. Women who are trapped in a situation where they may have shelter and something to eat but who are depleted in value, respect, and love. Women who reached that point because at some point in their life, they were violated. Maybe they were molested or raped at a young age or were neglected as children and adolescents and found solace in whatever addiction numbed the pain. Maybe they were trapped in a moment of vulnerability, kidnapped completely, or blackmailed into a situation they couldn’t escape. This broken woman represents to me all victims of crisis–male and female–wounded . . . but not yet dead. In the sculpture, light shines brightly through the cracks. And is it a smile on her face? This woman knows the source of life and the reward at the resurrection of the righteous. Maybe she’s not a victim. Maybe she’s just bursting forth with light, exposed and vulnerable, but so filled with light, she cannot contain it herself; I think this is more what the artist has in mind for the sculpture titled “Expansion.” To me, it is a powerful image of brokenness overcome.

All of our crises point toward what is broken and cracked, and all of our crises present to us a choice on how to proceed. We choose where we are going, either toward death or toward life. Thanks be to God, there is that ever-flowing fount of life that shines forth and pours through our cracks if we allow it.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to a people in crises, a people beginning to lose faith. After addressing the concerns of the community, the writer advises them to “Let mutual love continue,” as if to say, “Remember, church, where you are as a community of faith…whose you are as a community of faith.” Remember hospitality, compassion, fidelity, generosity, contentment, and faith. For the Hebrews as for us, these are fundamentals in our relationship with God, essentials in living in covenant with God, the light that shines through our brokenness. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Our greatest sacrifice is our willing surrender to live in relationship with God, to show up at a moment of crisis and pray and say, “Here I am, Lord,” even in our uncertainty and imperfection. With the fount of Light pouring through our humanity, we do our best to do what is good, what is life-giving, knowing that the source of our strength and power is not ourself. We do good and share what we have, and this is pleasing to God

We are, each of us, in a crisis. The good news for us is that we know it, and we know where we want to go. We follow that living water to life eternal. We choose life in Christ when we pray, “thy will be done,” and this is part of our daily prayer. Please pray the Lord’s prayer every day, three times a day if you can. This helps keep our personal GPS on track so we can “make life-giving choices,” pleasing not only our mothers but our God.

We know not only where we are but whose we are, so we head in the direction of life, not death.

That’s what we do as a community of faith, as people of faith. We choose to share what we know gives life. We help one another stay connected to our Source. And in our times of crisis, we stay oriented to God and move forward, taking our own steps in the direction God leads but also moving forward together as one body, into the flow of life abundant.

 

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It’s All in the Breath

We do everything with a breath. Even if we are holding it, the breath is with us.

When we’re first born, we inspire, we breathe or inhale our first breaths in this world, and we spend the rest of our days living into this inspiration, motivated to make something–if not something material, then something of ourselves.

We perspire, breathing through this creative process because it’s hard. Anyone who says life is easy hasn’t truly made anything. The most gifted people in the world would probably tell you that the process isn’t a cake walk.

If we’re lucky, we get to conspire. “Conspire” has a negative connotation, associated with joining forces to do something evil, immoral. Literally, it means to breathe with. That implies being of one breath, united in the creative process. What you do together may well be something evil, but when we conspire to do something good, beautiful things happen.

At our end, we expire, breathe our last. Those of us who have attended the bed of the dying know that there is a palpable finality in that last exhale; you know that there is no more. We often say that the dead person’s work is done, but not fully understanding what her greatest achievement was, maybe it’s more accurate to say that she will not be creating anything else except through the ripples of her influence.

For a Christian, the breath is synonymous with Spirit. Maybe it’s the only way we can get a handle on something so beyond our comprehension. In pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit), Spirit is sometimes explained in “spirations.” (Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff was my introduction to the spiration concept, though he’s not alone.) This gift of life is made possible only through our breath.

I wonder about those who struggle with breathing disorders. In any struggle, our awareness heightens, and we wrestle more audibly and visibly and obviously, even if we are the only ones to notice. That we struggle with or defy doesn’t negate that which is.

