Grace – Ubiquitous Christ Presence

Psalm 19:1  “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” 

Matthew 25:35-36  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

It’s been quite awhile since I posted to my blog as I have been busy pursuing one of my new passions – nature and landscape photography.  If you would like to see my images you can find them at Central Colorado Images.

I am experiencing my photography to be an important component of my spirituality, and I will tell you why.   In describing who I am, I consider myself to be a Christian mystic.  The primary focus of the life of the mystic is to first, not define God in dogmas and doctrines, but to experience the Divine in the countless dimensions of the cosmos.  For me, the deepest and most profound meaning of the incarnation of Jesus is that the Divine is imminently present, not exclusively in Jesus, but in every atom and molecule of all that makes up the cosmos.   The Christ-Presence saturates the cosmos.  Richard Rohr calls this the “spiritualization of matter.”    When John’s Gospel says, “All things came into being through him…,” and when Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food…,”  this is part of what is being reflected.  We experience the Christ-Presence in the lives of others, especially in the oppressed, suffering and marginalized, as well as in all things.

The scriptures are saturated in both Testaments as to how the earth is filled with the glory of God from the mighty mountains, to the expansive seas, to the most delicate wildflowers.     If we really take seriously the Christ-Presence in all things, then all things and all people are sacred.   The only appropriate way to relate to that which is sacred is with respect, awe and a profound sense of wonder.  Consider the potential this has to transform our planet, including human attitudes towards the environment,  politics,  social relationships and community life.

Perhaps our exploitation of the environment and deep-seeded fear and subsequent hostilities towards those who are different, in all the ways humans can be different, is that we have lost, or never had, a sense of the Sacred in all things.

If the Christ-Presence permeates all things, including you,  then it is never not otherwise.   You are sacred and are empowered to embrace yourself with respect, awe and wonder, and in so embracing self are compelled to embrace others and the whole earth – experiencing the Christ-Presence in everyone and in all things.     When we come to an acute awareness of the ubiquitous Christ-Presence in the self, others and all things, then the commands of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself,” “love your enemies,” and other similar commands cease to be impossible laws to obey but rather become paths to the energetic activation of the Christ-Presence that is already within you.    When we awaken to the inner Christ-Presence, love energy is activated and all that we are created to be and become, shaped by the love we see in the life of Jesus, is actualized.  This is a dimension of grace we need to reflect upon and hold up before ourselves and each other.

The Outrageous Dinner Party of Jesus

In the 14th chapter of Luke Jesus lays out, what I’m sure was considered to be by many of his time,  rather disgusting and outrageous dinner-party etiquette.   But this chapter is about much more than merely a first century dinner party.  It is a chapter that has astounding implications for our lives today!

Read Luke 14:1, 7-24  (Lectionary assigned Gospel for Sunday, August 28th)

Jesus went to a dinner party of a “leader of the Pharisees” which tells us it was a prestigious event comprised of the religious elites of the community.  It was at this party that Jesus advanced his outrageous points of etiquette in three different ways; points that clashed and conflicted with “proper” dinner-party etiquette of his time, as well as with deeply embedded social, moral, political and religious values.

First, observing that many of the guests had chosen the preferential places of rank and honor, Jesus seized it as a teaching point.  He said when going to a dinner party to not seek out the places of honor, but to intentionally seek out the lowest place, the place of least distinction, the place of humility.

Second, he suggested directly to the host that the next time he had a party to not invite his friends, colleagues, relatives and status people of the community who would most likely return the favor back to him, but “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind… because they cannot repay you.”

With that, it seems to me, Jesus had quickly insulted his host.  To “invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind” was for a Pharisee to invite those considered religiously unclean and morally inferior, and there were many religious prohibitions against contact with the unclean and immoral, especially around the table of fellowship.

Third, with that insult Jesus plowed ahead and told a story about someone who gave a party and invited all the people that one would expect at a prestigious dinner party.  The implication was that these invited guest had already RSVP’d  their acceptance.  It was the custom, in those days, to send a servant out to the homes of the invited guests to announce that all was ready. But, as the servant made his rounds, he encountered a litany of last minute cancellations and a host of excuses.  Two excuses were about business matters and one was personal in that he just been married and was on the honeymoon.  The servant returned and told the host of the cancellations and the host became angry.  Who wouldn’t?  If you had a party and everyone cancelled an hour before, you would be angry too.

