Hunger Games and Religious Famine

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Family, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, Work

two trees “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”             ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 

I spent two days last week listening to my favorite seminary professor, friend, bog Irishman and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology. I was his research assistant one year, which is actually a glorified title for travel/booking agent, secretary, and general flunky.  Since I also was his alter ego for his correspondence, I learned to “channel my inner Abraham.” Fifteen years later, I can still easily pierce through his Irish dialect, which for others is as heavy as a stout pair of brogues handed down from their granddaddy’s closet.  “Faith” for Billy has three syllables, just as the Holy Trinity has three persons.

Billy is a resident alien in these parts, since he is an Irish citizen, but even if he were a naturalized American citizen, my guess is he wouldn’t consider himself a citizen of this world, for as a Christian “our citizenship is from heaven, and it is from there we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

In this world we have many nations, both rich and poor. In these, there are rich who live in the poorest nations and very poor people who live in the rich nations such as our own. I speak here only of economics, for some of those who are financially poor are richer spiritually than those who have great wealth, for they understand their lives depend upon God’s providence and mercy, and not on their own strength and position for gain.

Those who are caught up in the spirit of this world are beset by the cares of this world and focus on these problems. They see no hope for change, no way out of the status quo. They are “hopeless” people, for the spirit of the world can’t offer hope, but only more of the same. This is why “the Hunger Games” and its dystopian view of the future has captured the attention of our youth. They see it as a possible future, for they live without hope. Their generation’s symbol is the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.

As I was chatting with my Walgreen’s photo clerk the other day, she said, “Your parents fought to make the world safe for democracy, and people your age put a man on the moon. Our generation hadn’t seen anything grand or positive happen. We’ve been at war most of our lives, mostly “against something”, but never “for anything.” It’s like we have lost our will to do any great deeds as a country. We can’t even be “for peace, for ecological sanity or for whatever!” The spirit of this world is negativity in all its aspects.

Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:19). Those who walk on another path don’t belong to the spirit of this world, even though they live in this world, for they have received the Spirit of God. This isn’t some special gift, reserved only for a few extraordinary persons, but it’s the gift of God to each and every believer! How are we to know God if we aren’t joined to him in a spiritual manner? We aren’t able to use our minds alone, for “no human mind can grasp this, and who can comprehend his ways?” Our mind is part of this world, but not part of the spiritual world (Ecclesiastes 16:20).

Once we have our own experiences with God, we can test them against the experiences of the saints of the church (tradition), the witness of Scripture, and the reason of our minds. We will never understand God with our minds only, but we will also never understand God only by our human experience or by the tradition of others either, or just by reading about God from the Bible.  Because God is a personal God, whom we know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we need to experience God in relationship, for our spirit communicates with God’s Holy Spirit. When we experience God, we experience hope, life, and love.

We aren’t able to hear the sounds of hopelessness in the world unless we too have also known no hope. When I met this worker at the photo counter, we got into this discussion because another customer was admiring my iPhone 4S photos and compared them to my  35mm Minolta black body camera photos. Because there’s nothing automatic on my 40 year old camera, I have to think and compose my photo before I shoot.  She particularly admires the two trees winter stark against a blue sky. This photo was one of a series I took of trees that stood naked, ready to bloom once spring began, I was reading Brian D. McLauren’s Naked Spirituality at the time. It reminded her of the Twin Towers in New York City, the symbol of her generation’s loss and communal grief. She is my daughter’s age, part of Gen Y or the “Millenniums.” They are the first Internet generation, so technology is a necessity in their life. They may be wired into the world, but they have no intelligible vocabulary or theological framework from which to make a coherent and positive sense of the world.

