The Character of a Methodist

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Love Knows No Fear

Wesley’s Historic Teaching on Holiness

John Wesley wrote extensively to teach the Methodists of his day the tenets of the faith. We teach seminarians the historic doctrines, but many think these are “dead ideas of a long ago world.” Wesley gave us 52 Standard Sermons and the Notes on the New Testament, both of which are part of our doctrinal standards. Today many believe as long as they can justify an idea by scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, they can believe anything they want regardless of our standards. Of course, Wesley himself believed scripture, reason, and tradition led to the experience of being a child of God, but that’s another story for another day.

  1. The first tract I ever wrote expressly on this subject was published in the latter end of this year. That none might be prejudiced before they read it, I gave it the indifferent title of “The Character of a Methodist.” In this I described a perfect Christian, placing in the front, “Not as though I had already attained.” Part of it I subjoin without any alteration: —

Loves the Lord with All the Heart
“A Methodist is one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul, which is continually crying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth whom I desire besides thee.’ My God and my all! ‘Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.’ He is therefore happy in God; yea, always happy, as having in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, and over-flowing his soul with peace and joy. Perfect love living now cast out fear, he rejoices evermore. Yea, his joy is full, and all his bones cry out, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten me again unto a living hope of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for me.’

Good is the Will of the Lord
“And he, who hath this hope, thus full of immortality, in everything giveth thanks, as knowing this (whatsoever it is) is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning him. From him therefore he cheerfully receives all, saying, ‘Good is the will of the Lord;’ and whether he giveth or taketh away, equally blessing the name of the Lord. Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he giveth thanks from the ground of the heart to Him who orders it for good; into whose hands he hath wholly committed his body and soul, ‘as into the hands of a faithful Creator.’ He is therefore anxiously ‘careful for nothing,’ as having ‘cast all his care on Him that careth for him;’ and ‘in all things’ resting on him, after ‘making’ his ‘request known to him with thanksgiving.’

Prays Without Ceasing
“For indeed he ‘prays without ceasing;’ at all times the language of his heart is this, ‘Unto thee is my mouth, though without a voice; and my silence speaketh unto thee.’ His heart is lifted up to God at all times, and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down, or rise up, ‘God is in all his thoughts:’ He walks with God continually; having the loving eye of his soul fixed on him, and everywhere ‘seeing Him that is invisible.’

Loves the Neighbor as the Self
“And loving God, he ‘loves his neighbour as himself;’ he loves every man as his own soul. He loves his enemies, yea, and the enemies of God. And if it be not in his power to ‘do good to them that hate’ him, yet he ceases not to ‘pray for them,’ though they spurn his love, and still ‘despite. fully use him, and persecute him.’

Pure in Heart
“For he is ‘pure in heart.’ Love has purified his heart from envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper. It has cleansed him from pride, whereof ‘only cometh contention;’ and he hath now ‘put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.’ And indeed all possible ground for contention, on his part, is cut off. For none can take from him what he desires, seeing he ‘loves not the world, nor any of the things of the world;’ but ‘all his desire is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name.’

Does the Will of God
“Agreeable to this his one desire, is this one design of his life; namely, ‘to do, not his own will, but the will of Him that sent him.’ His one intention at all times and in all places is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He hath a single eye; and because his ‘eye is single, his whole body is full of light. The whole is light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth enlighten the house.’ God reigns alone; all that is in the soul is ‘holiness to the Lord.’ There is not a motion in his heart but is according to his will. Every thought that arises points to him, and is in ‘obedience to the law of Christ.’

Tree Known by Fruits
“And the tree is known by its fruits. For, as he loves God, so he ‘keeps his commandments;’ not only some, or most of them, but all, from the least to the greatest. He is not content to ‘keep the whole law and offend in one point,’ but has in all points ‘a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards man.’ Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God has enjoined, he does. ‘He runs the way of God’s commandments,’ now He bath set his heart at liberty. It is his glory and joy so to do; it is his daily crown of rejoicing, to ‘do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven.’

Keeping the Commandments
“All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might; for his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength; he continually presents his soul and ‘body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God;’ entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, all he is, to his glory. All the talents he has, he constantly employs according to his Master’s will; every power and faculty of his soul, every member of his body.

Doing All to the Glory of God
“By consequence, ‘whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God.’ In all his employments of every kind, he not only aims at this, which is implied in having a single eye, but actually attains it; his business and his refreshments, as well as his prayers, all serve to this great end. Whether he ‘sit in the house, or walk by the way,’ whether he lie down, or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life. Whether he put on his apparel, or labour, or eat and drink, or divert himself from too wasting labour, it all tends to advance the glory of God, by peace and good-will among men. His one invariable rule is this: ‘Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, even the Father, through him.’

Running the Race, Not as the World Runs
“Nor do the customs of the world at all hinder his ‘ running the race which is set before him.’ He cannot therefore ‘lay up treasures upon earth,’ no more than he can take fire into his bosom. He cannot speak evil of his neighbour, any more than he can lie either for God or man. He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot ‘speak idle words; no corrupt conversation’ ever ‘comes out of his mouth;’ as is all that is not ‘good to the use of edifying,’ not fit to ‘minister grace to the hearers.’ But ‘whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are’ justly ‘of good report,’ he thinks, speaks, and acts, ‘adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.'”

Lovely, Pure, Clean

Christian Perfection is Wesley’s Theme
These are the very words wherein I largely declared, for the first time, my sentiments of Christian perfection. And is it not easy to see, (1.) That this is the very point at which I aimed all along from the year 1725; and more determinately from the year 1730, when I began to be +homo unius libri,+ “a man of one book,” regarding none, comparatively, but the Bible? Is it not easy to see, (2.) That this is the very same doctrine which I believe and teach at this day; not adding one point, either to that inward or outward holiness which I maintained eight-and- thirty years ago? And it is the same which, by the grace of God, I have continued to teach from that time till now; as will appear to every impartial person from the extracts subjoined below.

Wesley goes on for some length, in his 18th century fondness for expositions. He’s not a modern blogger, but wrote for people who had time and leisure to read extensively. What I find most important for us Methodists today is his teaching about sin in believers, which is one of the points he makes strongly in the following sections.

Christian Perfection Explained
1.) In what sense Christians are not, (2.) In what sense they are, perfect.

“(1.) In what sense they are not. They are not perfect in knowledge. They are not free from ignorance, no, nor from mistake. We are no more to expect any living man to be infallible, than to be omniscient. They are not free from infirmities, such as weakness or slowness of understanding, irregular quickness or heaviness of imagination. Such in another kind are impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation; to which one- might add a thousand nameless defects, either in conversation or behaviour. From such infirmities as these none are perfectly freed till their spirits return to God; neither can we expect till then to be wholly freed from temptation; for ‘the servant is not above his master.’ But neither in this sense is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, none which does not admit of a continual increase.

Christian Perfection means Sins Are Not Committed
“(2.) In what sense then are they perfect? Observe, we are not now speaking of babes in Christ, but adult Christians But even babes in Christ are so far perfect as not to commit sin. This St. John affirms expressly; and it cannot be disproved by the examples of the Old Testament. For what, if the holiest of the ancient Jews did sometimes commit sin? We cannot infer from hence, that ‘all Christians do and must commit sin as long as they live.’

Christians have the Holy Spirit
“The privileges of Christians are in nowise to be measured by what the Old Testament records concerning those who were under the Jewish dispensation; seeing the fulness of time is now come, the Holy Ghost is now given, the great salvation of God is now brought to men by the revelation of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is now set up on earth, concerning which the Spirit of God declared of old time, (so far is David from being the pattern or standard of Christian perfection,) ‘He that is feeble among them, at that day, shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as the angel of the Lord before them.’ (Zech. 12:8.)

Christ Cleanses Us from Unrighteousness
But St. John himself says, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves;’ and, ‘If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.’

“I answer,
1.) The tenth verse fixes the sense of the eighth: ‘If we say we have no sin,’ in the former, being explained by, ‘If we say we have not sinned,’ in the latter, verse.

2.) The point under consideration is not, whether we have or have not sinned heretofore; and neither of these verses asserts that we do sin, or commit sin now.