But the host was adamant and would not be discouraged or denied. He was going to have the party come heck or high water!  So, he his sent his servants out to the community margins to invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame.  When they finished their rounds, they announced to the host that there was still room for more.  Again, the host sent the servants back out with an even greater sense of resolve and urgency so that his house would be filled.

So what is this really all about?  As I stated at the beginning, this story is about much more than a mere dinner party.  What Luke does, in this chapter, is present us with two agendas, two visions of reality, two visions of how the world could be constituted.  There is the rather exclusive agenda of the rich and powerful that is contrasted with the more inclusive agenda of Jesus.

First, Luke’s community experienced Jesus as the bringer of a radical new vision of realityThey experienced Jesus as one who brought a vision of a new way to be a human being and a new way to live in community.  Luke’s Jesus insists that all of the carefully articulated rules of proper moral, social and religious etiquette that regulate who is to be included and who is to be excluded; who are the insiders and who are the outsiders, who are the first class citizens and who are second and third class citizens, who are the saved and who are the lost, were to be thrown away as so much rubbish and replaced by a wild and lavish inclusive grace that embraced and welcomed all, even and especially those that had been economically, socially, politically, morally and religiously marginalized.

Jesus paints a picture that shattered their world-view!  If we have the courage to allow this vision to inform and shape our lives, it can do the same to us.   Jesus pulls us into a vision of a whole different kind of world where grace is not controlled, not structured, not qualified, not rationed restrictively and according to proper etiquette, but is spread around lavishly and extravagantly.   It’s a world where grace is over the top!

The congregation I served in Summit County, Colorado co-sponsors an event called “The Community Dinner.”    It occurs weekly on Tuesday evening at the Silverthorne Elks Club.  It’s just that,  a free inclusive community dinner.  Show up and you are welcomed and provided a scrumptious meal no matter who you are.  All the “proper” restrictive rules of etiquette have been superseded by an inclusive dinner-party experience.   Several times when I served there I was asked some version of this question by an attendee, “Why do you do this?”   My answer was something like, “Why not? This is a better way to be the world according to Jesus.”  I remember one attendee looked at me incredulously and said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”  I responded, “I’ve never been more serious!”

The second thing that impacted me was the contrast in this story between the guests excuses and the host’s intensive effort to fill his house.  A clash of agendas takes a central role in Jesus’ story.  We see the clash between the agenda of the invited guests that caused them to opt-out out of the dinner party, and the agenda of the host who was passionate about putting his dinner-party agenda into motion.  For Luke’s community then and for us now, it gets down to a question of profound self-examination, “Which agenda is going to dominate/rule/shape my life/your life/our community life?”

The parable ends with a splash of ice water in the face. Jesus said, “For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”   I don’t take that as a threat or harsh statement of judgment, but rather a statement of fact and challenge.  The original invited guests were not uninvited, the invitation was still in effect.  It was a matter of them opting-out of the party.   They were not included because they opted out.   That’s what it gets down to in the end for us.  Do we opt in or opt out?

None of the excuses provided by invited guests were bad things.  They were acceptable, rather ordinary everyday things.   But that’s just the point! That’s what it gets down to!   Which agenda is going to be the basis of my life, your life, our life together as a faith community?  Whose agenda is going to be advanced:  our own personal agendas that are often riddled with the accepted values of everyday “etiquette” that usually gravitate toward being narrow, exclusive, prejudicial, self-indulgent,  conditional and even bigoted?   Or, will we open ourselves up to the agenda of the inclusive grace of the great dinner-party of Jesus and allow that vision to shape who we are, how we live and the kinds of communities we foster and create?

Which vision of reality are we going to build our reality upon?  Are we going to opt for the more exclusive and restricted agenda of the Pharisee?   In our 2016 world that might look like deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants “so fast it will make your head spin,” as one presidential candidate has said.  Or, It might look like narrow restrictions to keep Muslims and Syrian refugees  out of the country.  Or, it might look like increasing the burden of the poor and elderly by cutting Social Security and Medicare. Or, it might look like resisting any form of increasing the minimum wage through legislation  Or, it might look like discriminating legislation against the LGBTQ community.  Or, it might look like giving the lion’s share of the tax breaks to billionaires.

