Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guard Your Heart

Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. -- Proverbs 4:23 (NET)

Thomas Keating introduces the Guard Your Heart practice to contemplative prayer.  It is the act of not allowing negative events or thoughts to cause you to dwell on the negative spin your mind might like to put on it.  You have probably experienced this.  You get a reprimand, or someone gives you some negative feedback on something you did.  You walk away dwelling on the unfairness of it.  Your mind travels down a sad, self-deprecating, or perhaps even an angry path, imagining retaliation.  One of the things you probably don't think to do is set it aside and pray.  Keating says you should do anything it takes to prevent yourself from obsessing about it.  The sad things that happen to us do not improve by letting our minds trash talk ourselves or others.  You are, in a spiritual essence, stabbing yourself in the heart.

When we dwell on our rejections, mistakes, weaknesses, and failings our hearts fall farther and farther from God until it is we who have removed ourselves from God, not the other way around.  There is no joy and no life to be found sucking on bitterness.  Pity parties are for Unbelievers and they hurt our heart, emotionally, mentally, and physically.   Instead, guard your heart.  Shut off all thinking about what happened, even if you have to do it through distraction.  Don't talk about it.  Surrender it to Christ, who intimately and effectively cares for everything about you.  Make what corrections are necessary to amend the problem as soon and as much as you can and move on with your Christian faith intact.  In Christ, life always moves forward, and the past is water under the bridge and gone.  Guard your heart with vigilance.

Eternal Christ, shine a light on the path we can take to guard our heart, to avoid dwelling on all hurtful thinking.  We claim your instruction: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)  Amen.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sheep and Goats

The Sheep and the Goats -- Matthew 25:34-40

The righteous and the unrighteous are separated and labelled sheep for the former) and goats (for the later).  Did this guy's mother never tell him not to call people names?  

I think of John L. who is a man who lives amongst the homeless and considers himself their advocate. This is his FAVORITE verse and he is more than happy to tell you his exegesis of this passage: Church people who don't give up their homes and move into homelessness are goats and are going to burn...   Until I met John, this passage had much redeeming social value for my liberal do-gooder soul.

The passage is about kindness and generosity. Kindness toward the less fortunate, or does luck have anything to do with it?  Are they just inept, or lacking in some essence of common sense or "normalcy," or are they the rebellious, the boundary crashers, the willful children who have gone awry?  Kindness toward them just the same... But why?  If it is their own fault?  Should not consequences fall on the sinners, the penalty for mistakes?

"What mistakes?  My parents put me out in this God forsakeness to fend for myself at 14.  What do you expect?"  Or,
"The mental hospital closed down whole buildings to cut expenses throwing me onto the street.  Is that MY fault?"  
Kindness toward them just the same?  Minds eaten by Meth, heroin, crack, crank, alcohol... many drugs of choice -- victims or willing participants in their own demise?  Do the willing  participants deserve my kindness, my generosity, my sacrifice?  I would say yes.

The passage is about kindness and generosity.  Generosity toward those also made in the Divine image.  How much generosity is enough?  Why do I feel compelled by this passage toward being sacrificial - I mean cutting into my finances so deeply that it actually creates problems for me to pay bills?  What is wrong with the hundreds of others I see driving big cars, wearing expensive clothes or jewelry, paying for goods or services I could only dream of having in an afterlife?  Where is THEIR generosity, their sacrifice?  So often I have recognized that church budgets are financed on less than 3% of the median family income.  Where is their tithe of 10%?  What could be done with that much more to work with?  Then again, what of dependency - unhealthy dependency.  Why SHOULD more be provided to the needy when some won't lift a finger to help themselves and do little more than complain about how imperfect is their free load? "You give us cheap scrambled eggs, where is our banquet feast, our warm shelters, our safe houses, our lockers, our showers, our transportation, our entertainment"...our drugs, our predatory sex, our abusiveness toward another, our self-absorbed selfishness?  Really!  What all of it does the church (or anyone else) fund?  Where does generosity end and supplying gluttony or living stupidly begin?

The passage is about kindness and generosity, or is it?  What if it is about guilt?  As in putting a heavy load of guilt on the unrighteous?  Or, what if it is about pridefully beating oneself on the back for being good -- of being that Pharisee doing loud and opulent works to show the world their "goodness" (while hiding the uglier, selfish, not-so-pretty sides of themselves in closets at home?)  The unrighteous are going to burn in eternal damnation for not recognizing the Christ in the faces of the needy.  However, wait a minute.  Just who is needy?  Are we not all needy?  Are not the unrighteous even more needy of Christ than the goody two-shoes who do everything right?  This is a miserable passage propping up a Works Righteousness that is typical of Matthew.  I thank John L. for being so obnoxiously out there with his exegesis that it caused me to stop looking at it through rosy liberal eyes.  I'm not sure how to X it out of the canon, but it does need something seriously weighty to counterbalance the hurt in it.  The hurting of the truly needy, the hurting of those who sacrifice to help and sacrifice again only to be taken for granted or advantage of, or the unrealized hurting of the spirits of those rolling in wealth and materialism to the point the rest of humanity is cheated by their lack of social conscience.

