You Will Be Assimilated

Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”

So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?

I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.

But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.

As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’

In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.

What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.

The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.

We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.

Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?

 

 

Spiritual Discipline, or Disciplined Spirit?

I recently read a devotional written by Christian philosopher Dallas Willard. I’ve read Willard’s other works on Christian prayer and have found it to be insightful and quite helpful. The excerpt that I read was from a collection of devotional readings produced by Richard Foster entitled, “Devotional Classics.” This particular reading was taken from Willard’s, “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” While I appreciate where he is coming from, I have some reservations. For those Pentecostal type folks out there, I had a ‘check in my spirit.’

I wondered why those feelings were present. It was a simple reading. No big doctrinal discussion. Something to contemplate. Then it hit me. The term ‘disciple’ smacked me upside the head. Why, though? That word is used throughout the New Testament to describe the followers of Jesus. Hey! I’m one of those! Then I realized what triggered me. Willard coupled the word ‘disciple’ with the word ‘obedience.’

Now, many in the Evangelical traditions may ask, “So what? Disciples are obedient to there Master.” Nothing out of the ordinary with that. That’s true. Regardless of the tradition, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, fill in the blank, disciples follow a Master. Christians are followers of their Master, Christ. Or, so the saying goes. The last time I checked Jesus was nowhere to be found. At least not so we can see Him on T.V., or something. And that presents a problem. Who decides what Jesus would say or do in the 21st century?

Back in the early 1970’s I was part of what has become known as the ‘Jesus Movement.’ We were for all intents and purposes a rag-tag bunch of hippies who professed faith in Christ. I believe to this day that God was active during this period. It was exciting! We thought that we had somehow been called by God to reclaim and rebuild the original spirit of the Church that existed in the 1st century. We believed that what had happened in the book of Acts was happening again in our time.

We gathered together to worship and sing and hear brothers teach about the scriptures. Some of us moved into common households so that we could ‘hold all things in common.’ There were a few men who assumed positions of leadership. We believed that they were anointed in the same way that Timothy and Titus and the elders of the early church had been. And, we were taught that we were to be obedient to these men as ‘unto God.’

Now, I want to make it clear that there was no subterfuge involved. We, all of us, were truly trying our best to follow the words of the Bible as faithfully as we could. The only thing was, we were NOT the Church of the first century. We were not wrestling with what it meant to follow a dead Messiah in a pagan culture. We had 2,000 years of developed theology to follow. And, we lived in a culture unlike anything that the first church would have understood. Basically, we were privileged white kids trying to emulate a movement that began as an oppressed minority.

To return to the devotional, we were taught that discipleship has as its root the idea of ‘discipline.’ Physical, spiritual, and emotional discipline. We began to see the Bible as a User’s Manual. It had all of the answers on how to live a vibrant and successful life. That is, if one would follow all of the rules faithfully. And, the elders were there to make sure that we did follow them. In effect, we became disciples of those elders, who we trusted were disciples of Christ.

Alas, experience has taught me something else entirely. The Christian Bible is a collection of writings by many, many people from many, many different time periods. It has inconsistencies and contradictions and holes in it. For instance, there’s nothing in the Bible about water on Mars. The fact that our Sun is actually a star somehow got past the Biblical writers. What to do about global climate change isn’t addressed. Shoot! Global climate change itself missed the writers’ cut. The fact is that the Christian Bible does not, it CANNOT, have all of the answers for people to live vibrant and successful lives. And, it truly was never meant to fill that role.

So what? What does any of this have to do with my devotional? Willard made the statement that obedience, by  itself, was sufficient for a person to live the so-called ‘abundant life’ promised in the Gospel of John. In a way, that may be accurate. But, because of the manner in which it is taught to so many poor, unsuspecting people, it is not. In so many fundagelical churches people are taught that they must grit their teeth and press forward in order to reap the benefits of discipleship. They even have a saying, “Fake it til you make it.” Pretty cool, huh? No! It’s not. This is another link in a long chain that binds people. They try. They fail. So, they try again. They fail…again. All the time feeling inept, unloved, strange, or an anomaly. After all, didn’t their spiritual elders tell them that this would work? But, it didn’t. They think, ‘It must be my fault, my lack…my sin.’ So, the link is forged. From my perspective the link is forged in the fires of Hell.