If the breath isn’t with us, we are dead. If we ignore that the breath is with us, pay no attention to the gift of breath or our struggle with it, we may be the living dead, contributing nothing life-giving if there is creation happening at all.

I imagine that this is why so many traditions fundamentally pay attention to the breath. A breath prayer is simply giving focused attenention, intention, to the inhale and exhale. Each breath is a moment in which a decision is made, a decision to create something life-giving, life-affirming. We have to opportunity to conspire with Spirit. This positive, creative conspiration threatens a death-dealing culture, threatens the status quo, but this is the kind of conspirator I hope to be.

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Same Dance, New Music

Given my life story, I realize that I do believe in a Purpose. We all have at least one. I also love viewing this life as a cosmic dance; we all come together at different stages, go through the steps, however awkward they may be, and keep moving, guided by a rhythm we can hear and feel but can’t really see. Some partners we stay with for a long while. Some partners are there only a bit. Sometimes we’re a group dance, all working together in this divine choreography. I’d rather picture an aerial view of an elegant ballroom, but I know that reality is sometimes like the dark and sweaty clubs with the music so loud you can’t hear one another.

My dance right now takes me into a new room, just as large as where I was before. I’m just having to learn new steps, become familiar with my new partners. It’s still dancing. There’s just a different music playing. Fortunately for me, the music permeates from within the University like a ballroom would, I imagine. Walking across campus yesterday, I wondered if all campuses feel that way on warm fall afternoons: still, studious, alive, wise, full of potentiality. A university campus is so full of those so young, most eager, as well as those who have learned so much, most wise. It’s an electric blend, I suppose, palpable.

So we dance with one another. We share our gifts with ease, no matter how difficult the steps may be. We learn our way into cultivating our talents through practice, practice, practice. No matter where we are or what the music, whether we like it or not, we keep dancing.

And we realize that we are in this together.

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Flying without a Net

Have I written about faith before? (Sorry, I can’t help the sweet sarcasm!)  I know I have.  I know I’ve mentioned that faith becomes most apparent when we take the leap from security, routine, and stability and plunge into unchartered territory.  Often this happens when we act on our intuition, trying to follow our hearts, trying to live into what we perceive as our “call.”

Well, my friends, we’ve taken that plunge and have been free-flying for a few months now.  There are a few things we have learned thus far.

  • If you thought you knew how you would react if you “failed,” prepare to be wrong. I expected to be bitter, angry, resentful if we spent all our savings and extended our credit to its outer limits.  Thankfully, for the sake of the family, I’m not.  Also, perception of failure is a tricky thing.  Our greatest success in this venture is probably our change of perspective, our new understandings.
  • Expect most of the growth to be within. As mentioned above, most of the changes we have experience are that of understanding, perspective, appreciation and joy.  Our relationships deepened.  What makes our life most rich has become apparent.
  • Attachments are attachments. Mainly I mean attachments to material things.  We get attached to having the biggest and best, fancy this and highest quality that.  We have to let go of some things, deciding what is best for us individually and as a whole — a whole family and a whole world.    We learn what we can live without, and we learn what is truly worth the effort for quality.  Mostly, we want a quality life; this doesn’t always mean we have a top-of-the-line hi-def t.v.  “Live simply that other may simply live” applies to us all.
  • You never go back to where you were before. Even if our daily routine looks the same as it was six months ago, it’s not.  Even if my husband goes back to a “desk job” (in quotes because technically he’s been working at a desk in his “time off”), he’s going back with his new understandings, renewed or even new appreciation.  Once we’ve attained a new level of understanding, once we know something as true, we can’t un-know something.  In time, I’m sure this new level will open other doors for growth as we continue to learn more about the life we live.
  • Don’t underestimate your time. Be realistic about your needs.  Keep track of the bills.  Know how much debt you’re willing to accumulate, how much money it takes to live.  We’ve not been very good about this, honestly.  The lessons above were learned in enough time that we could have returned to the work status of before, before a financial crisis hit.  Be aware of this.  Give yourself a cushion, and if not, be willing to face the consequences.
  • Take responsibility. We choose our way individually.  If we don’t necessarily have control of our environment and what happens, we have the choice on how we respond.  As in my first point, I thought I would choose to be angry if this business venture didn’t succeed at the rate projected.  When it became apparent that deadlines and projections weren’t being met, I had a choice.  For my own benefit and for the benefit of those around me, I choose love.