This passage is about kindness and generosity, or is it about all that is wrong with the world?  Is it about shame?  Shame on you for using well-meaning Christians.  Shame on you for not helping the poor and needy.  Shame on you for helping so much that independence is turned to sick dependency.  And, therein is shame enough, guilt enough for all that only a Savior, the likes of Christ, can redeem us all from our dysfunction and failings.  There is only one sheep in this story, Jesus Christ.  All the rest are just goats, and in Christ that is just all okay.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Thank you dear God for losing the one sheep and therein rescuing all us goats.  Make us more sensitive, more aware, more humble in our interactions with all who are needy, and yes, even me.  Through Christ we pray. Amen.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Seize the Day!

For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours' and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's.  -- 1 Corinthians 3:22-24 (ASV)
"All things are yours," or all things are in your grasp, or under your control.  The wording is reminiscent of Romans 8:38, but while the Romans verse is about not getting separated from God, this is about the possession of all things through Christ.  I quoted this to my daughter going out the door this morning and I said, "You know what that means don't you?  SEIZE THE DAY!!"

I have to confess to being possessed by anxiety; yes, as in what almost feels like demon-possession.  It frequently strikes very early in the morning and, irritatingly, it seems to fly in and startle me awake.  I'm batting about .300 with this dragon.  Some mornings it can be suppressed through mindful breathing and prayer, and I can get back to sleep.  But, most mornings I have to give up and get on with my day.  I get quite discouraged about it at times, especially when it leaves me with only three or four hours of sleep.  These verses put a new spin on it all.

Anxiety arises out of feeling helpless, or that some thing(s) are out of your control.  Anxiety is frequently the disease of "what ifs?"  If the "what if's" are pursued and dwelt upon enough, the anxiety can become panic.  But in anxiety disorders, it IS mainly one's active imagination that puts one in an anxious state.  Thoughts, we must remember, do not equal reality.  What we have here in 1 Corinthians is not our imagination but a scriptural promise.  Rather than running 40 yards down an imaginary slippery road to an imaginary colossal failure to an imaginary end of the world, why not stop it in the first six inches with Paul's words: "Everything is yours...because you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."  Everything is yours.  What stands outside of everything?  Nothing at all.  "Everything is yours," close your eyes and say it over and over to yourself until you grasp it.  Everything is yours.  You're Christ's, Christ is God's and together all is yours.  Go seize your day!

O Most High, thank you for putting all things under Christ's feet and for likewise putting all that under our feet as well.  Give us the minute by minute reminder of whose we are and what we have in you and through you and by you.  Amen.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Born Into Life

"The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son."  -- John 5:26

I remember in a biology class spending almost an entire class period talking about how to define "life."  Life is somewhat of a mystery it turns out.  While we know how life is initiated at conception, we do not know exactly at what moment the combination of chromosomes results in "life."  It is almost easier to define life by what it isn't -- as "not dead" -- than to try to define what it is.  The signs of life, e.g. breathing, pulse, motion, etc, also do not explain what the actual animating energy is that causes a person or creature to "start ticking" or to be alive.  We know neither when or from where that "spark" comes, or where it goes after death.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Walls of Safe Space

 Raising of Jairus' daughter -- Mark 5:35-43  "She is not dead, but asleep."

Eugene Peterson in The Message calls the crowd at Jairus' house gossips and casserole bringers.  These people at his house laughed at Jesus when he said she's sleeping.  These people had also told him to quit bothering the teacher.  A dismissive, unbelieving bunch of sarcastic folks.  "Poo, she's dead. Isn't that too bad?  Sucks to be them."  So, Jesus shoos them all out, keeping with him only his 3 disciples, Jairus, and his wife -- the ones who could love, the ones who could believe. How often we die in response to ridicule and shaming! How often those who are supposed to care can cause our hope to wither, our belief to be scorched to ash in the face of heated criticism.  How often we give up when our peers laugh at us!  Jairus sets out to bring Jesus to heal his daughter.  They are worried sick and scared. The crowd follows him only to see if he'd really follow through with his hair-brained scheme.  The hecklers shout, "She's a dead duck, Jairus.  Quit bothering the Teacher."    "Don't listen to them.  Trust me," says the quiet rebel man that Jairus and his wife have gone out on a limb in desperation to pursue.  We must save our daughter's life.  I'm a leader of the synagogue.  I'll be laughed at by everyone...but our daughter.  Our beautiful daughter.  A faithful Jew surrounded by cynical, doubting peers.  A dead daughter.  "Trust me."  Then, "Shoo, shoo you blind doubters."  A safe space created.  Loving walls surround a loving hand up, and the sleeping wakes!  This is no ghost, for she can eat.  Faith has made her well.  Love wins.  Parental love triumphs.  Cynicism is put down, scoffers denied.  Don't buy cynicism.  Be love.  Be trusting. And, as our Heavenly Parent protects the frightened and lonely let us,too, put up the walls of safe space so love always wins, even when it looks impossible.

Journal Questions:

  1. Recall a time when you were scoffed at or laughed at for what you believed or thought was right.  How did you feel?
  2. Did anyone come to your defense?  Knowing what you know now, what might you do to create a safe space for someone who might be caught in a similar circumstance?
  3. How likely are you to hold out hope in seemingly hopeless situations?  Can you, or do you join the doubters who throw in the towel early to protect yourself?
Create in us, O God, the skill to build safe space where love can win out.  Through Christ's power and with Jesus' light.  Amen.