They are “Saturday’s children, but they aren’t in Sunday School,” for as a group, these young people are deeply suspicious of tradition.  I suspect that even if they were in a church they would find that the gospel there has been watered down to what Billy Abraham calls a “civil religion” or “God, the flag, private enterprise, and the fourth of July.” Upon finding this worldly gospel within the church, they would turn and leave, and rightly so, for why get out of bed early on Sunday if they aren’t going to hear a different message from the world they are in the other six days of the week? They are hungry, but they aren’t finding nourishment in our “fast food churches” these days.

To make coherent sense of this world, we have to have a worldview that is focused on God, for only then will we understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. Our primary gift is “prophecy, in proportion to faith” (Romans 12:6). This isn’t some two bit foretelling of the future, but a vigorous listening to God’s word, an active calling of God’s people back to God’s love, and the announcing of God’s judgment if we fail to return or God’s mercy if we repent and return.

Too often we have made the gospel a cheap one-armed bandit, putting our quarters in and hoping for the three cherries to hit the jackpot of prosperity. Other times we have made the good news a shackle to bind people by laws and restrictions instead of freeing tem to become fully human and fully holy in the grace of God. We who claim the name of Christ have failed to articulate the good news so that our children and grandchildren can hear us! Why is that? Could it be that we actually practice a less robust religion, the civil religion in which we nod to the flag, to the country, to the rule of law, and to a creator God, but we do not give our whole lives over to the one Lord who can transform all that we are into more than we can ever imagine!  Our children deserve the Bread of Life!

“I Can Only Imagine” is a wonderful song—you can download it from iTunes if you don’t already have it. Although it’s about “heaven,” it could be about the new creation. Imagine your vision of a better world: describe it in positive terms rather than negative ones (we are at peace, rather than there is no war). If your idea is that all will have enough to eat, find a food pantry or soup kitchen and volunteer for a day to put a face on hunger in this present world. Make a difference in the part of the world in which you live. This is hands on spirituality or the spirituality of praxis.

As a creative project, write a poem or story, photograph, or place colors on a canvas about your experience. If you are photoing people, ask permission first, for not everyone wants their image used. Colors tell the story of your experience. You don’t have to make a realistic image, but your colors and shapes/lines should reflect your inner emotions. This may be harder than it sounds.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Two trees outside of FUMC Hot Springs, AR. Standing stark against a winter sky, they called to me & I took a photo with my iPhone. This painting reminds me of the thief who spoke to Christ & heard him say, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Uncategorized

20120413-203614.jpg

Crayola Crayons and the Secret of The Cross

Children, Creativity, Family, Fear, Forgiveness, home, Icons, Imagination, Love, Meditation, Ministry, mystery, Prayer, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”                                                    ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted more crayons in my 2012 time icondrawstring bag, so I put my little five year old hands into the darkness of this hidden place, found the larger crayons, and broke them in half.  I did this in secret, to have “more” when I spread them out on our table during coloring time. I didn’t understand that I didn’t have any more “colors,” but only had more pieces of crayons. This “mystery” of “numbers and more” was lost on my undeveloped five-year-old mind.

In the first grade, we had individual desks, so we kept our colors in their original boxes.  This is when I first noticed that while my teacher required us to have the Crayola standard eight color non rolling crayons, these magic colors came in boxes of many more colors! As soon as I was allowed to bring more than a set of eight colors to school, I begged my parents for the biggest box my teachers would allow. The beauty and secret joys of all the mysteries of the universe were there in all these colors as I opened my first large box.  It may have had only twenty-four colors, but I thought I had all the secret knowledge of heavens before me.

There are secrets and then there are mysteries. Secrets are things that can be known and understood, but for some reason we want to keep the information “sub rosa.” Mysteries, however, can’t be understood and are beyond knowing, so they are often hidden, even if they are in plain sight. Such is the mystery of God and the reality of the crucified Christ.  We cannot see the invisible God, but we can see his visible evidence in Christ’s broken body hanging on the cross: God’s abounding love, his radical forgiveness, and his amazing grace in the gift of his son’s life to bring us into a new life and a new relationship with the Father.