3.) The ninth verse explains both the eighth and tenth: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ As if he had said, ‘I have before affirmed, The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ And no man can say, ‘I need it not; I have 110 sin to be cleansed, from.’ ‘If we say, we have no sin, that ‘we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves,’ and make God a liar: But ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just,’ not only ‘to forgive us our sins,’ but also ‘to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,’ that we may ‘go and sin no more.’ In conformity, therefore, both to the doctrine of St. John, and the whole tenor of the New Testament, we fix this conclusion: A Christian is so far perfect, as not to commit sin.

Good Trees don’t Produce Evil Fruits
“This is the glorious privilege of every Christian, yea, though he be but a babe in Christ. But it is only of grown Christians it can be affirmed, they are in such a sense perfect, as, Secondly, to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers. First, from evil or sinful thoughts. Indeed, whence should they spring? ‘Out of the heart of man,’ if at all, ‘proceed evil thoughts.’ If, therefore, the heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts no longer proceed out of it: For ‘a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.’

Christ Lives in the Heart
“And as they are freed from evil thoughts, so likewise from evil tempers. Every one of these can say, with St. Paul, ‘I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me;’ – – words that manifestly describe a deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin. This is expressed both negatively, ‘I live not,’ my evil nature, the body of sin, is destroyed; and positively, ‘Christ liveth in me,’ and therefore all that is holy, and just, and good. Indeed, both these, ‘Christ liveth in me,’ and, ‘I live not,’ are inseparably connected. For what communion hath light with darkness, or Christ with Belial?

Wesley was fond of quoting his brother Charles’ hymns in his writings:
“He walks in glorious liberty, To sin entirely dead:

The Truth, the Son hath made him free, And he is free indeed.”

Lessons for Methodists Today
Do we Methodists today understand this classic teaching on Christian Perfection overriding the ancient concept of justification over and over again? That idea implied we’re always in a state of corruption, so we constantly needed a sacrifice to make us right with God. Wesley taught justification by Christ, followed by the Spirit helping to refine us until we were entirely sanctified to be as Christ. This could happen in this life if we expected it and cooperated with the Spirit, but more likely the state came at the moment of death.

If we Methodists actually agreed on living out the “heart so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists” motto, we’d not be listing the sins of others we find distasteful, but looking instead to shed God’s love abroad in the world.

Instead, we still attempt to keep the old laws, rather than the law of Christ’s faith, which proceeds from God’s love for the world. As Wesley writes,

Christ is the End of the Old Laws
“For Christ is the end of the Adamic, as well as the Mosaic, law. By his death, he hath put an end to both; he hath abolished both the one and the other, with regard to man; and the obligation to observe either the one or the other is vanished away. Nor is any man living bound to observe the Adamic more than the Mosaic law. [I mean, it is not the condition either of present or future salvation.]

“In the room of this, Christ hath established another, namely, the law of faith. Not every one that doeth, but every one that believeth, now receiveth righteousness, in the full sense of the word; that is, he is justified, sanctified, and glorified.”

Love is the Fulfillment of the Law
Q. 4. Is love the fulfilling of this law?

“A. Unquestionably it is. The whole law under which we now are, is fulfilled by love. (Rom. 13:9, 10.) Faith working or animated by love is all that God now requires of man. He has substituted (not sincerity, but) love, in the room of angelic perfection.

“Q. 5. How is ‘love the end of the commandment?’ (1 Tim. 1:5.)

“A. It is the end of every commandment of God. It is the point aimed at by the whole and every part of the Christian institution. The foundation is faith, purifying the heart; the end love, preserving a good conscience.

“Q. 6. What love is this?

“A. The loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and the loving our neighbour, every man, as ourselves, as our own souls.

DeLee: Resurrection Icon

Thoughts on the Future
The question for me is, how do we as Methodists retain our classical teachings and interpret them for our modern world? While some in fear want to move toward the exclusionary teachings of other faiths, Methodists have never lived in fear, for “perfect love drives out fear.” Yet some persist in excluding some for the sake of “the law,” as if the breaking of one law were more heinous than all the others.

Today in our congregations we have persons who’ve had serial divorces or cohabitate, plus those who gamble, drink excessively, mismanage personal funds, have babies out of wedlock, and are a public nuisance. You know who I’m talking about, but we love these folks and pray for them just the same. This isn’t right to include folks whose infirmities are in the straight world, but to exclude those who have the same problems just because they have a different sexual orientation. It’s not a choice for anyone who they love. It’s not a disease to be straight or gay. It is a problem if our hearts are closed and the love of God for all our neighbors isn’t filling our hearts to overflowing.

Wesley once said, “if your heart be as my heart, then give me your hand.” In a manner of speaking, we’re saying, if your experience is the same as my experience, let’s be partners. We think too much separates us, or there’s a rat between or among us, so no one extends their hand in fellowship. We distrust what we fear, for we don’t live in perfect love, but live instead according to the ways of the world.

The Quadrilateral Doesn’t Exist

But Scripture and tradition would not suffice without the good offices (positive and negative) of critical reason. Thus, he insisted on logical coherence and as an authorized referee in any contest between contrary positions or arguments. And yet, this was never enough. It was, as he knew for himself, the vital Christian experience of the assurance of one’s sins forgiven that clinched the matter. (24)

Scripture Alone is Not Enough

When challenged for his authority, on any question, his first appeal was to the Holy Bible… Even so, he was well aware that Scripture alone had rarely settled any controverted point of doctrine… Thus, though never as a substitute or corrective, he would also appeal to ‘the primitive church’ and to the Christian tradition at large as competent, complementary witnesses to ‘the meaning’ of this Scripture or that…

Doctrine of Assurance
This is Methodism’s gift to the world and the reason we can live in perfect love, which casts out all fear. We have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, so that we are the joint heirs with Christ to all the innumerable riches of God’s inheritance. This isn’t just for a few, but for all who give themselves to Christ.

We humans aren’t allowed to say whom God forgives or who is worthy to be forgiven. That would put us smack onto the throne of god and make us a god. Then we would be worshipping our own selves, an act which would be the highest form of idolatry and worshipping the creature. God forbid we Methodists fall into this trap!

Notes:

24—https://www.amazon.com/Wesleyan-Theological-Heritage-Essays-Albert/dp/0310754712

Notes on the 1992 Report to General Conference: Scripture, Science, and Sexuality | Beyond General Conference | Asbury United Methodist Church—

https://www.visitasbury.org/beyond-general-conference/scripture-science-and-sexuality/

A PLAIN ACCOUNT OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION by John Wesley—

https://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Wesley.Christian.Perfectio.html

The Works of John Wesley, J and J Harper, 1827, free ebook.—

https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Works.html?id=PcWyAAAAMAAJ

The DNA of Gods and Heroes

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Danae and the Shower of Gold

Danae and the Shower of Gold

Danaë was a princess of Argos in Greek mythology. Argos was an island kingdom ruled by Danae’s father, who had no sons to inherit his throne, but a prophecy foretold his fate: his grandson would kill him and rule in his place.

To defy the gods, Danae’s father sealed her up in a prison so she’d never get pregnant, but Zeus, the king of the gods, transformed into a rain cloud, came to her in a shower of gold. As a result, she bore a son, Perseus. The king put his daughter and grandson into a chest, set them adrift upon the open sea, and left them to their fate. They would either drown in the sea, or drift so far away, they couldn’t harm his kingdom.

As fate would have it, Danaë and her son washed up on a far land, where a fisherman took care of them. It’s at this point I chose to enter Danaë’s story and combine it with images from my travels and imagination. This seascape is from a photo from a journey to the Oregon coast. The sunset’s crepuscular rays reminded me of the golden rain of Zeus’s disguise. Magritte has a famous painting of a “merfish” (a Fish headed body) on a beach with a seascape similar to this one, but Picasso’s beach paintings are more like the figure itself. All artists owe a debt to the images from our culture and history. We can trace our artistic DNA from the masters who went before us, just as we can see the influence of our forebears on the faces and health of our children.

While Danaë already had given birth when she washed up on the beach, this is a dream construction of her memories prior to that time. The stress of losing her parents, her home, and her support system must have been overwhelming. Add to this the burden of knowing her own child will kill her father. On top of this, she had conceived by unusual means, which portends ill for those who attempted to circumvent their fates. The giant sea shell is a reminder of her sexual union with the god, as well as her openness to the power of the gods. Danaë doesn’t resist her fate, but surrenders to it.

