History Beautiful and Terrible

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“When you step on this, you are stepping on history,” Woody said as we left the small screen room he built to one side of their Bremo house. Of course when we sit in the screen room we are sitting within history since Woody built it entirely from reclaimed lumber, some from an 1815 barn. But that stone that we step on outside the entrance? That was part of a lock on Thomas Jefferson’s canal that ran from Richmond to Lynchburg before the railroad filled it in and built the railroad line there.

And I stand on this stone, almost certainly put in its original place by enslaved people, as I leave the room timbered with beams almost certainly put in their original place by enslaved people.

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Living in Two Worlds

A British psychiatrist once said, “We live in two worlds simultaneously, the internal and the external, and constantly confuse the two.” Or something close to that.

I think, similarly, we live in two worlds simultaneously, the eternal and the now, and constantly confuse the two.

Christ died to save our eternal lives.

Christ lived to show us how to live our best now lives.

The eternal is eternally taken care of, once and for all, once for all, by the cross and the empty tomb. Even if they be but symbols (as sometimes I think they are) what they are meant to symbolize is clear. Death has lost its sting.

But that does not mean that life has lost its challenge. We do not try to live the Beatitudes and the two great commandments to earn eternal life. Eternity is God’s business, not ours. And God has taken care it. We do not earn salvation like a Scouting badge. We are gifted salvation like a birthday present.

Ah, but holiness – now that is quite another thing. To be whole in the now. Wholly loving, wholly forgiving, wholly just, wholly confident of God.

That, now, is something we can work at, get better and worse and better again at. That is why I rewrite psalms, teach Sunday School, work for social justice, and pray.

That is why in eternity I will need neither faith nor hope but will live in Love.

What Was Jesus?

[I wrote this two years ago for a women’s retreat in Valdosta, Georgia.]

Was Jesus:

  • Wanted: I was taught that He was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for; so He must have been wanted, right? But Jews expected a hero-warrior-king. [Jeremiah 23:5: The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.] Romans wanted a puppet king (Herod); Mary wanted to marry Joseph and have kids after marriage. Nobody wanted or expected what happened.
  • Welcomed: Maybe He wasn’t what they expected, but since He was so much MORE than they expected, He was welcomed by them, right? But even His family doubted Him and tried to get Him to stop. [Mark 3:21 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’] In the (almost) end, He was so unwelcome that He was crucified.
  • A liberal or a conservative: Jesus is not our favorite brand of politician; He removed Himself and His kingdom from the politics of this world. [John 18:36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’]
  • A feminist or an anti-feminist: He is a salvation-ist; He did not come to elevate the status of women or to keep them subjugated. He came to save women – and men. Jesus’ ministry and His disciples included women; His parables included women (sweeping the house to find a lost coin), His miracles included women, women anointed Him with oil and tears, cried for Him as He carried His cross, stood at the foot of His cross, went to His tomb, and Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the good news of His resurrection. [John 20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.] But He cannot be called a feminist any more than He can be called a Democrat or Republican – BECAUSE THAT CONCEPT DID NOT EXIST THEN.
  • A social reformer: He did not come to make the world a better place. He came to remind us that this world is not our real home and destiny. [Luke 4:42-43 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’] Jesus began a powerful social reform movement – one that continues to this day, including His “preferential option for the poor.” But that was not His purpose. His purpose was to deal with sin; social reform is an effect of Jesus’ mission, not His primary mission.
  • A religious reformer: He did not come to reform Judaism; He did not come to start a new religion; He came to tell us that God is with us right where we are; we don’t need religion. [Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’] Repent = metanoia = turn around: The kingdom of heaven is not with the High Priest in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem. The kingdom of heaven is all around you.
  • Christian: He was JEWISH! Matthew chapter 1 establishes Jesus as a Jew (descendant of Abraham) in the kingship line (descendant of David). He was raised, lived and died as a Jew.
  • The savior of the world: Jesus is the savior of individuals; of each person. He did not come to make the world great again, or whole again, or fair again – He came to bring individuals out of the world and into the kingdom of heaven. [Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’]
  • God’s Son: “Son of God” is a (confusing) way of describing God-incarnate; Jesus is God: teach third grade if you don’t get how confusing it really is. [John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.]
  • A man who lived 2,000 years ago: He was born 2,000 years ago; He lives TODAY!
  • The best advice columnist ever: He told us what the Law expected in order to make it clear that we will ALWAYS fail to earn salvation by keeping the law (as St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther and Nadia Bolz-Weber remind us). Salvation is ours only by “right” of grace: the righteousness of God freely given to us. [Luke 18: 26-27 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’ Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’]
  • My best friend: I “get” my best friends; lots of times I don’t “get” Jesus and I certainly don’t like what He wants of me. My BFFs are pretty easy for me to understand and love. Jesus is full of contradictions. Once we get past the Christmas and Easter feel-good stories, and pay attention to His words and ministry, things can get pretty confusing. Mary couldn’t understand Him consistently, nor could Peter, Thomas, Paul – or even your pastor.

The truth is, I don’t know, from day to day, who Jesus is and will be to me. So I have to keep going back to hang out with Him – I have to keep reading the Bible – to make sure that I am not creating an idol whom I call Jesus.

Here’s what I know: I want to know the Jesus whom Thomas (yes, the one we call Doubting Thomas) knew and I want to respond to him as Thomas responded. Thomas only speaks 3 times in the gospels, all in the gospel of John:

  • John 11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
  • John 14:5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
  • John 20:28 My lord and my God. (The only time in the Gospels that Jesus is called God.)