The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that is pretty good advice. Truthfully, until we can rest and be still we cannot be transformed. No amount of sweat and grit will suffice. We can batter and bruise our bodies. Yet, we will still be lacking. In more than one place the writers of Scripture mention a ‘still small voice,’ or that God isn’t in the tempest and flame, but in the gentle breeze.

As I have walked, (maybe, crawled is a better word), along this spiritual path, I’ve found that the more I work and strive, the less I progress. It has only been in the last 6-10 years that I have learned that the Spirit of God doesn’t need our outward help. The Spirit needs us to shut up and listen. In the quietude of silent contemplation the Spirit, Ruach Elohim, chips and sands and refinishes. It is ALL grace and ALL God!

Perhaps, the most important insight for me is that I no longer have the shame and guilt that comes from FAILING to keep all of the rules. There truly is ‘no condemnation’ in following this path.

Please, if you’ve been troubled or weighed down by trying to follow all of those damnable rules; trying to force obedience; faking it hoping that you’ll make it; Take heart! Sit back! Relax! And, turn your heart toward the true lover of your soul. You’ll not be disappointed.

Thoughts About Original Sin

Detail from Jan Breughel & Peter Paul Rubens: The Garden of Eden (1615)

According to some Western Christians, sometime between 7 and 10 thousand years ago, God created the Universe. This event is recorded, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” As the story unfolds, we read that every plant and animal came into being ex nihilo,(out of nothing), through Divine fiat. God spoke it; it came into being. At the end of this first part of the story, God created humans. And, it must be noted, God created the original humans in God’s own image.  For millions of people this is historical fact.

In the next part of this story, we learn a little bit more. The actual physical location where God created these humans isn’t known. The story only tells us that after forming the first Human, God put this person in a garden in order to serve and protect it. It was there, in that garden, that God formed the first Woman from a rib taken from the Man. These first Humans lived in that God-made paradise until they were duped by a talking reptile. This talking reptile,(from here known as, the serpent), talked the Woman into eating the fruit from a tree that God had expressly forbidden the humans to eat from. She ate and gave some to the Man, and he ate. This meal even has a name, “Original Sin.”

The whole concept of Original Sin has been discussed among Christians since very early in the Church’s history. However, it really took off in the late 4th century C.E. when a guy named Augustine of Hippo included it in his autobiography, “Confessions.” Taking the Biblical story as his starting point he was able to trace his own personal proclivity toward sin back to the Original couple. Now, we need to understand that there was a belief in the ancient world that character traits could be passed from one generation to the next through semen. Therefore, Augustine understood that the guilt of Adam was passed to every subsequent person ever born. And, this also allowed Jesus to be born without that taint. (Virgin birth and all.)

Later, John Calvin doubled down on this idea. He concluded that not only death and guilt were part and parcel of Original Sin. But, shame and total depravity came along for the ride. And this, my friends, is the heart of reformation theology. There is absolutely nothing good about humanity. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to think or do anything good. God’s wrath and hatred are hanging over us. Only by looking at Jesus can God’s Holy anger be placated. But, heaven help us if God should happen to get a glimpse of our worthless and hated selves.

But, what if that’s not how things happened? What if 7,000 years have not passed since the Earth was formed, but rather, over 4 billion years? What if all the stuff that science has discovered is the truth and there was no first couple? And, therefore, no Original Sin?

This can, (and should),  turn the Reformed way of thinking on its head. If there was no Original Sin, then why did Jesus come, live and die? I mean, many of us who were involved with the Fundagelical world of religion preach that Jesus HAD to die in order to break the bonds of Original Sin. He cleansed us from that and enabled us to start over with a clean slate. For lack of a better term, to be “born again”! If Original Sin is out of the mix that whole house of cards crashes.

What’s interesting is that sin isn’t even mentioned in the first chapters of Genesis. God never pointed a Divine finger and said, “Oh, you guys! You really sinned now.” No. God said that death would now become a part of their lives. In fact, sin doesn’t enter into the equation officially until Gen. 4 when God spoke to Adam’s son Cain. God said that sin was crouching at Cain’s door. Cain was encouraged to ‘master’ sin. If there was an Original Sin that was so dire that nothing could ease its effects, how was Cain supposed to be able to master it? No, I don’t think that Original Sin as the Western Church has understood it is a reality. I don’t believe that humans are born depraved as Calvin and Co. would have us believe. But, I do believe that there is an enemy to be overcome. A reason that God chose to come and “pitch a tent,” (John 1:14), among us. And, that enemy is death.