In the ancient world, the Greeks believed humans were foolish if they attempted to manipulate fate, for the gods had their own designs in mind. In the Greek myths, you can run, but you can’t hide. Destinies are fixed and immutable, due to fate. The three fates wore white robes and were incarnations of destiny. One spun the thread of life, another wove the cloth, and the third snipped the cord to determine the length. They controlled every mortal from birth to death.

Happiness comes from accepting one’s lot in life, for the gods will prevail. Today, we are more likely to believe we can change our destiny by our own efforts and will. Gone are the days when women submitted to powerful men, whether they were fathers, husbands, employers, or “gods.” In the context of the #MeToo movement, women today read this myth and say, “I reject a destiny of submission to another’s power over my own body. I claim the right to my own body, not only for the sake of love, but for the power it represents when I give it to another. No one takes it from me.”

Today women are more likely to chose the hero route, to take on the role of Perseus. As Perseus grew up, the king of the place sent him on a quest for the head of Medusa. While he was gone, the king tried to marry Danaë, but Perseus returned, just in time, and froze the wedding guests into stone with the dread head.

With his mother free, Perseus and Danaë returned to Argos. His grandfather had fled to Thessaly to avoid his fate, but while Perseus was competing in athletic games there, his wayward throw of a quoit, an iron ring, struck his grandfather in the head, killing him instantly. He couldn’t bear to rule Argos, so he swapped city states with another king, and ruled there instead.

If this story sounds familiar to you, perhaps you’re thinking of Jason and the Argonauts, a hero of later myth. He and his hero pals sailed in the Argo, a ship built by Argus, who was from Thespiae, the city of the Muses. His hero story shares many similarities with that of Perseus, but that’s for another day. For each of us today, the ancient myth calls us to reconsider how we relate to one another, from the most toxic evils of date rape and sexual harassment in the workplace to the commonplace demeaning behavior known as “mansplaining.”

If men need to rethink their behaviors, women need to choose to speak up and risk public humiliation, rather than staying silent with private shame. Silence only enables bad actors by giving them continued cover. The heroic women, who take on the quests to defeat the monsters they fear, redeem their mother’s shame and silence. They also make a better world possible for the next generation. The DNA of gods and heroes flows through the veins of Danae’s descendants.

Generation to Generation: Learning to be Free

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old photographs, mostly unmarked, in decaying cigar box, found at grandmother's house.

old photographs, mostly unmarked, in decaying cigar box, found at grandmother’s house.

The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” ~~ John 8:35-36 

With all the Paula Deen jambalaya on the airwaves lately about her treatment of African-Americans and her misplaced desire to have a plantation themed wedding reception with “slaves attending their masters,” I thought I ought to spend some time researching my own Southern ancestors.  Creeping age does that to one, as does the addition of yet another life to our family tree. I flew to Florida to celebrate becoming a grand aunt for the first time. Bringing gifts embellished with the family emblem, the fleur de lis, as well as handmade gifts that harken back to a simpler, earlier time when I was young, this child will know that he is a true DeLee.

I also brought a gift that has been another long-term project, my nephew’s family tree album.  When my parents died, as the oldest child I inherited the photos and memorabilia of their lives. This is that detritus of accumulated treasure of the deceased that they didn’t organize, identify, or otherwise “get a round tuit,” but they also wouldn’t get rid of it because of the love and memories they had locked up in those old photos and letters. This is the debris that the rest of my family either didn’t have the patience to deal with, or their emotions were too raw at the time, so they said, “Just set a match to it and burn it all up.” I knew I might not have the time or emotional capability to handle this task in the days or months after our last parent died, but the day would come when I would have that desire and the gift of time.

First I did research on the generations of our family tree for a Family Systems Class. I learned that each family or organizational system is interconnected across the generations, and our own lives today can’t be understood outside of this generational legacy.  Our history affects our present relationships: family, friends, and workplace.

I discovered some interesting “myths” about my Dad’s family that were told to “keep face,” for it seems not all my ancestors were such fine, upstanding citizens as my parents were trying to raise in their generation. I also discovered that my Mom’s people were all fairly straightforward folks. Maybe the fact that their history goes back much longer than my Dad’s people makes a difference, for my earliest ancestor I’ve found on his side is from the early 1800’s in South Louisiana, just after the Louisiana Purchase.  Jonathan Livingston DeLee married Mary Day, a young widow with a child, after she lost her husband who died of the measles after helping Stonewall Jackson defend New Orleans in the Battle of 1812.

My ancestors in Louisiana were all slaveholders before the Civil War, or “The War Between The States,” as my unreconstructed Daddy was wont to call it.  I discovered that I had great and grandparents in the KKK. I wondered how they could sleep soundly at night or keep their souls at peace by day. Their sons and daughters in my parent’s generation formed “private clubs” from public restaurants so that they wouldn’t have to integrate their dining establishments. This ruse didn’t last long, and now no one bats an eye, thankfully, because my generation marched with MLK in Atlanta and turned the world upside down for justice’s sake.

The question is today, how would any of us know the difference between the life of a slave and the life of the son/daughter in the family? If we are all “free people in these United States of America,” are some of us yet living in bondage, while some others have been set free? In the matter of faith, some of us are still slaves, while some of us have the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (same verse). To have this abundance is to live by faith in the work that Christ has done for us. The thief is our delusion that we must be good enough to earn God’s love or that we must work hard to be loved by the God that already loves us beyond measure (“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ*—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” ~~ Ephesians 4:4-7)

Some of us have spent our lives trying our hardest to earn our parents’ approval, our loved one’s approval, our child’s approval, our boss’ approval, or our friend’s approval.  We can’t turn around without trying to please someone else, only to discover that what pleases one displeases another! Now we are caught up in the anxiety circle, for we are stuck halfway and please no one, not even ourselves.  There is the third party whom we can never please, The Contrarians, for this group isn’t happy with anything we do and will surely find fault in us!)

We think that God is also like this, only bigger and more difficult to please. We have heard the verse, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We pile rule upon rule for our lives and the lives of others to measure up as “good enough.” This is why we are not “free to love God as a son or daughter,” for we are like slaves always looking out under the corner of our eyes to see if we are going to be punished for doing the wrong thing.  We can’t allow God to love us freely, for we are in bondage: slaves to the managed life, the life of rules and regulations, bound to the prison of punishments for failure to attain perfection.  We cannot love a God who keeps us in chains, for we are slaves and slaves want to be free.  If we only knew that “perfect” in Greek meant “complete,” then we might have a different take on how we live our lives.

The daughters and sons of God love their Father freely, for they will inherit all that their parent has. I may have received the house and the bric-a-brac along with all the photos from my earthly parents, but I will inherit the kingdom from my heavenly Father (Matt 25:34), as well as eternal life (Luke 18:18). If our goal as a person of faith is to live our life with a heart so full of the love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, surely then we will be “perfect/complete in love” in this life. We live by faith knowing that God enables us to grow toward this goal of complete love day by day.

As you reflect in your journal on the faith of a son or a daughter versus that of a slave or a servant, consider: are you just a hired hand for God, showing up faithfully when God rewards you with a blessing, but being scarce or quitting on God when the “paycheck” seems short? Journal your feelings or use a stencil to make word art that sums up your feelings.

The Butter Queen

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“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness,  we lie, and do not the truth…” ~~ 1 John 1:6

 Oh, Paula Dean, the Butter Queen! Once you were everywhere seen, 998661_10200934855966494_49237487_nbut now you just seem awfully mean. Or were you just good at hiding your true self until you got so big that you thought you were untouchable? Worse, did you lose your good self in the chase for fame and fortune as you left your humble startup beginnings behind you?

The famous Peter Principle may be at work here: we will all rise to the level of our incompetency. As befits our food metaphor, “The cream that rises to the top always sours.” The further up the food chain we go, the more we are surrounded by “yes-sayers.” These are folks who approve our every whim and never tell us “no.” Like politicians, movie stars, athletes, and anyone else in a position of power, those who surround them say, “yes” so that they too may stay in the shadow of power also. Sometimes these folks need someone to tell them NO: “No, Justin Bieber, having a monkey isn’t a good idea if you’re traveling to Europe.” “No, Tiger Woods, having affairs with umpteen hot honeys isn’t smart if you want to keep your wife and baby and sponsors happy.” “No, Lance Armstrong, blood doping is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.” We really wonder why no one said, “NO, Paula Dean, allowing racist or sexist comments and pornography at your restaurants isn’t a good idea.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/dining/paula-deens-words-ripple-among-southern-chefs.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2)

Our first knee jerk response is to support Paula Deen because she is a southern gal who made her way up to the big time on her own. She is a real rags to riches story and this resonates with us, for if she can do it, any of us can have a shot at the American Dream.  Along the way she became a caricature of her former self, or an actor playing a part. When Ms. Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, she kept this illness a secret and continued to produce recipes that were toxic to persons with her disease (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-10-most-unhealthy-recipes-2013-6?op=1).