These are just a few of the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve taken flight.  It’s been an experience, a defining moment in our lives.  I know that in this past year, I have been pulled, if not called, deeper into my true nature.  Part of the magic of the leap may be that we get a clearer glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like, through the lens of faith and trust.

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More on Conscious Choices

In my last post, I mentioned mindfulness.  It’s a buzzword these days.  Just be mindful, and all will be well.  That would be like me saying to live every day simply.  In an unapologetically Buddhist way, mindfulness is that easy and that difficult, just as living life simply is.  Read that as you will.

Only you know what is most important in your life.  Only you know what requires your attention and most feeds your soul; they aren’t often the same thing, and we all know it changes on a daily, if not hourly basis.

But if, in a moment, you can be where you are, at once embracing it yet with open arms and feeling everything fully without being overwhelmed, then you can do what needs to be done with clarity.  You can make a conscious choice, knowing what is the best thing to do in that moment.  This is our best work, or our work at its best.  With this clarity and sense of purpose, there is a profound freedom to be experienced.  There is a sense of participating in the flow of life.

I am more than a little amused at all the self-help books out there, the variety of techniques that aim to bring us to a sense of peace.  Each of us could write our own book.  Those of us who write, indeed, write mostly for and to ourselves, for that’s all we truly know.  At the core of it all, though, is the one flow of life, one peace, one good, and that’s what ties us together.  That’s what, when we write, we hope to tap into, sharing a truth that might resonate for others.

Again, only you know what you need.  First you have to be conscious.  You have to be honest.  Then you keep practicing and keep working hard.  We work hard to be, just be, in peace.  This is good work.

Walking_Labyrinth

(photo from everystockphoto.com)

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“Here am I”

Since I’ve heard the story of Mary’s anunciation at least three times this month, it rings loudly in my ears.  It could be that last year all my ears could hear was the “holy s**t!” factor Mary must have felt, the “you-want-me-to-do-what?”  This year, however, I was given the opportunity to truly listen to the story, and like doing deep dream work, I was able to close my eyes and enter the story, the scene, the characters, and the energy present on that holy night.

I could feel the dry desert air in Mary’s mouth, in my mouth, the sandy breeze.  I could feel the weight of the day but the relief that comes when all that can be done is done, and it’s time to rest.  There’s stillness and a quiet acceptance of what is.  Then there’s this overwhelming encounter with an angel?  Could that be what that was?  Did anyone else see?  Did anyone else hear?  Could the racing of my heart be betraying me?  Have I not just heard a commission from God through one of His glorious angels?  Didn’t I just accept the call to be a mother to the child of God, me a young innocent?  The curious look from a neighbor makes me question, but my heart assures me it is true.  True, also, was the look of awe, sympathy, and adoration on the face of the angel, in his voice.  Returning to the stillness of the night, it was like a dream, but now my life is changed forever more.  I cannot know the depth of this responsibility, what it might fully entail.  I just know that in the moment, in the presence of what is Holy, I knew I could make no other choice, for “Here am I . . . servant to the Lord.”

Then I realize that the anunciation of Mary is quite similar to our own stories when we are answering a call that aligns with God’s will.  Often it comes to us when we least expect it, when we are still and accepting of the present.  But it could be when things seem most in chaos.  When we hear that tumultuous stirring in our hearts, experience the ecstatic joy of co-creating with God, we know we are where we are meant to be.  What comes down the road, we may not know, but we continue in faith and trust and hope.  Most importantly, we continue in Love.