Or, are we going to opt for the more inclusive vision of Jesus that lifted the most vulnerable and worked in such a way that everyone was lifted and affirmed?   Are we going opt for a vision that that truly holds up the “common good” as one of highest values of our civilization and not merely the advantage of the wealthy and powerful elites?

I think the 14th chapter of Luke speaks directly to these issues of our time.  Our nation is increasingly taking on the characteristics of plutocracy and/or oligarchy.  If you don’t know what those terms mean, then look them up.   It is serious business.  It is time to make some conscious, intentional, value-based decisions about which vision of life and reality will each of us individually advocate for, and what kind of corporate life together are we going to work to create?  By not deciding and acting we risk being complicit with a vision other than the world-view of Jesus.

“Taste the dinner,” as Jesus said, the inclusive dinner party of Jesus.

Love Notices and Acts

Read Sunday’s Gospel, Luke 13:10-17 before proceeding.

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I also call attention to a short passage from 1 John 4.  “God is love… there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”

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When the boy was in second grade he began to stutter.  By the time he was in later elementary school his stutter became so acute he could not say four words without blocking.  He lived awash in anxiety that the teacher would call on him to read out loud in class.  Kids would mockingly mimic his stutter. The boy hated school, felt alone, rejected and unintelligent.

He went through 9th grade without a single teacher ever saying one thing to him about it.  He lived in his own private little hell of dread.  Low self-esteem combined with a dysfunctional home life only served to exacerbate things.  No place in the world felt safe to him.

By the Fall of tenth grade nothing much had changed for him.  One day at the end of English class the teacher, Mrs. Swanson, asked him to drop by her classroom after school.  He couldn’t imagine what she wanted.

She said she had noticed how his stutter appeared to trouble him deeply.  The boy talked about it for the first time in his life.  He did not realize how transparent he apparently was – at least to her.  She expressed a desire to help him.  She even made a promise that she would never put him on the spot in class in a way that would embarrass him.  Rather, she made arrangements for him to come in after school to privately read to her and make presentations to her one-on-one without fear.  She said she would speak to his other teachers and make them more aware.

At the time, the boy did not realize it, but Mrs. Swanson’s initiative was the beginning of a process of change in his life.  It was the first step of a new journey.   It took many more years to acquire greater mastery over his stutter, but for the first time he began to gain a little confidence, and he knew he had an advocate who really cared.  He began to realize he was not unintelligent.

The boy went on to be a pastor.  In 40 years of ordained ministry a Sunday never went by when he did not stand in front of the congregation and, running in the deep background of his mind and heart, a part of him was saying, “Thank you Mrs. Swanson for noticing. Thank you Mrs. Swanson for being concerned enough to notice and act.”

You see, the boy was me!

My point is: love notices – love acts – love makes a difference!

Mary would slowly, shuffle through the corridors of the dementia unit of the nursing home.  She wore a sweater that was stretched and hung down almost to her knees that she would roll up and grasp tightly in both hands.   I would encounter Mary every time I visited the nursing home.  When I would leave, her image would linger in my mind’s eye: her frail frame, her hunched over silhouette, her empty facial expression were all etched into my psyche. One day after leaving her image remained so vivid that I experienced intense emotional turmoil.  I needed to process my thoughts and feelings somehow and some way.  I found myself scratching out a few lines of a poem about Mary as if she was the one speaking.  Perhaps it was an feeble effort to give her a voice that she no longer could give for herself, or maybe it was just a way to process my own inner turbulence.

I call it, “Not Long Ago.”

not long ago
i was vital and full of life
but now I shuffle along corridors
with tiny silent steps
wandering aimlessly
marching to nowhere
curled over like the last autumn leaf
looking at the floor
muttering

what happened?  What happened?!

i see forms of people
i try to reach out
some part of me deep within still yearns to connect
something human remains that intuitively recognizes others
as a source of life and comfort

but more often than not
they avoid me
walk past me
talk past me
as if I am not there
but i am
and
i am not

why this sentence?
for what purpose
this living death
hollow existence
vital signs devoid of essence?
i exist only in the memory of others

does God remember me?

Mary was not forgotten. She was remembered and loved, at least by one special person. There was a volunteer, Judy, who worked in that unit who smothered Mary with love and attention. She would spend time with her – read to her – hold her hand – take her for walks outside through the garden.  One day, I affirmed Judy for the compassion and love she lavished upon Mary. Judy said an astounding thing: “My family has a strong history of Alzheimer’s.  In embracing Mary, I am also embracing who I might become in the hope someone might do the same for me.”