Only much later did she reveal her disease, and then as a paid spokes person for an anti-diabetic pill. Some would say this is crass, and not sass. The proof is always in the pudding, as my Nannie used to say. Her cooking show on the Food Network lost audience share over this issue of untruth. When her show was up for renewal, the Food Network cut her expensive show to concentrate on their reality/competition food shows that appeal to a younger demographic. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323998604578567832751771860.html)

The floodgates opened: her tears flowed as fast as her partner companies dropped her. Why was she not forgiven? She said, “I’m sorry? I said something wrong years ago, but that’s not me!” It seems that it may not be so. She may not be able to tell the difference between the sweet gal she used to be and who she is now. (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-controversial-career-2013-6

When King David was confronted with his sins of adultery and murder, he repented before the LORD and asked God to “create in (him) a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit in (him)” (Psalm 51:10) When we recognize the wrongness of our former ways, we ask God to help us change so that we can become a different person and leave our old ways behind us.  When the doctor tells you that you are now a Type 2 Diabetic, this is usually a wake-up call for most people. This diagnosis changes your whole life from the food you can eat, to the exercise you must have, and the constant monitoring of your blood sugar. You learn to read the nutrition labels on packaging, discover that processed food is off limits for you because it’s mostly carbohydrates, and you discover how to cook from scratch. You throw away your Paula Deen Cook Books because they are the “pellets with the poison” and learn to cook from scratch using whole foods from the perimeter of the grocery store.

We can’t live in the darkness about Diabetes or its precursor (reactive hypoglycemia), but must share our condition. I personally have found that no one makes meals on retreats that are suitable for my health needs, so I usually pack in extra foods and have them for my own meals or snacks. Otherwise I will be fed a high dose of carbs, which will make my blood sugar crash and I will be irritable. I don’t consider this to be my “true personality,” but if I eat the wrong food, I’m not a kind person.

When Paula Deen failed to have her heart changed, or her “come to Jesus moment,” she failed to realize that what she did in the past is still continuing in the present.  She became more like Lance Armstrong who came to the first stage of the Tour de France this weekend and said, “winning wouldn’t have been possible in (his) era without doping.” They both act as if the worst thing they did was to get caught, but they don’t have real remorse for their act itself.  This is what we call “walking in darkness…and do not the truth.”  Paula had Diabetes 2 and continued to build a $16 million dollar empire with recipes that bring on the condition.  Tiger Woods and Martha Stewart got rehabilitated because they took time off (Tiger in sex rehab and Martha in jail) and had the opportunity to strip away all the circus of fame and power to get down to the person, to the human being that puts on her blue jeans one leg at a time, that ties his sneakers one shoelace at a time. They discovered their true selves again, found their roots, reconnected with their faith, and met others that had made a mess of their lives. Sometimes we have to break down, take our consequences and take our losses before we can appreciate forgiveness and redemption.

She was on the buttered slippery slope months ago, but this “fall from grace” may be just what Our Butter Queen needs. Ms. Paula will have a “time out” from the excitement of power to enjoy the humility of her own life again, and to remember who she is, where she comes from, and to whom she owes her success. When she recovers her true self, she may find that God will call her to a new mission, a hopeful, and a healing mission. After all, nearly 155 million Americans adults are overweight or obese, including our very own Butter Queen. Add to this number 24 million children and the number of butterballs rolled in sugar is amazing. I include myself in this number, for my BMI is 34.2 (above 30 is obese) (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bmi-calculator/NU00597).

Perhaps Paula will recognize that her recipes contribute to her disease and to America’s obesity epidemic. If she uses this to remake herself into something new and better, more humble and more honest, and if her recipes reflect this, she has an opportunity for redemption.  However, if she brings back the same old package back with the high calorie, high fat contents, I think the shelf life of her product has hit its expiration point, for people today want honesty and authenticity in their food and in their relationships.

How can we have an authentic relationship with God and with other people? God is willing to forgive our sins, even if we think they are unforgivable. The world may hold a grudge against us for a long time, for this is the way of the world. God is not of this world, for when the world will not forgive, God will.  When the world remembers, God remembers our sin no more (Isa 43:25).  All we can do is to love as God loves, forgive others as God forgives us, and live a new life in love as God enables us.

To help clean your heart, take press on letters or stencils, or use a large font on your computer. Write out your negative aspects/sins/imperfections/brokenness. We all have them. If you need a kick start, google “7 deadly sins.” That should get you started!  Once you have those printed out on your paper, then write in large open letters (stencil font) the word “LOVE” or “PEACE”.  Color it as you feel led.  Use this as a prayer focus this week.

The Journey Never Ends

Creativity, Family, home, Imagination, Love, Meditation, photography, Prayer, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized, Work

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

“A highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.”~~ Isaiah 35:8

All good things come to an end, but the ending is just the beginning of something new. This week a fifty year old jockey came out of retirement and rode Oxbow, a 15/1 long shot, into the winner’s circle at the Preakness: they beat the favorite and his mud covered jockey who finished fourth, out of the money. I have a dear friend who just turned 66 and is contemplating retirement after forty years in medicine: he wonders what he could have done if he had more time in his career or if he had more time in retirement. Thousands of graduates from all educational levels are celebrating with their families this end of their journey with a mixture of joy and sadness. Whether they are “kiddie kollege” grads or college graduates, there is a mixture of sadness in knowing that this shared journey with friends is over, and in a few days the classrooms will be empty as others come to take your place.

This is the way of all journeys, whether we are going for a weekend at the lake or for two weeks in the Footsteps of Paul on a pilgrimage. When I came home after being in two countries, seven hotels, multiple airports, a taxi ride by myself in Istanbul, and finally slept in my own bed within my own four walls, I woke up feeling sad that there wasn’t some new and compelling place to be that day. Already I wanted to see more of Greece, for I only tasted of her beauty and delights. I didn’t get to see the ancient sites of mythology or the northernmost cities that Paul visited.  When I said goodbye to some of my travel companions that I enjoyed touring with, I knew that they were just seasonal friends, but one friend I have kept in touch with through Facebook. Sometimes this is the way life is, for we can’t manufacture friendships over a short period of time.

My first Sunday at home I was still on Istanbul time, so I woke at 2 AM (10 AM Istanbul time). This was “sleeping late” by their clock, but my eyes were wide open. Coffee in the kitchen, writing in my journal, a very early breakfast, meeting my newspaper man, and getting to church early for a change were on tap for today.

I did notice that I had a difficult time clapping in rhythm with the band, however, as if I were straddling different time zones or time travelling between the two places I had been and the place where I was now. My driving was also a tad impaired, for while I was able to navigate the highway, the glowing scenery distracted me. The landscape had an effervescent glow that I remember only one other time in my life, a radiance that it gave off as if God was touching all his creation and sanctifying it.  I remember the land, the trees, the grass, and all living things giving off this glow for weeks after I visited the Holy Land. This didn’t transfer to the streets or to bridges or houses, but only to growing things.  It is a holy moment, when one realizes that the journey that was once thought to be over is now just beginning.

When we get our diplomas, our gold watches, or our plaques for our faithful years of service, we think we have finished our course. When we cross the finish line or win first place, we think we have succeeded and can rest on our laurels.  The journey isn’t over yet! We are not called to be a settled people. We are a nation that was called to move west, to improve the widget, to build a new land, and to send humanity to the moon.  Now we have greater problems: within two generations, our great seacoast cities around the world may be inundated if the global warming folks are correct, over 7 ½ million people die of hunger every year around the world (http://www.statisticbrain.com/world-hunger-statistics/), and as our world becomes more urbanized, more will lack access to fresh water (w.globalresearch.ca/un-800-million-people-without-drinking-water/23843).

The ideas we are taught today won’t solve the problems of tomorrow, and we can’t wait until tomorrow to begin solving them! We have to become travelers and not settlers. Our education is just the passport to the next leg of our journey, and our first retirement annuity payment is merely the visa to the next country of destination on this great lifetime adventure we are about.