Let this thought percolate for a bit. What does it mean if there was no Original Sin? How does that affect the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension? Use the comments to express your own thoughts.

Admittedly, this asks more questions that it provides answers. But, it may also open locks on chains that bind many people…too many people.

God is Not Bound…

This was originally posted July 2, 2015. Yeah, I know it’s been a long time. But, I want to share some things that are in line with this post. Especially, after the horror that was the 2016 presidential election cycle. (I include ALL participants. Not just 45.) Hopefully, will be back soon.

This is my first post since I decided to change the focus of this blog. After much prayer and counsel from my Spiritual Director and my counselor, I feel that, at least for awhile, this is the direction that I must go.

I’ve reflected on my personal experiences and those of others. I’ve read a lot that has been written by people who have been hurt by abusive ‘teachers.’ Heavy chains have been wrought out of the iron of dogma. This has been done primarily by White men who drape these chains upon the shoulders of the meek; the hurting; the marginalized.

So, this is a beginning. My desire is to reveal what I believe are errant interpretations of the Christian Scriptures. Also, I desire to shine a light on the fallacies of historic precedent that so many leaders try to use to validate these interpretations.

I know that this may appear to be a lot to consider. And, it is. But, it is important that we take this journey together at this time. Many good and sincere people are trapped in abusive institutions. Many others are leaving the faith journey altogether. There has been a marked rise in the number of folks who simply can’t believe any longer. I have been one of those who has questioned that God even exists. But, I can’t go there. Something…that ‘still, small voice’… keeps me from walking away. I BELIEVE that there is more to the Universe…to our existence…than simply cosmic dust. I have only my experience to hang on to. My experience with the transcendental ‘Other’ compels me to continue on this path.

Perhaps, you also, are in a similar place in your life. If so, ‘Come!’ Let’s walk together for awhile. You, me…and God.

The masthead of my blog quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I have thought about this verse for many, many years. What does Paul mean? What did the folks in the Galatian church hear? How does this apply to me/us some 2,100 years later?

For starters, most Fundagelical leaders dismiss this whole concept by saying that the meaning of this verse is that we are all ‘free’ to not sin. WTF?!?! I’m free to not do something? But, what AM I FREE to do? What am I free to think and believe? Who am I free to be?

I have never really felt comfortable with that definition by negation. For one to be free implies that there is something to be freed from. Some kind of bondage or prison that is not good. So, they would say, “Well, you’re free from sin.” As I’ve grown and matured in my faith, I honestly don’t know what that means. No one can provide a definitive answer to what ‘sin’ actually is. (This is the subject for a future post.) Some say it’s simply ‘missing the mark.’ However, the most common term for ‘sin’ in the Greek New Testament is hamartia. This has to do with being evil, wrong doing and guilt. And, many of the people who hold to this holiness outlook are more than willing to pile on the guilt.

There are many kinds of slavery. Slavery to addictions, praise, food, etc. In this passage from Galatians, Paul was writing about slavery to the Jewish works of the Law. These were primarily the ‘identifiers’ of who was a Jew and who was not. Basically, it set the gates for who was in and who was out. Things like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath-keeping were what Paul had in mind. Today, many Christians bind themselves to laws that effectively perform the same function. They have developed ‘laws’ that must be adhered to in order to be members in good standing in their ‘tribe.’ What is one’s stance on abortion? LGBT people? Has one followed whatever ‘formula’ is currently in vogue for tribal initiation, (did I say some kind of “sinners’” prayer correctly)? Do I hold to the ‘correct’ doctrine, (whatever that means),?

What these do not do is free people. They heap on the unsuspecting a burden that they cannot bear. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:4 are true of these people, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

This may sound like the rant of an angry person. Well, actually, it is. I am angered by the presumption of these people to say they speak for God. Every time one of them states, “God said this or that” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. When I hear hate speech being spewed from pulpits I cringe. I recently saw a video of a man claiming to ‘know’ God’s will screaming at a second grade girl who had the audacity to hold a rainbow flag. Somehow, I can’t picture Jesus, the One who welcomed the little children and blessed them, doing this.