Paradoxically, Judy came to an Alzheimer’s unit for a sense of hope – not in the hope that she would not contract Alzheimer’s, but that she might be held in love if she did. Judy reached through her own fear to touch whatever vestige of humanity might have been left in Mary and, in so doing, fulfilled her own humanity in a beautiful  way.

Love notices – love acts – love is fearless – love makes a difference!

Our gospel reads, “There appeared a woman with a spirit that crippled her for eighteen years.”  I am compelled to wonder if she too, in a similar way, was as invisible to the people around her as the boy who stuttered or Mary of the nursing home.  She too was bent low by forces she was powerless to counter.  Who knows what physical thing it was, but if we embrace this gospel story beyond the literal we may see she that was also bent low by religious beliefs and cultural forces which only compounded and intensified her mental, emotional and spiritual anguish.  In those days, it was  commonly believed that infirmity was the result of one’s sin or the sins of one’s ancestors; a belief that served to only further magnify suffering and alienation.

It does not say but if she was a widow, but if she was she was also vulnerable to social disconnection because her primary source of identity and security that came with a husband would have been absent.  Who knows?

Her distorted body was an outward symbol of a deeper inner agony that is shared by many others including – children who stutter, people with memory dysfunctions and millions of suffering others on this planet who often go unnoticed: the poor, the undocumented, the disabled, the homeless, oppressed women and girls in many places in the world today, those fleeing war torn regions for their own safety in hopes of finding some kind of quality of life for themselves and their children; on I could go.

The words of the Bob Dylan song the 60’s, “Blowin’ in the Wind,”  come to mind, “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry.”

Did anybody really see her anymore – engage her as a person – take her seriously as a woman?  Or did they walk past her – talk past her – dismiss her – forget her – not really see her?  Did anybody remember her in affirming ways?   Perhaps she came to the synagogue that Sabbath Day in the hope of finding some sliver of assurance or shard of hope.

Jesus knew unequivocally that healing on the Sabbath would get him into very serious trouble with the religious hierarchy.  There was no part of the Torah more non-negotiable than Sabbath law. Any kind of healing was strictly forbidden on the Sabbath.  Religious law superseded everybody and everything.

And, the religious hierarchy were to be feared. They had power and were not afraid to use it. They were a formidable force. But “perfect love casts out all fear,” says 1 John.  Jesus did the unthinkable smack in their frowning faces.  Empowered by the very essence of what God is – LOVE – he did two scandalous things.  He took a fearless initiative and called the woman over to himself.  Women were second class, relegated to the back of the synagogue, to the fringes of consciousness.  The men were positioned in the front.  That is where Jesus was, up front, because he was a man and he was teaching.

Jesus called her over to himself – that is, he called her to the front; out of the shadows into full view.   Anyone who understands the geometry of synagogue worship understands the radical nature of this gesture.  He affirmed her dignity, brought her out of the darkness of denigrating attitudes and into light of Divine love.

He then bestowed healing upon her in direct violation of Torah Sabbath Law.  Again, seeing the deepest truth of these stories metaphorically, the woman was restored, not merely from her physical ailment, but from a harsh religious mind-set that rendered her invisible and could not  celebrate with her in her restoration and transformation.  She was restored to the community and affirmed as a woman.  The common folks recognized it and they rejoiced, but the representatives of religion scowled and scorned.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.”  Jesus was a fearless lover. That’s a huge part of what Jesus’ cross meant to his early followers. The cross was the inspiring core symbol that Jesus their mentor (Lord) was a fearless lover, and he challenged (invited, called) them into the same fearless love.  To follow Jesus is to follow him into radical expressions of love; to not be stopped by any form of fear or external control applied by some authority of power.

1 John says, “God is love!”   Grammatically, there are two ways to define love-as a noun or as a verb.

As a noun we mainly talk about love and describe love.  We say love is this, or love is that, or love is some other thing, and we can be incredibly eloquent in our descriptions.  But as a noun, that is as far as it goes – we talk and describe, even eloquently, but as a noun it is merely and mostly intellectual and does not really go any further or any deeper.

But to really know love; know the wonder and  truth of it at a deeper level, is to experience it; to share it and receive it.  In the end, love is a verb – an experience.  “God is love.”  Grammatically you can turn it around,  Love is God.  God is a verb – an experience – and God is known in the experience of love.  Jesus calls us to be a part of and a partner in the experience of God.