So how can we bring the Traveler’s experience to our daily lives? Travelers believe they are going someplace, that they have a destination in mind. If we don’t physically leave home, where are we going? I think it is the sense of a life well lived, or a life full of reasons to get up in the morning. We United Methodists have a saying from our founder, John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” If this were your goal in life, each and every day can be an exciting day! We don’t know whom God will place into our path, but if we pass some helpless one by so that we can take care of our own important business, we will miss the opportunity to be a Neighbor like the Good Samaritan and detour from our daily routine to help someone in need (Luke 10”28-38).

Travelers expect the journey to be exciting and renewing. Daily life in the same old routine can get so predictable and humdrum. Our alarm goes off at the same hour and minute, we take the same rut to work, see the same old crowd at work, fight the same traffic snarl on the way home, and maybe even our home fires are barely flickering.  We miss the old excitement and passion we once had in life! Where has our energy gone—sucked down a black hole into oblivion, washed down by one too many drinks or spoonfuls of ice ream?

How can we keep faith and fidelity while reigniting that spark of excitement we used to feel when we were first sharing our passion for one another?  Sometimes we are just trading information with one another, rather than really sharing our lives and our hearts with the one we really care about.  Taking a new course in an experiential class, learning a new skill or sport together, or reading a book together and sharing our lives/thoughts/hopes/dreams/mistakes/achievements/joys means that we are suddenly vulnerable to one another again, for we are both travelers in an “unknown country.” Now we have to depend on each other just as travellers do; we strengthen our bonds.

As travelers, we expect to return home changed by our experiences. Once you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve always been to Turkey. Even if you break your camera or lose the filmcard, you have your memories and your postcards and souvenirs. The experiences have transformed you. If they didn’t, then all you did was pay a lot of money to wander around a wonderful place to complain about how “it wasn’t like home.” Of course not! It’s Turkey!

We do this in our daily life when we fail to engage the promise and potential of the gift God offers to us with each new day.  We say that each sunrise brings a new gift, “the present.” It may be a silly pun, but it’s also a truism. Some of us spend our daily gifts grieving about our yesterdays or yearning for them to come again. Yesterday is water under the bridge: we can’t bring it back and neither can we hold it here with us now.

Others of us miss the gift of the present because we are dreaming about our futures: things will be different when the kids leave the house, I will find someone to love me when I lose 40 pounds, or when the highway comes through this city will thrive again.  The future we dream about may not come to fruition. Moreover we set ourselves up for unhappiness and failure to act in the present while we wait for this future chimera to appear.

The best way to live as a traveler in our daily lives is to realize that we are all on a journey to God, for we are all on a “Holy Way.” We think some folks are fools and won’t make it to the goal, but God is gracious and cares for fools even when the rest of us aren’t suffering them gladly. We aren’t assigned to be the tour guide for this journey, and we don’t assign seats according to status.

As a spiritual exercise, take a respite from your journey to make self-examination. Where are you on this journey, physically and spiritually? You may want to make a time line or a time circle. Another way is to journal your experience to date or journal about a particular special event on this journey.  As on a real journey, your experience is your own and no one else’s. You feelings can’t be right or wrong: they just are. Give them to God.

Leaving The Garden of Guilt and Shame

Creativity, Family, Food, Forgiveness, Health, home, Imagination, Mental Illness, Physical Training, salvation, Secrets, shame, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, Work

Adam & Eve Hiding in the Garden of Eden

Adam & Eve Hiding in the Garden of Eden

“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”  ~~ Genesis 3:8

 None of us have ever grown up in the Garden of Eden: we grew up in our families of origin. Our parents are generations away from Adam and Eve, but the shame and guilt of these primal ancestors still operate in our family histories today. My own family operated on a shame culture: the honor of the family’s name and our place in society was very important. Often we children were punished in a group: as the oldest, I should have known better and prevented my two brothers from being trouble makers; the boys were punished because one started the fight and the other finished it, or he came back to tattle.

“Wait till your Father gets home!” was a promise of a second round of punishments, which was always meted out from oldest to youngest. I was glad to be the oldest at this time, for I wouldn’t have enjoyed anticipating my turn: I was relieved to get it over with. I was trained early not to get into trouble, or to hide my duplicity well. My brothers were slower to learn.

In our family, guilt didn’t operate as in the criminal justice system, in that the individual was held accountable for his own actions. My parents figured all of us had a hand in the pie of corporate corruption and our behavior, either inside or outside the home, brought dishonor to the family name. “No child of ours is going outside dressed like that! Go change your clothes!” This meant, “what will others think of us if you go out looking like a tramp, or in rags, or mismatched, or like a hippy, or without makeup, or (heaven forbid) wearing white after Labor Day?” Boys brought honor to the family by working after school because they had to learn how to earn a living, but girls who worked an afternoon job brought shame: “people will think your father can’t earn enough money to take care of this family.”

Some of us learn from classes, others from experience. and still others of us learn from stories.  Our ancestors were great storytellers. The sum of human nature they could wrap up in just a few sentences: “Once upon a time, the Lord God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden each evening when the cool breezes broke the day’s heat.” We don’t know the form or aspect of the Lord, but we know he was present daily and intimate with his whole creation. This must have been a time of joy and wonder, and a privilege to look forward to at the end of the day.

Yet the man and the woman wanted more, “to be like God knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Deciding to become wise, they ate of the tree and their eyes were opened: “they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves” (Gen 3:7). Biblical writers do have a sense of humor, for if these first people were truly “wise” they wouldn’t have chosen fig leaves for their garments, since figs give off an itchy sap.  They may have “hid their nakedness,” but they were also “scratching their nakedness” at the same time.

When the Lord God came for his evening walk, they hid themselves. Do they feel guilt or shame? Our modern, individualist point of view says they feel guilt, but the Bible is written from an ancient Middle Eastern Shame & Honor Culture. They feel shame for breaking ties with the Lord God and not listening to his words, but to the words of his creation (the snake, Gen 3:1-5). Their nakedness is a symbol of their new vulnerability before God: before they were free to be themselves, but now they hide behind inadequate clothing and behind the trees of the garden. They are afraid to reveal their wrongdoing out of the shame they feel.  They have dishonored the one who gave them life.  Their consequence is to lose their former intimacy with God and be banished from the garden, but God puts protective clothing on them.

Even today, God asks his people, “Where are you?”  and we think we can hide behind our false fronts: our happy faces, our spiritual posts on Facebook, our meticulously groomed bodies, our 100% attendance ribbon at religious events, and our other outward evidence of our faith lives.  Or we might be hiding in our “caves/homes” hoping that God won’t see that our once well-constructed lives are falling apart like some Bangladeshi garment factory. God is all knowing, however (Psm 147:5), so there is no place we can hide. We can try to coverup our shameful past or our guilty present from God, but to no avail. These things are not important to the God who knows all that we are and all that we can be.  Accepting responsibility and returning to a relationship is what God wants from us.

One thing Adam and Eve failed to do was take personal responsibility for their deeds. Adam blamed it on God: “you gave me the Woman & she gave me the fruit,” while Eve blamed it on the Snake: “he talked me into it” (Gen 3:12-13). There must be some terrible and overwhelming experience in the discovery of our true selves, for we have had it hidden under our parents’ expectations, our society’s expectations, our religions’ expectations, and our community’s expectations. When we begin to strip these extraneous layers off to reveal the true self and the child of God, we find the individual who used to walk freely with the Lord God in the garden when the evening winds were blowing.

For some of us, our secret pasts bring us shame and dishonor. We need to remember that guilt is for something that we have done wrong, and we can atone for. We can pay a penalty for it, make amends, and make it right where it was once wrong, or we can do a right act in replacement for a past wrong. Time we heal the pain of guilt. We can confess the guilt and receive release from its stain.  This is the hope of justice, or righteousness in Christ.

For shame and dishonor, we need to understand that these are deeper issues: feeling that we will not measure up no matter how hard we try, that we will never be good enough, and our suffering will not ever end.  We who hide behind our frozen smiles and our itchy fig leaves need to stand under the flooding shower of pure grace and hear the words from the Lord God:  “You are my Son, You are my Daughter! With you I am well-pleased!” (Mark 1:11)

There are many great artists’ works of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Google these images.  Notice how the artists handle the nudity over the years and how the body image changes. Think about your own body image.

Do you have shame thoughts when you observe your own body? Listen to the words you hear in your mind.

