I’m sitting at Starbucks before heading to work and I get a the urge to play with making glyphs. Now, I’m no linguist and I’ve not spent time with any ancient glyphs, so I’m no authority here. I simply had a canvas that I had prepared in Procreate on my iPad and was thinking of looking up a cool Japanese symbol to add to it. But, since I don’t know any Japanese symbols, I’m at the mercy of websites to supply me the image and the meaning.
I don’t know about you, but that always scares me. Like what happens if the website says this is the symbol for purity, but it’s actually the symbol for dunce, as in “Look at this dunce who saw something on the Internet and copied it!” I decided instead to work through a short exercise of what it might be like to create my own glyphs, my own symbols to convey an idea.
It wasn’t terribly easy, and I’m aware that we’ve all seen symbols and used them all our lives. I can’t do this in a vacuum of experience or culture, but can I move somewhat outside of my own experience to make something a little new? It won’t be totally new, but maybe a little novel?
I chose to convey the idea of compassion, compassion being our ability to see the suffering of someone and feeling moved to alleviate the suffering. My glyph is read left to right, top to bottom. I decided to convey four distinct ideas with the glyphs to represent compassion. First, there is awareness, the eye, that is looking upon a person. Second, that person is suffering, as seen by the downward movement of the arrow. Third, there is identifying with that person and making a communal bond, when the curving walls bring us together, like cupping hands. The final and fourth idea is a reversal of the downward trend of life to an alleviation of the suffering, an upward arrow.
The value of this little exercise of mine was not the work of deciding how to draw a person or make an stylized eyeball, but it was the meditation on compassion as a movement, an action and a process. Can I live this way? Can I see people and move to identify with them and work together to bring healing? Do I want to? It seems to me that we have a daily choice to go beside people in their worst of times, or to retreat and hope that less is asked of us when next we meet someone. This decision was poignantly played out in the story Jesus told about the man we now call The Good Samaritan.
In that story we see two people choose to ignore the suffering of another person, and one person choose to face the suffering and help alleviate it. Jesus taught this story to illustrate love for one’s neighbor, for all of ine’s neighbors. The story transcended ethnic divides, religious divides and national divides. The story unites us as a single humanity that cares for one another. That’s a concept worthy of some imagination. That’s a story worth doodling and imagining as a template for our own walk down the road.
Civility begins within and then manifests in speech and action. This is true of everything, good and bad, better and worse. Out of our hearts we incubate ideas and expressions that take form in our words and responses. For this reason our God is not just standing around waiting to slap our wrist and cluck at us, but God is working to rehabilitate our heart and inmost being!
Are we open to this? It’s one thing to capitulate and obey a greater power or a higher influence, but are we ready to allow ourselves to be fundamentally changed from the inside out? This is the difference between obeying the great sermon points in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 out of legal and religious obligation or allowing the Beatitude Statements in Matthew 5 to frame a change of our hearts and minds as we navigate the reorienting of life that Jesus presents for us to follow.
This is not Christianity 2.0 or any new innovation or deeper level… this is actually the beginning of religion and faith. Jesus often gave this invitation to people, “Follow me.” This is the invitation of a teacher, mentor and life-changer. This is an invitation to reflect on who we are and how we are, with Jesus’ help. And it’s an invitation to change.
Want to change the urges and reflexes of destructive negativity in your life? Begin by reflecting on your heart and cultivating a change there… work with energy and consistency to remove the negative things and plant beautiful things in their place. Where their is hurt and injury, sow some forgiveness. Where there is anger, sow some quiet and prayer. Where there is hatred, sow some empathy and hope. Christian saints and mystics often rooted this in their prayers: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Francis of Assisi.
Even as I begin a new year no longer serving a congregation as pastor and shepherd, I want to renew my commitment to being a spiritual friend and brother to you. And I have to remind you that I need you. Jesus didn’t invite one person or single individuals to follow this path of change, he called us into community, together. Let’s do this together. Let’s chat.
It’s an old hymn, a melancholy hymn that begins with the line “O come and mourn with me awhile; And tarry here the cross beside; O come, together let us mourn; Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.” (Faber) Jars of Clay dropped it on an album a while back and now I’m caught humming the melody as I read the news and mourn again. Standing at the scene of out-of-control violence, let us tarry and mourn.
For all our wars we’ve fought, our deep national pride and our vaunted founding documents that speak of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… we come here again. A place of violence. Images of jackboot policing that do not come from some history book about regimes we fought in liberty’s name, but from a school in our own country. A school. Mourn with me.