For me, when I struggle with the idea of God, it is usually because I am defining God as a noun, and the best I can do with God as a noun is to talk about God.  And no matter how eloquent my descriptions may be, how high and lofty my theology may become, I still am just talking about God – describing God as an object.  But “God is love.”  God is discovered and known in the experience of love.  God is a verb and Jesus invites you and me into the experience to a place beyond eloquent words; beyond the words of dogma, doctrine and beliefs of the head to experience “God is love”; and in the process grow into our fullest humanity!

To affirm that God is love rules out images of God as an avenging judge out to destroy and condemn; or a God of the powerful lording over the less powerful.  These views of God are merely projections of human rigidness, anger, self-righteousness and bigotry that are seeking justification and often use religion to do so.

The face of a child who stutters; or a woman who mutters, or the faces of millions whose lives sputter from hunger, or illness (physical or mental), or as victims of violence, or prejudice, or loneliness,  or sorrow, or addiction, or some form of oppression – all parade past us – and we past them.

A friend of mine made this poignant point to me pertaining to the subject matter of this blog.  He said, “Yes, perfect love casts out all fear.  My concern in this election cycle is that perfect fear will cast out all love!”

Love notices.  Love acts.  Love is fearless.  Love makes a difference!

“God is love”  It is an Experience into which Jesus leads us.

Growing Into A Fuller Humanity

(My take on Luke 10:38-42)

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

This story may be short but it doesn’t lack in depth of meaning.  I am aware of numerous interpretations of this story.  There is one popular classic interpretation that sees Martha and Mary each representing an aspect of Christian spirituality.  In this view, Martha represents compassionate action and service, and Mary represents learning, prayer, contemplation and worship.  I affirm both of these as aspects of Christian spirituality, and from my point of view, both are critical to a vital and healthy spiritual life.  One of my favorite Christian writers is contemporary mystic Richard Rohr.  Rohr founded he Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M.,  the name of which reflects these two aspects of the life of discipleship.   Action and contemplation are heads and tails of the same coin; they energize each other.  The transformation of the human consciousness comes through both contemplation and compassionate action.  When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus we see both.  On the one hand, we see him withdraw from engagement with others as he sought out moments of deep prayer and reflection.  On the other hand, we see him engaging people with total commitment, embracing their real needs, sufferings, pain, pathology and sorrow.  Jesus lived on a continuum between those two aspects of spirituality.

With that said, there is another way to see this story that goes beyond this classic interpretation.  It is to approach this story from the perspective of a 1st century context.  It is also to see it as a reflection of the values of Luke’s faith community.  Only Luke shares this story.  The other gospels do not mention it.  An understanding of the status of women in the first century will also help engage this story.  Jewish women in Jesus’ day were not considered full members of the covenant community. Women were only a part of the covenant community through their husbands or fathers.  For example, women were not allowed to study the Torah. In most rabbinic circles it was strictly forbidden.

The Mishnah (a written interpretation of the Torah) explicitly stated, and I quote “If any man gives his daughter knowledge of the Torah it is as though he taught her lechery.”  Yikes! To teach a woman the Torah would have been to undermine the prevailing religious and social institutions that affirmed male dominance.

So, with just that tidbit of understanding, this story begins to take on radical new dimensions of meaning. Instead of helping with the obligations of household hospitality, which was a women’s expected gender specific role, Mary felt free, in the presence of Jesus, to step out of that role.  Sitting at a teacher’s feet was the accepted posture of discipleship and learning, a posture reserved only for men. Mary assumed the forbidden student role of being taught by a teacher, in this case, Jesus.  In the gospel of Luke Jesus is referred to as “teacher” more than in all the other gospels

Mary was encouraged and affirmed by Jesus when he said, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  With that we have a culturally and religiously subversive story.

Jesus words to Martha, “…you are worried and distracted my many things,” was not an admonishment of Martha, but criticism of the institutional paradigm that had trapped Martha in the clutches of a rigid gender role from which she could not extricate herself.  Martha complained, “Lord do you not care that my sister left me to do all the work?”   Jesus did care, but he cared that Martha was enslaved in her gender role and was unable to break free from hundreds of years of social and religious traditions and follow her sister’s lead into a role that had been reserved only for men.