Ladies—Are you trying to be a size 0 runway model when your body frame is really a 16—and is that a healthy goal? Is this a goal of society or your own goal?

Men—does your trainer want you to look like a magazine photo or do you just want to be healthier? Do you want to workout 8 hours a day or 1 hour daily? Is focusing on an ideal body image healthy, or is focusing on your whole life a better choice?

I recommend you “like a Facebook page” I host:

Cornie’s Kitchen: Whole Foods for Whole People. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cornies-Kitchen/411859538836606

Read more: Shame-Culture and Guilt-Culture

Atherton J S (2011) Doceo; Shame-Culture and Guilt-Culture [On-line: UK] retrieved 22 April 2013 from http://www.doceo.co.uk/background/shame_guilt.html

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

Making Sense of Grief

Creativity, Family, home, Imagination, Mental Illness, mystery, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Travel, Uncategorized

“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”~~ Jeremiah 31:15 

Reflections of sky and sun in  a pool of water.

Reflections of sky and sun in a pool of water.

We crossed the Isthmus of Corinth to the Old City to hike among the ruins of Acro-Corinth. Two famous and sacred springs flow there beneath the renowned Doric Temple of Apollo.  Its spare monolithic columns rise above the old city center’s area of commerce and religion. One spring is the Peirene Fountain, the city’s major source of water. It was named for the woman who wept so hard when Artemis accidentally killed her son in a hunting accident that the goddess took pity upon her and turned her into a spring of water. Nearby is a hidden spring of water, sacred to Artemis herself and located underground beneath the ancient Temple of Apollo. Because Artemis was both a protector of youths and the bringer of harm to them, devotion to her cult of “protection” became interwoven with that of the “fates,” mythological beings who controlled the lives and destinies of humankind.

Into this underground shrine and spring, devotes of Artemis would come for protection during childbirth, bring their young children for blessings of protection, and families would come to celebrate the great transitions of life just as we do in our faith communities today: hatching, matching, and dispatching. After invoking the goddess’ blessing, they would sacrifice a living animal. Having appeased the god’s power, the people went off to live their daily lives. A sign in the underground sanctuary said “Do not enter: forbidden—Eight coin fine.” Even today this warning holds true, for we can’t access this tunnel.  It has yet to be excavated. It may have led to the hidden chambers for the priests and priestesses of the Artemis cult, it could have been a passage between the spring and the Temple of Apollo, or it could have been the passageway into the rooms for the initiates into the mystery cult of Artemis.

Artemis as “protector” brought prosperity to fields and crops, herds and wild beasts, as well as long life, peace and health to her human devotes (Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis, 3rd C BC, www.theoi.com/olympios/Artemis.hmtl). However, just as she could protect, so also she could bring down, for she was a hunter and her arrows were swift and true. One never knew if today’s blessings would continue on the morrow. Over the years, the Greeks developed a mythological concept of Fate or Moira to further explain their understanding and meaning of life.

The Fates were illustrated as ancient women: one spun the fiber of our lives, one measured the length of the thread, and the last cut the thread with shears to determine the end of our lives. “Moria/Fate brings good and ill to mortals and the gifts of the immortal gods are inseparable” (Solon, Frag. 13, 6th C BC). They didn’t believe in a person’s freedom of will to choose, for they believed a person’s destiny was set at birth (people who believe in astrology and horoscopes are examples of this type of thinking).  “But mortals are not free to choose prosperity nor stubborn war, nor all destroying civil strife: Aisa (Destiny), giver of all things, moves a cloud over this land, now over that” (Bacchylides, Frag. 24, www.theoi.com.Daimon.moirai.html).

We all deal with death in our lives.  Our own bodies are dying every month: at least our outer layers of skin are, which we shed every thirty-five days. In a sense, we are “new people” about eleven times a year! This loss happens so often that we ignore it until the house needs dusting. However, when we are struck with a great loss, a huge grief, or an inconsolable sorrow, we can become like Peirene weeping and wasting, or Rachel refusing to be comforted.  It doesn’t matter what our loss is: death of a child, loss of a breast, demotion at work, disability, terminal diagnosis, loss of limb, death of a beloved pet, divorce or breakup of a relationship—we are blindsided by this event.  “It isn’t supposed to happen this way! What kind of God lets these kinds of bad things happen to good people?”

At times like these, we forget that God has experienced first hand the suffering of his Son’s agony on the cross. God isn’t unfamiliar or unaware of the cost of pain and the experience of death. Anything that the Son experienced here on earth was also experienced within the Holy Trinity, which never ceased to be Holy or Three in One. Even when we forget this subtle piece of reasoning in our own pain, and all we want to do is kick the shins of the Almighty or put our boot into his hind parts, God knows that we are consumed with our own suffering and agony. Our anger against God is just a reflection against the circumstances in which we find ourselves: bereft, abandoned, hurting, despairing, and worn out by sorrows.

I think of my cousin Tommy Mac: brilliant, good boy, golden child. Not like his older brother Earl Jr., who would barely get through high school due to his good old boy party ways. Tommy had a full scholarship to a big East college and was going to law school and make his parents proud. The summer before law school, he drowned in a tubing accident on a swift running stream.  His parents were in the bedroom to receive visitors, but all they could say was, “Why would God take this one?” I don’t know if Earl Jr. was there also, but if he were, I hope he heard only the grief of his parents speaking. More likely he would have thought, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (Gen 27:36).

I walk into the home of the one who took his own life and left his family devastated.  They didn’t know how troubled he was, for they would have helped, or they may have been reaching out, but nothing they could have done would have been enough.  Wracked with guilt, they ask, “How could he leave us? Will we see him again?” All I know is that sometimes our “real self” is lost to our “dark self.” This darkness convinces us that no hope exists, no one cares, no help is available, and no life is worth living.  The dark self can’t see God, but God can see all things: “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:13-14). Many believe that suicide puts one’s self outside of the love of God, but scripture affirms that “not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).

How do we get beyond the grief that binds us to it or causes us to waste away until we are mere fountains of tears? Some parents make their child’s room into a shrine. This “guest bedroom” is like visiting Graceland or Neverland Valley Ranch. It pays homage to a “star” but it isn’t meant to host visitors overnight, for it is prepared for the return of the King.  Others grieve inwardly, and move on, but live within a shroud. They expend their energy of grief in giving back to others in their community, just as Peirene did. Her tears became a fountain of life giving water for the city.  Children gathered to play there, women met to share their lives, men gathered to make business deals, and the city thrived. If Peirene couldn’t answer, “Why was my child taken by the goddess?” then the only peace that Artemis could give her was to let her share the gift of life for others in exchange for the stolen death of her son.

Perhaps this is how the ancients came to tell this story to understand how one recovers from a great grief.  To give one’s self for others is the greatest gift:  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Peirene’s Fountain kept the valley watered, lush and beautiful the year round. Her outpouring of grief gave a blessing of life and beauty to the town. In the hidden and sacred spring, Artemis was worshiped as a protector and savior for the family.

Today we recognize that these waters of life come from one Savior: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7:37-38). Find a mug, cup, glass, or your favorite drink container.  Fill it with your favorite beverage.  Sit down with it and begin a page of memories about the person(s) or situation(s) that fill you with grief. If at first all you can do is write their name or the word identifying them on the page, that is fine.  Sit with this and drink for a while. As the words come up, write them down. Now is not the time for pretty paragraphs, outlines, or perfect punctuation. Organization isn’t necessary. In fact, if you just write in jotted notes all over the page or in boxes, you can “organize it later.” We are looking for FOUNTAIN FLOWING THOUGHTS—automatic writing, if you will.  Let the words flow out of you like the tears of Peirene or Rachel.  Later you can put this catharsis to good use.  This is your spiritual cleansing experience for the week.

Merry Stressmas Everybody!

Creativity, home, Love, Ministry, mystery, photography, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision

“The kiln tests the potter’s vessels…”  ~~ Ecclesiasticus 27:5 

I was baking cookies all day Friday, my oven never going higher than 375

Firca Master at Work

Firca Master at Work

degrees Fahrenheit.  This is a great test for butter, sugar and flour: leave it in that heated box too long and the smoke detector just outside the kitchen door will start its screeching. Pottery however, gets tested at much higher temperatures in the kiln.  When I was in Turkey recently, I visited at the Firca Ceramic Shop in Avanos. The craftsmen there work in a cave that was carved out in the middle ages and have been plying their trade for over two hundred years. They make museum reproduction pieces as well as their own creative work done in the Turkish decorative style. Their artists learn their trade by producing first the trade or tourist goods, and then progress onto the craftsman’s level and then to the artist’s level at which they sign their work.