I think that my favorite passage in all of the Bible is Luke 4:18-19. The story recounts Jesus’ coming out at a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He found the text he desired and read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

I could go on and on. And, I will. Eventually. I intend to broach issues that Evangelicals prefer to ignore. Or, worse, disparage. I am going to poke and poke to evoke a response in folks who think differently. This is a place for civil discussion.

So, let us begin. What do you think about slavery? If there is some bondage, how do we move toward freedom? Does God require that we wear some heavy yoke?

Use the comments. Please note that I moderate the comments. Refrain from inflammatory language.

Human Trafficking/Human Tragedy…Our Tragedy

As I was going through some old material I happened upon this piece that I had submitted to the NY Times in January 2013. During the current election cycle Ohio Senator Rob Portman is using his work on Human Trafficking for his campaign. So, I thought that I would publish this now. I can’t express how important this issue is now…today…in 2016. Follow the links and do some digging to see if there’s a way for us all to help free the oppressed. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

endhumantrafficking January 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. Few topics engaged human emotions like this one. Battle lines were drawn and the battles fought. The benefactors of the decision found that their rights as human beings in the U.S. were vindicated. Women across the country were released from the shackles of a male dominated culture. And, they are adamant that those rights will not be taken away.

On the other side, people decried the violence that was allowed to be perpetrated on the “unborn innocents.” Their right-to-life beliefs empowered a backlash against the Supreme Court and the government. To this day they maintain that an unborn human must have the same rights and protections as any other person.

The position of those who proclaim Right-to-Life has grown to include topics beyond abortion. They are against any kind of euthanasia or medical procedures that may bring about death. Removal of life support apparatus can be anathema for these folks. But, there is another area that has as much to do with a person’s right to live as any of these. It is something that very few, if any sermons will be preached about on Sunday. It is the problem of slavery and human trafficking. Women, children and men whose lives are owned by someone else; people who have no rights to live, only to obey their “master.”

I first learned of this problem through a fellow student in graduate school. She was from Argentina and became a staunch advocate of human rights for those caught in the web of human trafficking. I began to learn about the problem and realized that it is part and parcel about a person’s right to life. A good definition of human trafficking can be found in documents from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Quoting from their website, at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html, it reads, “Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” This definition is comprehensive in its scope. It reveals the lengths that some people will go to in order to profit from the lives of others.

In the U.S., trafficking shows up in exploitation of some migrant workers and their families. But, perhaps the most heinous result is the sexual abuse of girls and women. One article reported in 2011, “Each year, 100,000 to 300,000 American kids, some as young as 12 years old, are exploited in the sex trade.”[1] This particular article revealed that major cultural events are used by human traffickers to sell their victims.

To me, this underscores the culture of power and dominance that is so prevalent in the U.S. People’s rights, that are supposed to be guaranteed and protected under the Constitution, are trampled upon in the name of cultural acceptance. Rev. Jennifer D. Crumpton wrote, “But we also must go deeper to honestly examine our accepted social structures and our systemic commodification of the bodies of women and girls in our arts and entertainment, our media, our sports, and our general corporate and consumer marketing.”[2] Yet, we do not “go deeper.” We prefer to avert our gaze from the reality that in 2013 America, people are commodified and enslaved for personal gain. We choose not to get involved while the “Right-to-Life” of thousands of our fellow human beings is taken away from them.

There are many resources available that people can utilize that can help to educate and bring to light this horrible blight on our society. One is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their website offers information that can educate as well as provide resources for involvement. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html?ref=menuside)

The Salvation Army offers support at their PROMISE website for people who are caught in human trafficking, as well as for those who want to help. (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-dynamic-index/F71E07755654D27A85257440006860F9?Opendocument)

A quick search on the internet for the various state’s Attorney’s General will provide a wealth of information that can enable people to learn what their own state government is doing in the fight against human trafficking.

It’s not enough to sit and point fingers at Pro Choice or Pro Life adherents. It’s also not enough to define Right-to-Life by one issue. Hundreds of thousands of living, breathing people do not have a Right-to-Life. We must stand up for them.