Jesus punctuated the whole thing by affirming Mary’s initiative, “(this) will not be taken away from her.”  Wow!  In other words Jesus was saying, Mary, by sitting at the feet of my teaching you have taken the first step toward a greater fulfillment of your humanity and womanhood, stepping past the institutional prohibitions that have reduced your humanity and worth as a human being.

One more thing: Even though Jesus said it would not be taken away from Mary, forces have raged down through the centuries that have tried to do just that! There were a few rabbis in Jesus’ time that allowed women to study the Torah alongside the men.  Those rabbis were a in a huge  minority and were in conflict with the vast majority of Judaism.  A similar conflict existed in the early church and still does in the contemporary church and culture.

If you read the New Testament with discernment, you will see this conflict as plain as the nose on your face, particularly in the epistles.  We can read passages that declare the total worth, dignity and equality of all, crossing racial, ethnic, religious, social and gender divisions; passages like Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.”  Or 1 Corinthians 7 where the relationship between husband and wife is portrayed as a relationship of total equality.  Or in Philemon where Paul returned the slave Onesimus to his master Philemon, not as a slave but as a beloved brother.

But then, we can turn to other passages that reinforce hierarchy and narrow gender and social roles. What it indicates is that in the early faith communities there was a conflict.   The tragic thing is that biblical scholarship reveals that the church reinforced narrower gender and social roles as time passed; and by the third century women were totally excluded from teaching and preaching roles.  In direct contradiction to Jesus’ affirming words to Mary, it finally was “taken away”from Mary, and it took only about 150-200 years from the time of Jesus to do so.

But it was not so in Luke’s late first century faith community.  This story is as much a reflection of Luke’s faith community as anything.  Only Luke tells this story, and this story belongs to the emerging traditions about Jesus that were developing in the decades after he after he was gone.

Luke’s community departed from imposed gender and social roles: Luke’s Jesus, in spades, repeatedly affirmed and empowered those that had been devalued by culture and religion.  There are other stories unique only to Luke that convey this same value.    

It is only in Luke’s gospel that a despised Samaritan is held up as model of compassionate discipleship.

It is only in Luke’s gospel that a teen peasant woman, Mary mother of Jesus, is held up as a role model of trust.

It is only in Luke’s gospel that the prophetess Anna preached about the infant Jesus in the temple.

It is only in Luke’s gospel that Jesus tells parables with women as the central figures.

It is only in Luke’s gospel where women are named in the same list alongside the 12 male disciples.

Luke’s community experienced Jesus as a force of love and justice that set people free from institutional restrictions that held them back from growing into a fuller humanity and a new human consciousness.  

There have been, are, and will be powers at work that would reverse and smother the liberating energy of Jesus.  There are millions of people on this planet who are still marginalized along gender, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, economic  and social lines.

Today, Mary is our role model, especially when any of us wants to hold our ground with Martha and not step across the barriers used by some to suppress and reduce the humanity of others.

Howard Thurman was the grandson of slaves. He was a poet, a pastor, writer and the author of the book Jesus and the Disinherited, a book that Martin Luther King, Jr. took with him each of the 39 times he went to jail that he read for inspiration.  Thurman wrote these remarkable words about Jesus:  “To some Jesus is the grand prototype of the distilled longing of humankind for fulfillment and wholeness… To some Jesus is the eternal Presence hovering over the myriad of the dire needs of humanity…  To others Jesus is more than a Presence; he is God-truth, the Divine moment in history… (and then he says this, and this pertains to my point) “To yet even others, when people look into Jesus’  face and soul, they see etched the glory of their own possibilities.”

I think this is a way to describe Mary’s profound experience of Jesus.  Mary looked into Jesus face and soul and saw etched the glory of her own possibilities.  It gave her the courage to sit at his feet as a disciple in training and emerge into a fuller humanity.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” 

May we also pursue that “better part”  that sets all people free to realize their fullest humanity!

Looking Back or Living in the Now?

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

Marcia and I made a BIG decision this week. We put our beloved mountain home in central Colorado up for sale. I repeat, it was a very big decision!  For decades a mountain home was our dream, and ever since we purchased it in 1998, it has been our goal to retire in this beautiful place.

Three years ago I retired, so here we are living happily ever after – or so we thought! Now we are going to leave and let go of a long held aspiration. We do not have the financial wherewithal to own more than one house, so it comes down to staying where we are or moving on. It’s as simple as that – or maybe it’s not so simple.