Death, especially a hideous and tortuous demise, doesn’t seem the avenue to life. A criminal execution isn’t noble or brave. The people around the cross jeered,  “Save yourself, as you saved others!” (Luke 23:35) But he did not.  This is a mystery to us, for he could have called 10,000 angels down at any time! Surely the heavenly host who filled the skies at his birth would have rescued him from this horrible fate at the last. This is why “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Lately secrets have been much bandied about. Our straight arrow University of Arkansas football coach seems to have had a secret life, one that only came to light after his motorcycle accident with a female passenger on board. This young university employee was in a “previous relationship” with the head coach. My gut tells me that the “previous” became “active” the moment the motorcycle went off the road, for the coach at first failed to mention to the University authorities that he had anyone with him. This lie and the multiple refusals to come clean over a period of time broke the bond of trust between him and his employers and supervisors. He was placed on administrative leave while others decided his fate.

Over the Easter weekend the true colors of our theology began to show. The Facebook page “Save Bobby Petrino” held a rally Easter Sunday. In the spirit of the season they said, “Jesus saved Bobby Petrino, now Jeff Long can save him too.”  Wow! Never thought that our Athletic Director would get elevated to the second person of the Holy Trinity! That’s usually reserved for winning football coaches like Petrino. “Forgive and Forget” for this crowd really means, “Let’s get back to winning games.”

I wonder how they would have reacted if Coach Nutt had been caught—oh wait! There was the text message scandal and the comely media lady.  This was the final straw, as I remember, that caused us to buy out a losing coach’s contract. It seems we treat the indiscretions of losers differently than those of winners.  In a like manner, consider the realm of politics and two men, both of whom “did their wives wrong.” One we continue to faun upon and the other we still love to hate. I speak of Bill Clinton and John Edwards. In truth, the first has redeemed himself and changed his ways, devoting his post presidential life to good works around the world. John Edwards is too fresh in our minds for his cover-up of his relationship with his pregnant mistress and paying hush money to her family while his own wife was battling cancer.

This sort of self-destructive behavior happens to people who rise to great power, have many “yes men” around them, and have pressures from all sides pushing them constantly. They become isolated from their families and from the ordinary world’s give and take. They live in an unreal universe in which they are the sun and everyone else is a mere planet that revolves around their light and glory. It can happen to doctors, lawyers, CEOs, clergy, teachers, managers, principals, or any one in supervision over another person.

What we forget is the “other woman,” the young “planetoid” that gets sucked into the gravitational pull of this bright shiny object. Some would say that she’s an adult and could say “no,” but when the power is unequal, and especially when the person is her boss, “yes” is more often what she will say.  Men of power usually survive, but the “other woman” is marked for life, especially in her home state.  “Why did you leave your last job?” Spin that one, honey. Ask Monica Lewinsky how life has treated her these last seventeen years: no steady job, no home of her own, no love life, people still taking her photo as “that girl,” and she still has the trophy black dress hidden at the back of her closet. She hasn’t exactly moved on and thrived.

We tend to respect power and strength. We want a winner at the helm, whether we are speaking of a football team, a church, a business, a family or a volunteer organization. We want a “messiah” who walks and talks like Tim Tebow and looks like him if possible! If he has the purity, power, and passion of Tim Tebow, that’s even better. What we don’t realize is that his character comes from understanding the mystery of God in Christ: power is found in weakness! Only when we set aside our human strength can the strength of God be brought to bear in the tough times of our lives. When we are standing on our own two feet in when we are at our weakest. When we are driven to our knees, when all our powers have fled, this is when God takes over! “I give up” means “God, take over.”

Any one of us would trade $1 for $10, an act that results in a1,000% no risk return.  Yet every day, people play the lottery in hopes of more payout with a lesser opportunity of result. Giving up our puny power for the power of the Almighty God is a no brainer trade! This is why Paul came knowing only Christ and him crucified. This is why the “tebowing” move is on one’s knees. It is the attitude of a humbled soul, who recognizes that while God’s mysteries may be beyond our understanding, the gift of Christ’s body on the cross, broken for us, is the key to unlocking all the wisdom and knowledge of God.