 

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-31-child-prostitution-super-bowl_N.htm?sms_ss=email&at_xt=4d4d83322a2ff345%2C0, accessed January 10, 2013.

[2] http://www.newevangelicalpartnership.org/?q=node/109, accessed January 9, 2013.

 

Which way? God Knows

This morning as I sat in contemplation, I began to think of the choices that people make during their lives. In the tradition that I came out of, people spent their lives trying to “discern” God’s will for them. We would fret and fume about making the so-called ‘right’ choices. We certainly did not want to make a wrong one and risk at the very least God’s blessing. And, at the worst, God’s condemnation. It was a nasty way to live. Always on the edge. Not quite knowing. Waiting for some Damascus road experience so that we could move forward with some degree of certainty.
As I reflected on this, the following began to form in my mind.

Many paths there are that we may choose.
Where do they lead?
God knows.
Which shall I choose? The one with rich, green grass?
What about the one flag’d gray?
Perhaps, the one of rut and mud?
God knows.
“Choose any,” a voice did say.
“For upon all I will with you stay.”

I think it doesn’t really matter. Follow you heart.
For God will be present and will bless wherever we roam.

Celebrating the Life of My Mother-in-Law

woman of valorThis is what I had the honor to share at my mother-in-law’s Memorial Service on Saturday.


We’re here today to celebrate the life of Irene (Mickie) Taylor. And, what a life to celebrate! Ninety-nine years of love and caring. As I began to reflect on her life, I was drawn to portions of Prov. 31. I’d like to paraphrase these portions beginning at verse 10, “She wears strength and beauty and she laughs at the future.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom and the learning of kindness is on her tongue. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.”

The ‘she’ that the writer was speaking of is Eshet Chayil. Those two Hebrew words are the first 2 words of verse 10. They have been translated many ways. Some translations say a “worthy woman.” Others, an “excellent wife.” Still others, a “wife of noble character.” While these may indeed characterize Mickie to an extent, there is another way to interpret Eshet Chayil. A “Woman of Valour.”

The word valour carries with it a kind of macho, male connotation. However, several synonyms show this to be an appropriate description of Mickie. Some of these synonyms are pluck, courage, bold, spirited. Anyone who knew her knows these words can surely describe her. I’d like to take a look at some other Women of Valour whose lives reveal some of these characteristics.

There was a woman who lived in what is now Iran. For whatever reason, her father-in-law thought it would be a good idea to pack up the family and move. So, they traveled to a place in the vicinity of Northern Syria. After a while her husband came to her and said, “God spoke to me and told me to pick up stakes and head south.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that by now this woman was beginning to wonder what was going on. But, she listened to her husband, they packed up all of their belongings and moved on. This woman’s name was Sarai. And, she was definitely in a trying relationship. After all, she had been perfectly comfortable in Ur of the Chaldean’s. Then just as she was settling in at Harran, her husband is hearing voices and the family was on the move…again.

After some time in this new land, Canaan, there was a famine. So, the family moved to Egypt where there was food. Her husband, Avram, made another not so grounded decision. He told Sarai that she had to tell everyone that she was his sister. He was afraid that, because of her beauty, someone might kill him in order have her. Well, that didn’t work out so great. Pharaoh found out about her and took her into his harem. God came along and bailed Avram out and Sarai was returned to him. The famine ended and Sarai and Avram went back to Canaan. Some time later God came to Avram and made a covenant with him to make him a Father of Nations, so God changed Avram’s name to Abraham. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah moved around in Canaan because they had no land of their own. At one point they stayed in a certain place where there was a king named Abi-melek. Abraham apparently didn’t remember the trip to Egypt. He again told his wife to say she was his sister. Maybe Abraham thought that since things worked out so well before, they’d work well again. The story repeats that Sarah was taken into Abi-melek’s harem. Bad things happened and God came to the rescue. This was the second time that Abraham had placed Sarah, his wife, in harm’s way. And, the second time she followed his lead. That says a lot about Sarah’s character. Mmm, maybe not so much about Abraham’s.