I don’t know anyone personally who has had the clarity of purpose as Mary, through an angel’s visit.  If you’re like me, you would welcome an angel’s visit telling you what to do, what God wants you to do.  But it seems even as it seems harder to hear God’s voice these days, God’s trust in us is just as present, if not moreso.  God seems to trust each of us that Jesus was enough to teach us how to be in relationship not only with each other but with God as well.  And example after example in the Bible shows us people, servants to the Lord, who are simply present, hear a call and respond, “Here am I.”

May we be that strong, that trusting, that faithful.  May the joy of the season inspire us.

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To Live and Love

Clarity in this life can be elusive.  That seems only natural when the air around us is filled with unseen signals sending digital and analog information, with noise from earbuds and/or automobiles, with smells of burning oil — to name a few of our distractions.  Sit with this busy, distracted image for a bit.  How do you feel?

Now go to your cabin in the woods.  Smell the mountaintop air.  Hear the wind through the trees.  Sit in the darkness lit only by the crackling fire.  Hold the warm beverage in your hands.  Welcome a friend to sit near you.  Listen to her share her soul.  Let your heart open.  Speak your own truths.  Experience laughter.  Shed tears.  Sit in silence, together.

After the Holy Listening retreat I had the honor to experience this past weekend, of one thing I am quite sure.  As a child of God, one purpose of my life here is that I am here to live in the present moment with an honest, open heart.  Above all things, I am to love.  This seems only natural when sitting by the fire in the quiet of the evening.  I can almost feel that two friends together are not alone.  Even when sitting by myself, I do not feel alone.  The presence of Spirit is strong, almost palpable.

Even returning to the daily round, nothing changes but my own perception.  If I can cut through the chatter of our society, let alone the chatter in my own mind, the stillness, the clarity is ever-present.  My purpose hasn’t changed.  Spirit hasn’t disappeared.

I have a feeling this is something we all have in common.

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“Above All Things, I Believe in Love”

Especially as mothers, we have a way of making things difficult.  In moments where all we need is clarity of purpose, we remember, as a friend of mine recently did, that we just have to make sure our kids stay alive, preferably safe and secure as well.  To this, however, we add layers of cleanliness, thriving, excellence . . . overall perfection in all areas. 

This perfectionism invades all areas of our lives.  We create for ourselves an inner censor that reminds us every time we visualize a goal that we probably won’t/can’t/shouldn’t do it and points out that we can’t/don’t achieve what is perfect.  I am completely projecting here.  This is one aspect of my personal censor.

I recently did an exercise where I had to describe my censor, sketch a cartoon of her.  I highly recommend this.  Remember, if you can name it, you can know it, and you can see how truly ridiculous it is.

In another exercise where I had to describe who I am (from the third person), my inner critic appeared again.  In everything I want, in all I do, I will never be good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, etc., etc.  My strong, true inner voice immediately countered.  Of course Sara’s not perfect, but God is.  If all I am is a channel for God’s love, then that’s good enough.  There’s nothing more perfect than that.

So, in all things, in all aspects of life, all I have to do is live, believing that to Love is my purpose and living into that purpose.  This is clarity.  When I close the door to this love, I mess up.  This is part of suffering.  I can even lock the door and keep it closed, but I always have the key, no matter how hard it might be to find.    

We need to remind each other of this sometimes, remind each other that our jobs are really quite simple.  We are all called to love and to serve, with gladness and singleness of heart.

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Importance of Dreams

First of all, I hope everyone has a chance to recall why today we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I also hope that you take some time today to reflect on what your dreams are, at all levels.

Can you remember what you dreamed last night?  What have your night dreams shown you about your life and lessons?

What are your dreams for yourself and your family in the future, near and far?

What are your dreams for humanity, for our world?

Not all of us will have dreams like Dr. King.  Not all of us will have a hope so intense, a will so driven, as to devote our lives to a Cause.  When the fuel for our work is grounded in a passion, based on a dream, a hope, it takes a special person indeed to follow through.

Think of your dreams again.  Are you working to fulfill those dreams?  Are the dreams already fulfilled and you living the dream?

If your dream were for all to be created equal, would you say we are living the dream, or is there still work to be done?  Surely, Dr. King’s life was not in vain . . . and neither is yours or mine.

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