The ancient Jews practiced the “whole burnt offering” as a gift to God. Nothing was left for them to consume, enjoy or keep. As a practice of self-examination, we need to discern what we have kept hidden in the closets of our minds and in the secret places of our hearts. God already knows these things, but we are keeping them hidden from the world, from our friends, and our families. We don’t need to spill our guts to everyone, but we do need to admit these to ourselves and to God. Write your secret on a piece of paper: anger at (name) who raped me, my substance abuse, workaholism, fear, sadness, perfectionism, my idiot boss, etc.  Find a place on pavement, patio, or rock and set this paper on fire. As you burn this paper up, watch the smoke lift up to the sky above. Know that God is burning this pain from your life.  Pray that God strengthens you to live a new and intentional life, depending upon the love that held Christ to the cross.  When the road gets hard ahead, go down to your knees, and let the power of God hold you close, moment by moment.

You might have many hidden objects that you can’t get rid of because they have meaning to you. They are in boxes or drawers, tucked in the back of your jewelry box or in your storeroom or garage. One day you’ll get around to it, do something with them, but you just don’t know what yet.  I have many small crosses people have given me, some small pieces of broken jewelry that have lost their mates, and some odd items that I’ve found and for some reason I can’t throw away. I have seashells from the beach vacation I took 20 years ago and old necklaces that are no longer in style. I finally pulled these all out and made an icon of the cross from found objects.200? found object icon

Find an 8 X 10 inch frame at the craft store that you like and get rid of the glass carefully (wrap it in newspaper and throw it away). Cover the backing board with fabric or scrapbook paper. You can also use an 8 X 10 canvas panel painted gold.  Use gorilla glue or a glue gun to attach the objects, beginning from the center outward. Make sure to leave 1/4 inch or more outer margin so that the frame will fit! Do NOT lift the panel up to look at it or the heavy items will fall off! Leave panel flat to dry for 24 hours. Insert it into frame and display.

May your New Life be one of Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Mega Millions, Pie in the Sky and Perfection

Creativity, Family, gambling, generosity, home, Imagination, ministry, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, Spirituality, stewardship, Uncategorized, Work

“If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”~~ Matthew 19:21 

I didn’t hit it big last Friday, but then I didn’t go buy the golden ticket. In fact, I bought no ticket at all.  I didn’t participate in the mega-normus Mega Millions Lottery with the $656 million pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I didn’t join the lines stretching out the door and down the block waiting for the opportunity to mark the little circles of hope and dreams. The last time I waited in a line that long, I was in Berryville, Arkansas, waiting for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger” to open at the local theater where they showed photos of the local folks, sites, and events before the movie started.

Only three people in this country hit the mother load, the jackpot, and they may or may not show up for work on Monday.  When they stood in line on Friday, they may have dreamed of what they would do with the money they might win. If nothing else, it would make the time go quicker, as some of those lines were stretching quite a few blocks!  They may have been dreaming of “my salad days” when their ship comes in, when they can tell the boss to take this job and shove it. or they may be thinking of paying off debts and helping others. We do know that $1.5 billion dollars was spent by 1/3 of the American public who took a chance, even though the odds were 1/176 million.

A quick Internet search turned up what we could have bought as a nation for this $1.5 billion ($5/person who bought tickets).

  • Food–$6,129/household = 238,000 hungry households fed
  • Gasoline—685,000 tanks of gas for these households
  • Health care for one year—462,000 American families
  • One week unemployment benefits—40% of 12.8 million American unemployed

Someone came to Jesus and asked, “Tell me what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments, because for a Jew to be in a right relationship with God, right behavior was necessary.  The man wanted to know which commandments were the important ones to keep. Jesus began to list the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, which were given by God to Moses at Sinai.