Finally, Sarah became pregnant. She bore a son and he was named Isaac. Isaac was adored by his mother. After all, she was 90 years old! And, Isaac was her first born. What joy she experienced! When Isaac was older, however, Abraham said that he heard from God that he was to sacrifice this beautiful son that had been promised. How much he told Sarah about this, we don’t know for sure. But, the next thing we hear about Sarah was of her death.

Sarah surely had many trials being married to a difficult man. Yet, she persevered. She showed real ‘pluck’ throughout her life with Abraham.

For most of her married life, Mickie, too, had to show that same pluck. Every day she and Gene would get up and she would drive them to work. After a full day at Flexo Products, she would drive to Columbia Gas and pick Gene up. She would then drive across the street to a pub where she would wait in the car while he ‘unwound’ from his day. They would drive home where she then prepared a meal for the family. It was hard. She persevered through many trials. However, when asked what had attracted her to Gene, she said that he was kind. She was able to see the very best in people. That integrity and inner strength of character allowed her to not only be tolerant, but to be extremely gracious. And, that grace spilled over on to all of us who knew her. Truly, like Sarah, Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Another woman lived at a time when her people had been deported far from their homeland. Her name was Esther. Through a number of events, this woman was noticed by Xerxes, the king of Persia. He took her into his harem. There, Esther became Xerxes’ favorite. As the story progressed we find that Esther’s uncle, a guy named Mordecai, uncovered a plot to assassinate Xerxes. He told Esther, who informed the king, giving credit to her uncle. We see here a glimpse of Esther’s commitment to her family and her people.

A little later a man named Haman rose up in the court of Xerxes. He enjoyed the honor and adulation of everyone who was subordinate to him. Mordecai, however, refused to honor him. It became known that Mordecai was a Jew. So, Haman petitioned the king have all of the Jews throughout the realm put to death. When Mordecai heard of this, he went to Esther and asked her to intervene. Now, it’s important to understand, that at that time anyone who entered the presence of the king without permission did so on pain of death. This held even more strictly for a woman. Yet, Esther prepared herself and, taking her life in her hands, she entered the inner court. Xerxes saw her, and “he was pleased.” Esther asked the king to come to a banquet that she was holding to honor Haman. (A wisdom that we aren’t privy to til this point.) On the second night of banqueting, Xerxes asked Esther what he could do for her, up to half his kingdom. She answered, saying that her petition was for the king to spare her people. She told him that she was a Jew and that Haman had orders to kill all of the Jews. The king reversed his decree and had Haman killed instead.

Esther was willing to forfeit her life for her family and her people. Regardless of any obstacles, she was truly courageous. Mickie absolutely would do anything for her family. She saw herself as the glue that held them together. No sacrifice was too costly. No discomfort too extreme. And, she could be very adamant about that. I remember once when Hope and I were dating, I brought up the possibility of Hope graduating from high school early so that we could get married. Mickie, in no uncertain, (and I might add colorful), terms let me know that was never going to happen. I’m sure many of you can relate a time when she drew a line and said, “No further!” Discussion over! Esther was definitely Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Finally, I want to tell you a story about a young woman. She was about 14 years old. She had been brought up and trained to be a good Jewish wife. All of her expectations and dreams revolved around this future. After all, in a very patriarchal culture, her options were limited. She lived in a time when a woman was little more than property. First to her father; then to her husband. These roles were strictly enforced by religion and culture. One day a man showed up saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” He explained to her that she was going to give birth to a son. Wait a minute! She wasn’t officially married. In fact, she had a fiancé who would be oh so ticked about his virgin wife becoming pregnant. Not only that, her family would be publicly shamed. They had promised Joseph a virgin. Not only would she not be that, she would bring an illegitimate child t, too. This young woman, brought up in a strict, religious home knew the repercussions of all of this…stoning to death. Yet, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”.

We don’t usually contemplate this. Mary’s response could have sealed her death. But, she trusted this messenger. No, she trusted God who sent this messenger. Mary’s response caused her to later praise God saying,

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is HIS name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary Lou mentioned to me that Mickie was as ‘born again’ as anyone she ever knew. I don’t think that Mickie would put it that way. She would simply say that “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”. Her faith in God never wavered. She loved the fellowship of saints. She loved the opportunity to worship God in spirit and truth. Mary was Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

There are many more women who were Eshet Chayil that I can’t say a lot about. There was Deborah who helped lead her people in their struggle with the Canaanites. Tamar, who was cheated by Judah and who boldly confronted him for the birthrights of her sons. One of whom, Perez, was an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth, who was also called Eshet Chayil, whose boldness continued the lineage of Jesus. Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Junius the apostle. Lydia, the first convert to Christ in Europe. Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Paul’s true son in the faith Timothy.