Of course, the reason we are moving on is that we have two young grandchildren, the offspring of our son and his wife, in the Kansas City area. After intensely discussing this for at least two years in what seemed like a never-ending conversation, our decision was shaped by numerous factors but came down to this. Ten, fifteen or twenty years from now, if we live that long, what will we regret more? Will we regret more that we moved away from central Colorado, or will we regret more that we could have played a much more significant role in our grandchildren’s lives and given them blessed memories of loving and affirming grandparents, as well as the blessings that will be ours of experiencing them growing and maturing close up and personal? In the end it was a no brainer!  We are leaving this blessed place for the blessed people that live at the other end.

Is this the biggest decision we have ever had to make? Probably not!  Other big decisions include things like: getting married in the first place, having a child, choosing ministry as a career, leaving several congregations to move on to a new ministry (including one in Alaska) and all the smaller, but nevertheless profound, decisions that come with everyday living. I could go on, but you are probably getting the idea. Have we always made the best choice?  No!  There were a couple of congregational moves that probably weren’t the best choice for a variety of reasons that I need not go into here. There were other choices I made that if I could do over, I would do differently.

In Luke 9 Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In my own life, I have made some bad choices concerning numerous things. If I could live my life over, I would make very different choices. But I can’t. All I have is today and the choices I can make today; choices that will have profound implications for the future.

God knows there are plenty of things in my past I could spend a lot of time and energy looking back at with regret and guilt, but there is no future in that. That kind of thinking and emotional aching is a DEAD END!  We certainly can learn from the past by looking back, but we cannot live in the past. Living in the past steals from the present and subverts the future. Perhaps this passage from Luke 9 can speak to this.

When the house sells, and we get to the Kansas City area, and it’s July and 99 degrees with 75% humidity, and it’s too hot and humid to go outside, and I imagine the hum of the air conditioner sounding like a cash register racking up costly kilowatt hours, will I regret that we moved?  At that point I will have a choice to do one of two things. First, I could look back with regret knowing our former Colorado home is probably a comfortable 80 degrees with 12% humidity, or I could look into the faces of those two precious grandchildren and seize the opportunity that is right in front of me to love and be loved that will do far more to fulfill our and their humanity and bring us all a sense of deeper joy.

I don’t know where you are in your life. But wherever you are, I ask, What reality are you spending most of your time in? Are you looking back at God knows what with regret, guilt and longing; hanging on to past wounds, failures, mistakes, missed opportunities, betrayals, the good old days, whatever! Is it stealing from your present and subverting your future? Or are you seeing the NOW and the glorious opportunities that are provided in the choices you make today?

The Right Time

Dear Friends,
For my latest blog post, I share a letter I sent to Senator Bernie Sanders today.

Dear Senator Sanders,
I have been supporting you all throughout the campaign thus far. I have even supported you with my dollars. I feel you are the best candidate for our country, and I stand with you and your positions on most of the issues.  Being a pastor, I am acutely aware of a concept of time that is reflected in both the Old and New Testaments. It is time as “Kairos.”  Kairos means the “right time;” the “appropriate time;” the “fullness of time.” It takes insight and discernment to determine “the right time” and also takes the humility to act even when you cannot achieve all that was aimed for. It is my opinion that it is the Kairos time, “the right time,” for you to suspend your campaign. The “right time” demands that all energy must be now focused on seeing that Donald Trump is not elected President of the United States for the sake of the future of America and even the world. I know you disagree with Hillary Clinton on many issues. So do I and many others. But you also know from decades of experience that politics, at its best, is arriving at a place of compromise where neither party gets all it wants, but yet moves the country forward nevertheless. Senator, you have energized the Democratic Party and much of the Independent electorate. You have raised awareness on issues that are crucial to the future of the United States. Your efforts are not lost, and what you have done will continue to shape the balance of the campaign and the minds of voters. The “right time” has come to suspend your campaign and to encourage your supporters to do everything that can be done to see that Mrs Clinton is the next President of the United States and that Donald Trump be relegated a footnote in American political history.
Respectfully,
Joseph Holub
Buena Vista, Colorado

Stardust

stardust

“When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers , the moon and the stars… what are human beings that you are mindful of them?  –Psalm 8:3-4