When he said, “I’ve kept these all my life,” he cut Jesus off before he could name the one law that he couldn’t keep: “Do not covet anything belonging to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). He asked, “What do I still lack?” So Jesus answered his question with a challenge, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (21). This man went away from Jesus sad, because he had many possessions.

Whether he had few or many, the real problem is his possessions “owned him” and he couldn’t part with them. As appealing as the hope of eternal life, treasure in heaven, or perfection/completion in Christ is, the siren call of his stuff was greater still. He never gets to the “come, follow me” point in his life because he has to answer the call of his possessions that say “stay, remain with us.”

This is one of the hard teachings of our creative and spiritual lives. As long as we chase the Dream of the Pie in the Sky and Something for nothing, we are chasing a Chimera of Temptation. If we want to be perfect, or “complete,” we must give away all we have and follow the higher calling. Some folks find a way to do that concretely, as those who enter the religious orders in the Catholic Faith.

The Protestant clergy and all Christian laity have a different calling. We recognize that our possessions don’t belong to us in the first place, but are a loan from God.  We are merely stewards of all things, for God is the ultimate owner. Once we accept that we are managers of our Master’s estate, we are thankful that we are entrusted with a share to supervise. Then our possessions no longer own us, for we no longer own them! We render our accounting back to the Master, and make faithful use of them for his good and his purposes, and not just for our own good. We have the incentive to use money appropriately and not squander it gambling, on drugs, or wasting precious resources. We are thankful for what we have and share with others to help the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless, and other missions of our faith community.

Amazing isn’t it, what happens what happens when you give up ownership of your many possessions? In fact if everyone in America, not just the one third of us that bought a ticket last week, would chunk in just $5, we could feed nearly one million households for a year!!

A similar sea change happens to the creative artist when he or she gives up chasing perfection itself.  The great Apelles said of another Greek Classical artist, “He was a great Master, but he often spoiled his pieces by endeavoring to make them perfect; he did not know when he had done well; a man may do too much as well as too little; and he is truly skillful, who knew what was sufficient.” (The Mind of the Artist, Binyon, 1909, p.159-160).

I have watched many beginning artists and amateur painters work an area of their canvas over and over until it is quite dead. The worst mistake is working into wet paint, rather than letting the area dry first. Then everything turns into a mush of grey. Or they spend so much time on the details of one area they fail to keep that section in balance and harmony with the rest of the canvas, so it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The solution to this is to paint over the whole canvas so that the “whole” is always in mind. First sketch the scene lightly to be sure it fits on your surface, then begin to lay in the colors over the whole canvas. Keep the balance of light and dark, warm and cool in harmony as you work.  When a color appears in the foreground, it needs to appear in the middle and back layers also, even if it is muted or tinted, for the eye will carry itself through the painting this way and help establish depth on the two dimensional surface.

In my own life I sometimes “overwork” an area aiming for perfection or completion, especially in work or relationships. I think if I just see more people, help more people, pray more, teach more, serve more, do more, say yes more, never say no to anyone, I will be responsible for (the first perfect church ever/best sales staff/perfect family/no child left behind/etc). Then I realize that the disciples who were walking with Jesus, who saw the many miracles, saw him die on a cross, saw him raised from the dead and touched his resurrected body weren’t able to bring a perfect church into being in their lifetimes. So I have to give up my “perfection fantasy” and come back to my post Mega Million Meltdown reality. I settle for doing my best, and let God do the rest. He will bless my best, if only I have given my all.

This week, find evidence of hunger. Jesus fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. What could you do with $5? A gift to the Arkansas Food Bank makes this $5 multiply into more and feeds many hungry Arkansans.  Share this message with your friends, and share your “bread” with the hungry.  Write a poem or blog about your experience.  Make a collage (cut out images) of the faces of hunger.  Add hunger to your prayers.  Joy and Peace, Cornelia