I could go beyond the Bible and cite Joan of Arc, Marie Currie, Mother Theresa and many, many other Eshet Chayil who have formed us, protected us, nurtured us and passed on faith, courage, integrity and strength of character.

Eric S. Kingston shares:

A woman of valor makes the world change

Her strength is the content that guides through the days

Defined by her actions that bring light to all dreams

Valor is something that’s defined by her deeds.

Her valor is golden, sparkled and gray

She stands up to the challenge no matter the way

It can’t be held back or defined by her age

Yes, a woman of valor makes the world change.

For valor’s not held by the young or the old

But by the deeds of the heart that give and unfold

It’s merit and honor that hold no disguise

Like the creation of being in the blessed Holy One’s eyes.

For valor is the color of the song of her soul

As she changes, creates and turns light into gold

Divine is Her Presence, be it joyous or sad

— A Woman of Valor —

May offer little, but it will be all that she has.

For only her heart will know the depths of her soul

That nurtures and blossoms and forever unfolds

And holds in its essence new life and new gain

Yes, A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change.

There is no doubt that Irene has taken her place as Eshet Chayil.

God Is Not Bound to Our Ways

This is my first post since I decided to change the focus of this blog. After much prayer and counsel from my Spiritual Director and my counselor, I feel that, at least for awhile, this is the direction that I must go.

I’ve reflected on my personal experiences and those of others. I’ve read a lot that has been written by people who have been hurt by abusive ‘teachers.’ Heavy chains have been wrought out of the iron of dogma. This has been done primarily by White men who drape these chains upon the shoulders of the meek; the hurting; the marginalized.

So, this is a beginning. My desire is to reveal what I believe are errant interpretations of the Christian Scriptures. Also, I desire to shine a light on the fallacies of historic precedent that so many leaders try to use to validate these interpretations.

I know that this may appear to be a lot to consider. And, it is. But, it is important that we take this journey together at this time. Many good and sincere people are trapped in abusive institutions. Many others are leaving the faith journey altogether. There has been a marked rise in the number of folks who simply can’t believe any longer. I have been one of those who has questioned that God even exists. But, I can’t go there. Something…that ‘still, small voice’… keeps me from walking away. I BELIEVE that there is more to the Universe…to our existence…than simply cosmic dust. I have only my experience to hang on to. My experience with the transcendental ‘Other’ compels me to continue on this path.

Perhaps, you also, are in a similar place in your life. If so, ‘Come!’ Let’s walk together for awhile. You, me…and God.

The masthead of my blog quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I have thought about this verse for many, many years. What does Paul mean? What did the folks in the Galatian church hear? How does this apply to me/us some 2,100 years later?

For starters, most Fundagelical leaders dismiss this whole concept by saying that the meaning of this verse is that we are all ‘free’ to not sin. WTF?!?! I’m free to not do something? But, what AM I FREE to do? What am I free to think and believe? Who am I free to be?

I have never really felt comfortable with that definition by negation. For one to be free implies that there is something to be freed from. Some kind of bondage or prison that is not good. So, they would say, “Well, you’re free from sin.” As I’ve grown and matured in my faith, I honestly don’t know what that means. No one can provide a definitive answer to what ‘sin’ actually is. (This is the subject for a future post.) Some say it’s simply ‘missing the mark.’ However, the most common term for ‘sin’ in the Greek New Testament is hamartia. This has to do with being evil, wrong doing and guilt. And, many of the people who hold to this holiness outlook are more than willing to pile on the guilt.

There are many kinds of slavery. Slavery to addictions, praise, food, etc. In this passage from Galatians, Paul was writing about slavery to the Jewish works of the Law. These were primarily the ‘identifiers’ of who was a Jew and who was not. Basically, it set the gates for who was in and who was out. Things like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath-keeping were what Paul had in mind. Today, many Christians bind themselves to laws that effectively perform the same function. They have developed ‘laws’ that must be adhered to in order to be members in good standing in their ‘tribe.’ What is one’s stance on abortion? LGBT people? Has one followed whatever ‘formula’ is currently in vogue for tribal initiation, (did I say some kind of “sinners’” prayer correctly)? Do I hold to the ‘correct’ doctrine, (whatever that means),?