The quality of the ceramic ware may vary, but all the pieces are subjected to the same testing in the heat of the kiln: very high temperatures to turn the fragile clay into hard and durable pottery.  In fact, the whole process of making a pot or dish is one of pressure and stress upon malleable clay.  First the clay lumps are slammed upon a plaster slab to drive the bubbles of air out.  If these stayed inside the clay during the firing, the air trapped inside would expand and explode the pot as the kiln heated up.  Then the clay is slammed upon a wheel.  The potter dips her hands into water, applies pressure to the sides and the top and begins to raise the cylinder to a certain height. Then holding the sides with one hand and pushing in with a thumb, the potter pulls the clay in a firm and even motion out to the desired width.  Only then does she raise the pot to its final height.  Once the clay dries out, it goes to the oven/kiln for the first firing; this makes it hard enough to work on for the glazing/painting so that it won’t break.  The final firing at the highest temperature (2400 F) sets the glaze.  Even here, the results aren’t predictable: the glazes can slip, they can give off gases that discolor other glazes on other pots, or the kiln can cool too quickly and break the pots when the cold air hits their hot skins. The stress of being made into a beautiful pot is sometimes too much to bear.

As I was baking sugar cookies, I was cutting the next batch into stars, Cornie's Kitchensnowflakes, and bells. I would pull out the cooked batch and let them cool on the pan for a minute. Then as I took them up with a spatula, some of them would break. Since I was giving these away, I was forced to eat the broken ones. It is a rule in Cornie’s Kitchen: “only the best goes out for others.” I know that no one forced me to do this, but someone had to do it, and I wasn’t waiting for volunteers. Even a sweet cookie breaks under the stress of the heat of the oven. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is the old saw that gets repeated during times of stress.

I have noticed that this holiday season has been a time of stress for many people. I remember that when I was in active ministry, I used to clear my calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas because I would be handling a lot more counseling for people having seasonal meltdowns than at any other time of the year.  I have felt the stress in the air even though I don’t have a church of my own now. The Kroger clerk told me how she really felt about the guy in produce who didn’t mark all three of the brands of blueberries that were on sale that week. I have friends that I had to recommend to a “real counselor” because they were using me as a therapist and weren’t ever talking to me about anything else anymore. They no longer were “friends” for I never heard about their lives, but only about their sickness. It was stressing me out to the point that it was impacting my health, for I was starting to have the auras that warn a seizure might be imminent. At least I have an early warning system, and can take counter measures in defense.

But what about the people who are tied into the news 24/7? Their stress levels are off the wall, for every event is part of their immediate pain and suffering. And what of the people who are mentally unstable, who feed off the constant attention given to the intense interest and glorification of the victims of mass shootings? There have been 62 mass shootings in the last three decades, and 24 in the last seven years alone.  Mass shootings are those in which four or more people have died. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/why-are-mass-shootings-becoming-more-frequent/)

These people may not be able to set boundaries on their obsessions and then they finally give into them. The fact that they have a gun is what makes the carnage so devastating. The sad thing is most of these mass shootings were done with legal guns. Perhaps the only answer is to have armed guards at every public gathering place, but then we would be living in a police state. I don’t think most Americans want that to happen.

Perhaps I am lucky in having a physical condition such as a seizure disorder that can send the “flashing yellow light” that warns me to slow down. Stress lowers the seizure threshold, so too much of a good thing or too much of a bad thing can cause my brain’s electrons to misfire.  I don’t know what sets off a mass murderer, but I do know what stresses out the average person: things that are out of control. I remind everyone I meet, we are not in control of how anyone else receives our words, our actions, or our intentions. We are only in control of what we do, think, say, act, and intend. We cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. We can lead a horse to water, but we cannot make it drink.

As someone living with epilepsy, I know that if I smell things that no one else can smell, I need to cut back on anything that causes stress in my life.  In ancient times, folks would have screamed “demon possession!”  Today, we modern people are beyond that, and realize that the kiln of life is just “testing this cracked pot.”  I can either keep on going and ignore the warning signs and explode into a seizure, or I can back away and stay seizure free. I choose the latter.

Our lives “explode” sometimes, though most of us don’t become mass murderers. We have fights, fusses, dramas, and all the other distresses of the human condition. It seems all the worse at Christmas because we have the expectation of an idealized and serene family experiencing a blessed birth.

Most of us don’t realize that the reason “there was no room for them at the inn” was because no one wanted Mary and Joseph and their “inconvenient truth” which was “conceived out of wedlock” to be born at their hotel. People were cruel then too. They stayed in a stable because one innkeeper wasn’t so hardhearted. God gave the message of the Christ child to the shepherds and to the foreigners, but not to the Israelite priests or the middle class merchants, for God’s love for human kind includes the poor outcasts and the aliens. The king and the priests conspired to kill all the baby boys, but the Holy Family had already fled into Egypt.  Does the early life of Jesus sound like a sweet innocent Hallmark or Lifetime movie now? (Luke 2, Matthew 2).

Jesus’ life was more like ours: full of stress and pain, not all sweetness and light. Remember that the baby in the manger doesn’t bring the faith you need to get through the days like these, but the Christ who endures the trials of the kiln, the Savior who tests his love for you on the cross.

As an artwork to process your pain in the midst of darkness, consider Christ as the Light that comes into the World.  Chiaroscuro is the term we use for strong contrasts of light and darkness. Set your subject in a strong light, so that the shadows are equally intense. Have only part of your image appear against the darkness. Use paint, crayon, pastel, pencil or photography. Consider how goodness in this world is sometimes obscured by evil, and how we have to find the silver lining in every cloud.

Meditate upon this verse: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” ~~ Romans 8:28

The Fairy Nativity: A Simple Christmas

Creativity, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, renewal, Uncategorized, vision

“There are winds created for vengeance and in their anger they can dislodge mountains. On the day of reckoning they will pour out their strength and calm the anger of their Maker.” ~~ Ecclesiasticus 39: 28 

Seventeen days and counting to Christmas: Grey Thursday, Black Friday holy family and the Great Christmas Sales are upon us. Wal-Mart is covered up with people like the great ski slopes in the mountains should be covered with snow at this time of year. The Salvation Army bell ringers are out, but their friendly jingles and smiles aren’t making much of a dent into the general mood with Fiscal Cliffadedron, Egyptian Meltdown, Iranian Idiots, or Syrian Chemical Weapon threats weighing heavy in the air.

People aren’t much in the mood for Christmas this year, perhaps because our expectations are too high. We wanted a “Good Thanksgiving” with a happy family all gathered around the table, but the drunk uncle made his appearance once again and the kids all wanted to text the entire meal, while Dad wanted the food served in the “media room” so he wouldn’t miss any of the game.  This didn’t make any of the lady folks happy after baking and cooking for two days for the thirty-minute meal. So the gals took the credit cards and maxed them out on the early deals Thursday afternoon.

Now we have the incessant commercials of increasing expectations berating us on the TV: moving up to a bigger car, a bigger diamond, or giving your stepchild a diamond just like the one you gave her Mom (this is outrageous, children shouldn’t get diamonds until they are grownups! They need to have something to look forward to!). But most of our lives today aren’t like this, for we are more like the 99% and less like the 1%.

I was recently in Turkey in the region of Cappadocia. There is an area called the Fairy Mountains that has unusual stone pillars and shapes that have been worn away by the wind, rain, and blowing sand.  One such

fairy mountains cappadocia

fairy mountains Cappadocia

shape is a camel, and another grouping of three is known as the “holy family.” This Nativity Scene makes me think of all the precious sculptures I’ve seen. Most of them are highly sophisticated, brightly colored, and “clean” for that is truly how we view holiness.  This isn’t the world the Christ Child was brought into by his parents, however.

Mary was a young teenager when the angel came to tell her she would bring the Christ into the world without benefit of a husband, that is, it would be a virgin birth. Folks in the village soon began to talk, and Joseph was going to break off their engagement, but an angel told him in a dream it would all work out ok.  When Mary began to show, however, she needed to leave town, so she went to see her older cousin Elizabeth who was also with child.  These two were alike in that they were “outsiders:” Elizabeth was alone because her husband wasn’t able to speak because he doubted the Lord was at work in his wife’s pregnancy and Mary was alone because her family and town doubted her story.