“God is love”  -1 John 4:16

In the fiery nuclear fusion furnaces of the first stars of 13 billion years ago, the necessary elements and atoms that made the ongoing evolving universe possible were formed.   In the interior of the stars hydrogen and helium, at incomprehensible temperatures of 10-15 million degrees centigrade,  were converted into carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, sulfur and almost all the elements of the periodic table – most everything that everything is made of, including you and me.  As those first stars aged, iron was produced and the stars cooled, became heavy and collapsed in on themselves.  The stars imploded with enough energy to immediately fuse some of the atoms into higher elements like nickel, krypton, gold, uranium and others. This quick and violent implosion released enormous amounts of energy that exploded in supernovas.   The exploded remains, stardust, traveled throughout the universe only to someday, by the force of gravity, re-clump together with other stardust and give birth to new stars, planets, solar systems and all contained within them.  This is the life of the universe that repeats and continues on – all because of stardust.

In the course of hundreds of millions and billions of years, the stardust of the universe came together in such a way that various kinds of galaxies were formed including elliptical, spiral and irregular galaxies – at least 100 billon  galaxies each containing a 100 billion stars or more – all made of stardust.

In the outer reaches of one of these spiral galaxies, one yellow dwarf star out of 100 billion stars formed about 4.5 billion years ago.  This star seemed inconsequential next to the other 100 billion stars of this galaxy.  Stardust not only formed this yellow dwarf star, but also began to form planets that revolved around the coalescing young star.  On one of these forming planets, the stardust came together and evolved in such a way that simple organisms developed that had the self-sustaining attributes of responsiveness, growth metabolism, energy transformation and reproduction – all made of stardust.

After a few billion years the organisms evolved and diversified, interacting with the environment, until conscious and self-conscious stardust eventually emerged.  The self-conscious stardust came to be called human beings, and they attained awareness of this miraculous process of stardust evolving into a conflagration of life.

But many of these self-conscious stardust beings could not accept the truth that they were made of common stardust.  Many among them could not face the truth that all beings on their stardust planet no matter race, nationality, religion,  gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or otherwise were all made of exactly the same stuff – stardust.   Such an acknowledgement could have lead to a sense of sacredness, respect and unity for all things living and innate.  But because these stardust beings  could not celebrate the diversity revealed in the miracle of the stardust, they gathered in groups and tribes for security where their fear of other stardust beings, who were different from them in some way, was shared and cultivated. The tribal and parochial view of these stardust beings lead to greater fear and, far too often, countless expressions of violence, hostility and exploitation against other stardust beings and against the stardust planet itself.

At a point in time and space, a singular stardust being was born among them.  He came from a specific religious  tribe and nation.  But he did not live as most of the stardust beings of his tribe.  He lived with a universal consciousness and vision that could see all were made of the same stardust, even those not of his tribe and nation and those within his tribe and nation that had been rejected and marginalized.

Many of the stardust beings that encountered him rejected and feared him, so much so their fear turned to violence against him which resulted in his death.  What they did not realize was that death could not silence the truth by which he lived – the truth of the stardust that all are offspring and stardust beings of the universe.

But others did not reject him.  Rather they experienced the awesome power that was within him – the power of the stardust.  He showed them they were all on an extraordinary evolutionary journey that had begun billions of years before – a journey that had uniquely exploded in his life and could now be expressed in theirs.  He showed them that stardust beings could finally express themselves in something called Love that could bind all stardust beings and the planet together as one.   When they stood next to this stardust being and listened to his words and embraced his deeds, they knew they were incomplete and their journey must continue until they too emerged and evolved into more complete and beautiful stardust beings – evolve into more than they were.  When they looked into his eyes, many were swept up into a power greater than themselves – the power of stardust.

In the fiery nuclear fusion furnaces of the first stars of 13 billion years ago, the necessary elements and atoms that make the ongoing evolving universe possible were formed.  Stars grew old and finally exploded in supernovas that provided the necessary elements that constitute everything in the universe – including you and me.  This is the ongoing creative evolutionary process of the universe – all because of stardust.

Is there a Ground of Being or God that embraces, permeates and courses through the creative evolutionary process of the universe?    If there is, that Ground of Being can only be deeply known by us stardust beings in the astounding experience called Love – the profound love of The Stardust Being – the greatest incarnation of stardust.  He leads the stardust beings on a continued evolutionary journey anchored in love.

Joseph Holub
April 5, 2016