I want Jesus to be the person I live and die for; I want to follow Him; I want to acknowledge Him as lord of my life and as God. That’s what I want but, like St. Paul: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7: 15, 19)

Then my comfort, my peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), my blessed assurance is that I do not have to be consistent because God is consistent in His belief in me, His love for me, His salvation of me. As the old hymn says:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

My Own Blue Moon

“Once in a blue moon”…there is solid cloud cover in Charlottesville this morning so I cannot see the blue moon that weather mavens assure me is there, but I found something even better. Sometime last year, I began to conceive of the third person of the Trinity as not just Spirit but Female. I identified the third person of the Trinity with the feminine Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and I began using “Lady Wisdom” often to refer to the third person. But although I felt this to be true and necessary, the traditionalist in me worried — when does insight become dangerous deviation? When does the personal give way to the idiosyncratic?

Then, this morning, frustrated in trying to see the blue moon but wide awake, I read this passage in Julian of Norwich’s Showings:

“For the almighty truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he made us and he keeps us in him. And the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. And the Father is enclosed in us, the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us, almighty, all wisdom and goodness, one God…”

Sometimes it is a disappointment to discover that our thoughts and insights are not unique — and sometimes it is incredibly reassuring.

Praise God, Father Creator, Mother Wisdom, Brother Jesus.

Wherein I finally have some insight into living in the moment

In yoga this morning, as I started a seated forward bend, I got a bit impatient with myself because I couldn’t reach my feet. A few minutes later, as I let go of my impatience and relaxed into the pose (with the teacher’s gentle instruction), I felt my body sinking a bit lower and my index fingers encircle my big toes. Slowly I sat back up.

Later, in Warrior 1, I saw that the young person across from me had her thigh bent almost parallel to the floor. I remembered being able to do that and looked down ruefully at my own thigh, which was still closer to vertical than horizontal. I wanted to be able to do what I could once do. Instead, I focused over the head of the person across from me and let my body relax a little more into the pose. Not a lot, just micro-movements, but I focused on my own body.

Later still, during the final seated mindfulness time, I thought about those moments and I thought that my focus and goal cannot be to be as good as, or better than, I once was; and it cannot be to be as good as, or better than, anyone else. My only focus should be my body right then and there, as it is in that moment. To listen to it, to respect it, and to help it to move freely in that moment.

And then I thought, “I make that same kind of mistake with God.” I too often compare – how strong is my belief compared to what it once was, compared to someone else’s belief? How can I recapture a past certainty, a past peace, a past immersion in liturgy? How can I be as sure as others?

Instead I am going to try to sink into my relationship with God right at the moment I am praying. Just let it be, even if that is doubting God’s existence. Just letting the moment be enough, with whatever I can have of God right then. I’m not quite sure how exactly I will do that. Writing about it is part of helping myself to do that and trying to tell others is part of helping myself to do that.

Even though these words are a very poor reflection of the immediacy and impact of the insight in the moment I had it.

Forgiveness

I continue to be led to think about forgiveness. My thoughts this morning are that forgiveness is grace: unmerited favor. Often, when I feel that someone has wronged me, I focus on trying to understand the why of it – I go over and over it in my mind, twisting and turning it, trying to see it (as I was taught to do) from their point of view. Too often, those efforts just intensify the hurt for me, lead me into lengthy internal “dialogues” with the person who hurt me – dialogues that I always “win.” None of that leads easily to forgiveness.

This morning I have been thinking about Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery. He was not interested in her reasons, justifications, mitigating circumstances. He forgave her and asked her to do better in the future.

I am a long way from that but this morning I am thinking that forgiveness is not about understanding or excusing, but about willingness to continue to love the offender and to believe that the future can be better. Faith, hope, love and grace are needed to forgive – a tall order.

P.S. I also posted this on a closed Facebook group that I belong to. One of the women in the group took the time to write a long comment that ended with this:

Forgiveness is more a gift to yourself (via God’s grace), a firm decision not to let the harm caused by the other stop you from being free.”

I want to print this large and frame it, keep it before me always.

Against Ecclesiastes

Continuing my war on dichotomies, this morning I take issue with Ecclesiastes 3 (even though I’m never sure how to spell it). “There is…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” Anyone who has experienced much of life knows that all times are one. Just as there can be joy and laughter at a funeral, there can be sorrow and regret in the midst of happy times. We never – or almost never – think, “How do I handle, how do I get over, how do I at least conceal this joy?” Others never – or almost never – feel called to remind us that feelings of happiness will pass, that soon we will get on with our lives without feeling happy. We have labeled joy and happiness as good, sorrow and regret as bad. Yet all are simply emotionally honest responses to life. And life is complex – deep and rich and multi-layered. God is complex – the perfectly good, all knowing Supreme Being who created a very imperfect world. I think accepting the coexistence of complex, conflicting emotions may be a small step towards accepting the complex, holy, not-completely-knowable reality of God. If we cannot be comfortable with our own emotional complexity, how can we ever hope to be comfortable with God’s complexity?

And one of the ways we have been taught to reduce God’s complexity is to think of God, to worship God, solely as male, the Supreme Him. So much Christian misogyny flows from this. It is a challenge to accept both that God is a personal Being, in relationship with us, and to avoid assigning God a sex and gender. Might this be something our LGBTQ compatriots could help us become more comfortable with?