When the census time came, everyone had to go to their ancestral hometown. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, but no one would let them stay in their inn. The text says there was no room for them in the inn, but Joseph wasn’t a stupid or slow man.  He didn’t wait until the last minute to take his very pregnant wife on this trip, so that all the hotels and motels were already full. People back then are just like people now: they talk, they make judgments, and folks decide that out of wedlock babies are unwelcome in their nice establishments.  One innkeeper did take pity upon them and gave the family a place in the stable among the animals. The baby was born there; the king of the world had a manger for his throne, and the animals for his court.  Angels proclaimed the Savior’s birth to shepherds, outcast persons on the margins of society because they were not clean. They were the first to honor him. Strangers from the east came to worship him and give him gifts, aliens and nonbelievers rather than the Jews themselves.  His mother  “…treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The King and the priests heard the strangers from the east ask: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matthew 2:2).  They conspired among themselves to murder all the newborn baby boys when they didn’t find out the one name. Joseph took Mary and Jesus in the middle of the night out into Egypt, for he was warned in a dream that the child was in danger.

This Christ Child knows the pains of the world from the very beginning of conception, for he knows the loneliness of the poor and the isolated, the rejected and the misunderstood. He knows that if the king of the world will be rejected and despised, so will all we lesser human beings. If we are persecuted in this world, we are in good company, since he was singled out from birth and many innocents died on his behalf (Matt 2:13-33). His family fled with the clothes on their backs, but they carried the gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts he received as gifts for his ministry and burial.

Most people don’t read the Nativity Story this way, but when I look at the way the wind wears away the stone, I have to think that these figures are the strength that is left after the winds have torn away the soft parts. The hard parts, that core that remains, is the true part that is the inner strength that comes from the inner spirit of a person.  The winds may move mountains and reveal a new shape, but that is just God’s recreating power at work.

The biblical word for wind and spirit are the same, so the Holy Spirit can be the rushing wind that changes our hearts and minds into the new shape God has in mind for us.  The American Bible Society says that each American home has 4.3 bibles in it in 2012. However, most people aren’t reading it, for 46% couldn’t tell the difference between the Koran, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon.  What’s worse, 50% of Americans, including Christians, couldn’t name ANY of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John). The Bible’s oral traditions have been around for 6,000 years, and it’s been written down for 4,000 years.  Surely that is a testimony to its robustness: the winds of other ideas may blow against it, but its inner strength stands firm against all the storms.

As a spiritual art project, make your own nativity from found objects, the more humble the better.  If you go on a nature walk, find rocks or pine cones and paint them with minimal decoration so that they are recognizable as “figure” or “animal”. If you make them from toilet paper rolls, use construction paper and simplify the figure drapery.  These should be fun because you need to quit thinking “perfect” and allow yourself to “enjoy Christmas for a change!”  Have yourself a Merry Simple Christmas!

People, Politics, and Mute Buttons

Creativity, Family, Health, home, Imagination, Meditation, Mental Illness, ministry, poverty, purpose, salvation, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“Indeed, there have to be factions among you,  for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.” ~~ 1 Cor 11:19

 Red State, Blue State. Latest polling numbers. Romney chooses Ryan—Breaking news! Pick Bump, Attack Dog, Spin Doctors, and Campaign Ads.

I’m already warming up my remote and I long ago quit watching cable news of any type or stripe. If there are factions in the American public concerning our politics, why are we surprised when we discover that divisions prevail inside the hallowed walls of our places of worship?

First, we have a misguided idea that the church is a warehouse for saints. This metaphor is the farthest from reality, for the church is more like a factory that takes raw materials (sinners) and re-processes them over a period of time into a more useful product, “the saints.” Even though we are “saved by our faith in Christ,” our old sin habits remain, and that is the long term work of the factory as the imperfect saints who carry the image of the holy God within them yearn and work to be conformed to the truth of God’s holiness in the entirety of their lives: heart, soul, mind and body. In as sense, we remain in the finishing room of this factory/church until we die. Then God takes us for our final “touch up” into his heaven and we are put into his eternal service there.

The earthly factory that is the church is an odd enterprise, for it’s the body of Christ. It serves the body that lives within the walls of its meeting place, but it also serves the body that hungers, thirsts, is naked, imprisoned, lonely, and oppressed outside of its walls. These saints in process sometimes fall out into factions over the best way to do these things, who should lead them, or what teaching to follow. Sometimes they don’t want to do the work at all. This bloc is the most difficult, for they want to let others work, cast blame on why it isn’t being done better, or done as it was in their day (when things were glorious in the factory and everyone prospered). Of course, they aren’t going to come off Mount Critical to advise or mentor a new generation because that would take time and energy out of their well-earned retirements.

I think of this last crowd as the “surplus saints” who are last year’s model. It’s best if we just ignore their carping, pet them on the head and tell them how wonderful they are and send them off on yet another trip to the local gardens or the museum. Keep them active and busy, but keep them off the working floor if possible, unless they share the vision that God means for us to work for good in his world as long as we live just as he is working for good in all things (Rom 8:28, Eph 2:10).

Paul says that factions show up in a church so that the “genuine will be sorted out.” The ancient farmer separated wheat from the chaff by throwing all of it up into the air. The wind blew away the lighter chaff and the heavier seeds fell to the ground. So also the storms of life come to us as individuals and as a church. If we think of these times of sifting wheat from chaff, separating the true from the false, then we will endure with equanimity the struggle before us. The factions without and within our sacred walls won’t disturb our inner peace.

I have a friend who is stressed over the Muslims attacking the Christians in Africa. She believes that will happen in America and attaches this belief to our current president’s work in opening a dialogue with Muslim countries. I think she is projecting outward her stress that she deals with at home with her bipolar adult son and his wife who are awaiting a long delayed Social Security disability claim. This is her way of diffusing the stress she has to deal with by worrying about something that she can’t do anything about.  If she were to step back from her situation, she would realize that she can’t cure his illness, she can’t make the claim come quicker, and if it does come through with a lump sum back payment, her son will not be able to manage the money and will be just as homeless in a year as he was when she and her husband brought them home to live here in Arkansas. He is forty something years old and needs professional help. They can’t see it yet, and so she blames Obama for her lack of inner peace.  I don’t think he is the “great Satan” she thinks he is, nor is he the savior of the universe or even a lesser angel. Man or woman alone will not solve the unsolvable problems of this world, whether they be political, religious or social.

In theses storms, we seek a quiet place. Every four years, I have a mute button that works very well. My general rule is the first campaign that throws the first mudball is the one I vote against. It’s already happened, so when the early voting opens, I can get my ballot down and counted. There is a spiritual quiet place that is better than any mute button: it is the place of “being” and “resting in God.” We are such active people; we have goals, to do lists, five-year plans, bucket lists, and planners to organize our lives. We often forget to plan “rest” and “downtime” as if it were a negative quality in our lives. Sometimes we even come to work sick because we are saving our sick days for our kids or because corporate frowns on “illness as weakness.”

If we were to take our calendars and day timers and post regular times for “quiet time with God,” then when someone wanted to schedule that time with us, we could say, “I have a prior commitment. Would the hour before or after be better for you?” The same would hold for exercise, or time with our spouse or loved one or child.  What? You don’t keep a calendar? You don’t have a schedule, a routine to your life? No wonder you feel fragmented, “factioned” and fractioned! This is our spiritual practice this week, to set a disciplined schedule for waking and bedtime, for meals, for daily quiet time with God (20 minutes) and for exercise (30 minutes daily). Journal about your experience.  Was it difficult to begin, or did you benefit by the end of the week?

As an art project, use the three primary colors, plus black and white. I chose scrapbook paper because I had it handy. I used a large ruler to cut the rectangles and squares with a matt knife. Once I laid out my design, I used scrapbook sticky tape to attach the papers, but you could use glue.  Keeping the design in rectangles and squares makes us focus and pay attention to the lines, colors, lights and darks. An hour or two will pass and you will not think of much else but the work in front of you. This is how resting in God feels. Your breathing will be steadier, your blood pressure will be lower as you will feel calmer. (Unless you are that Type A personality that just had to make this a race to the finish in RECORD TIME!! HIGH FIVE!!)  The good news is that “God is at work in all of us, both to will and to work for his good purpose” (Romans 8:28).