What these do not do is free people. They heap on the unsuspecting a burden that they cannot bear. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:4 are true of these people, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

This may sound like the rant of an angry person. Well, actually, it is. I am angered by the presumption of these people to say they speak for God. Every time one of them states, “God said this or that” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. When I hear hate speech being spewed from pulpits I cringe. I recently saw a video of a man claiming to ‘know’ God’s will screaming at a second grade girl who had the audacity to hold a rainbow flag. Somehow, I can’t picture Jesus, the One who welcomed the little children and blessed them, doing this.

I think that my favorite passage in all of the Bible is Luke 4:18-19. The story recounts Jesus’ coming out at a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He found the text he desired and read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

I could go on and on. And, I will. Eventually. I intend to broach issues that Evangelicals prefer to ignore. Or, worse, disparage. I am going to poke and poke to evoke a response in folks who think differently. This is a place for civil discussion.

So, let us begin. What do you think about slavery? If there is some bondage, how do we move toward freedom? Does God require that we wear some heavy yoke?

Use the comments. Please note that I moderate the comments. Refrain from inflammatory language.

Just A Thought From Thomas Merton

Anyone who knows me knows that Thomas Merton is a major influence on how I understand prayer and contemplation. So, I offer a small bit of his to you all. This is where I am.

When The Road Ahead Is In Darkness – Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

Happy Imbolc!

ImbolcHappy Imbolc! This is the day that our Gaelic forebears celebrated as the turn from deepest winter to the beginning of spring. In the U.S. we celebrate this as Groundhog day. It is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. New birth is coming!

Imbolc is considered a pagan holiday. So, those of us who have been a part of the Christian community either don’t know about it, or dismiss it as pagan. (It’s not worth our consideration.)

However, I think that we do creation a disservice by dismissing this. The pagan and indigenous communities seem to be more in tune with the true workings of the cosmos than those of us who claim to know better. They understand the cycles of life. And, they respect them. They celebrate them. For crying out loud! Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and bleak and gray and too freakin’ cold! What’s not to celebrate about the turning point toward warmth and new growth?

But, many of us. Especially, those of us in the Protestant persuasion consider this beneath us. It’s not in the Bible, so it can’t be good.

Protestant can look back to our birth…the reformation for much of this thinking. At that time we became “people of the book.” We tossed out the title “people of tradition” and leapt headlong into a different way of thinking.

We looked at the Biblical text and ‘voila’! We read that God had created all things and had made humans the masters! How cool! We’re the boss! We can control and exploit all of the resources that the Earth can provide FOR OUR BENEFIT!! Yea, God!

But, there is another way to look at things. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” In the Hebrew the language is a little clearer. I mean, what does it mean to “cultivate” and “keep” it?

First, the word to cultivate can also mean ‘to serve.’ Surely, ‘till’ and ‘cultivate’ are part of the meaning. But, by far, the references are to service.

Second, the expression ‘to keep’ has as it’s primary meaning to watch and guard. Other meanings are to stand guard and protect.

For so much of our history since the reformation we have viewed the Scripture to say ‘subdue’ the world. But, is that what God has really desired?

Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that the whole of creation is groaning…waiting for the daughters and sons of God to stand up and be recognized. Even Jesus taught about an unfaithful servant who abused his fellows. In Matt. 24:42 and Luke 12:37, Jesus taught about a certain servant who, realizing that his Master was gone for a prolonged period of time, began to abuse his fellow servants. The Master of will return at a time that this wayward servant doesn’t expect and will punish him for his waywardness.

How much more will we, who have the Scripture to enlighten us, be punished for the way we have abuse the Good Creation of God?

Imbolc and the other so-called ‘pagan’ celebrations can teach us all a lot about how our world actually works. We can find life and purpose in them. That doesn’t mean that we embrace the deities and practices of pagans. But, it does mean that we listen to and respect the natural cycles of the world in which we live. The world that God loves and has redeemed.