Mourn with me for what we do in our schools. Mourn with me that we create systems of violence and conflict instead of learning and participation. Mourn with me that adults can escalate situations with children to such violent ends, and then we have long discussions on what the child did to precipitate the problem. Mourn with me that we then divide and fight one another over why such violence is needed and who carries the most blame… we are all to blame. We are addicted to violence.
We don’t know how to give one another dignity and respect any more, so we are left fighting for the torn scraps of dominance. We don’t know how to be a community any longer so we violently police schoolrooms and throw children from chairs. We don’t know how to teach any longer, so students are arrested instead. Mourn with me.
Watch again as the student is thrown to the ground. Watch as she is thrown across the floor into a wall. Watch as the officer then pins her to the ground with his knee. Now, this is your daughter. This is your granddaughter. This is your sister. This is your friend. This is your neighbor. This is you. What did you just learn about police officers at the age of seventeen? You learned that they are violent, brutal and just waiting to unleash on you. You just learned to fear.
Watch again as that officer grabs a seventeen year old girl and flips her desk, hitting another student’s desk in the process. Watch the officer take a good hold, plant his feet and with almost a running start fling her bodily from the desk across the floor into a wall. Watch him again leap onto her back and pin her to the floor wrenching her arms behind her back. Mourn with me for this man. Mourn with me for his anger and rage that lashes out at a student. Mourn with me that such misdirection and rage is given a badge and a license to attack. Mourn with me for every single voice that will defend his brutality and blame his victim.
Don’t say, “She should have…” She did absolutely nothing to escalate the situation to that point. She was not physically capable of a fraction of that officer’s violence. The punch with her closed fist that people are taking about is the flailing response of a child grabbed by an adult and physically wrenched around by her neck. Don’t say what she should have done, for nothing she did or didn’t do was deserving of that response from the officer. When you blame the victim for the actions of the brutalizer, you rip away the last shred of dignity and respect from the victim. When you blame the victim you empower the brutalizer and set the stage for the next victim. This man is a monster of our making.
Mourn with me that this is America. Mourn with me that this is policing. Mourn with me that we’ll see the same thing today and probably again tomorrow. Mourn with me until we learn and grow and detox from the adrenaline rush of violence and dominance. Mourn with me until we see a day again when we can teach, live in mutual respect and dignity for one another, and create a community that is not fearfully policed and brutalized.
Mourn with me at the violent spectacle we make of ourselves.
“Diversity is not a weakness for faith, but a strength.
Our diversity is not discouraged by scripture, but validated.
Diversity is not disunity, but should help us be a unified whole.”
It’s October and I’ll be starting a couple of things this month: 1) I’ll start working on my winter beard… and I know it’s never much of a beard, maybe more of a beardlette, but I’ll see what difference another year on the march to manliness means for me, and 2) I’ll be investing the month in writing out my thoughts on diversity as a core element of Christian faith that is too often given short shrift or completely ignored.
Diversity of Faith Expression/Identify
I’m not choosing diversity because it’s a buzz word. I’d like to focus on what our scriptures, especially in the New Testament and the words of Jesus, have to teach us about being different. Too often I’ve heard much more about being the same. In my own lifetime I’ve heard sermon after sermon about conforming to a single ideal, a single belief and a singular expression of faith and church. The church of my youth was devoted to a single refined expression of doctrine and ecclesiology to the exclusion and utter rejection of all deviance from that expression. We fantasized about our ability to come to conclusions and decisions about theological and doctrinal matters outside of personal experience and enculturation, and therein find the single answer to all questions for all people in all times in all places. Today, I’d call that misguided and un-hopeful.
Our scriptures present a different picture of life and faith. The ministry of Jesus showed a diversity of disciples and gifts surrounding Jesus, and times of Jesus himself affirming the existence and authenticity of others. In fact, Jesus often did this over the protests of his disciples who desired exclusivity and personal greatness, uniqueness.
Diversity of Gifts
We have often spoken of diversity in the realm of giftedness and abilities. It’s appropriate when we speak of individual calling and giftedness to recognize our diversity, and we’ll chat about that in October. We just won’t leave our diversity solely to the realm of gifts and abilities.
Diversity of Calling & Being
More than ever we are being challenged to be open and welcoming to differences. We are being asked to be comfortable with our differences. So where and how do we plant our feet solidly in our understanding of faith and scripture and tradition to do that? We’ll be exploring that question through the coming month. My central hope in this month is to show that we are able to be both faithful to God and respectful of one another’s dignity by becoming more open and tuned into the value and strength of our differences.
I’m excited to push back against many misconceptions about people, scripture and faith. I’m hopeful that we can live and worship with a greater love and sincere appreciation for one another, even in our differences. I have come to hold diversity as one of our greatest strengths, one thetas validated by scripture and necessary for us to realize lasting wholeness as a community.
Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy
Let’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.
I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.
Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.
Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.
Jesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.
Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)
Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.
Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.
So, yeah. That’s me in a clerical collar. I didn’t grow up in churches that used collars. In fact, we didn’t have robes for preachers or choirs either. We did have zippered robe-like things for baptisms, but I guess we didn’t find the clerical clothing awfully palatable. Last Sunday, as we set up a booth at the local farmers market to offer a blessing of the pets for all our neighbors, I wore a collar for the first time in my life.
Please don’t call me Father Todd or Padre. If you know me, then you know that I have a deep respect and sincere affection for priests of many orders whether Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal. I also have an abiding respect for other traditions of Christianity that use the collar in various forms and ways. You can call me Vicar Todd… I kinda dig on that one.
In recent conversations and readings I have been introduced to the idea of the clerical collar as an invitation to speak with me about things spiritual. It has been regarded by some as a means by which others found them approachable and open for prayer or conversation. I’d like to think that a collar could do that for me, too.
Thinking about our Sunday morning of offering blessings for pets I must admit that I found people’s reactions as either very happy to see us or distinctly not interested in our blessing. There was very little ambivalence. We were all smiles and not at all intrusive. And we had many fun conversations with some of our Jewish neighbors at the market. I was asked twice if I was OK with blessing “Jewish dogs” and I was more than happy to bless them. Heck, I’m pretty sure I blessed at least one agnostic dog. It’s good stuff. More than one person got all smiley and affirmed the movie line/title, “All dogs go to heaven.”
I believe the blessing of the pets was a beautiful thing to do, and I’m glad we did it. I hope we do it again next year to celebrate St. Francis’ feast day and to serve our community. Not everyone wanted their pet blessed by us, and that’s OK. We were a blessing to many pets and their owners, and asked nothing in return. Good stuff.
And I didn’t feel like the fraud I feared I would see myself as when wearing the collar. That came as a bit of a surprise to me. I did my studies ahead of time and learned that many churches and traditions use the collar in many ways, so I wouldn’t be “stealing” from anyone’s rich (exclusive) claim on the collar. I’m also a very informal guy, and I wondered if the formality of a collar would seem ridiculous on me. It felt pretty OK.
I’m not sure what future the clerical collar has in my ministry and life. We’ll see how the Spirit leads. For now, I’m happy to have blessed some pets, and in the process, their humans. I’m so proud of and personally blessed by our faith community at Church in Bethesda who rallied and came together to help bless the doggies, keep the water bowl filled, over-indulge some furry friends with treats, and to offer smiles and hand shakes to our neighbors. It was a community event in every way.
It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who has been an integral part of the American experience for so many years, and yet someone the vast majority of us did not really know. Robin Williams was a comedic genius who gave us so many voices to enjoy. He could make us laugh with only a facial expression, but when he opened his mouth, and who knew what was going to come out, we would all be giddy and goofy with anticipation. What a soul! He will be missed in this life, and cherished and loved for his gifts.
He was also a human being, and had all the flawed brokenness that is so endemic to our daily struggle. Like many others, he was not immune to depression because of money, fame or success. Probably the money, fame and success were some of the things that could exacerbate his depression. I’m not doctor, so I don’t speak from medical training. I’m just someone who has grappled with depression my entire life, and I can relate to the reality of the best times bringing on the worst. If you have asked, “How could he be depressed with all the money and fame?” then you’re probably not someone who has struggled with chronic depression. For you this could an opportunity to realize how difficult it has been for that friend or family member to deal with their depression. It defies logic. It is very real. It is not chosen.
So while we mourn and look around and listen to one another, there were a few things I’m not always hearing and I wanted to make sure got clearly said…
1) Depression doesn’t separate you from God’s love. No one should assume that struggling with chronic depression is in any way necessarily an indicator that someone has rejected God, lost God’s love or is trying to live life without God. There is no scriptural basis for that kind of judgment or condemnation.
2) Depression is never bigger than God’s grace and love. That goes for anyone who attempts suicide, succeeds at suicide or is a survivor left by a loved one who commits suicide. To be reminded that God’s grace is bigger than suicide is not to say that suicide is ok. Suicide is painful, hurtful and devastating for the survivors. And yet, suicide also flows from some of the deepest pain and anguish that we carry as humans. As our hearts are moved and made raw by the anguish of suicide, can we believe that the heart of God is any less moved? There’s no scriptural basis for saying that suicide is an instant separation from God… that’s a traditional teaching that needs to be corrected.
3) Beware the isolation. I’m not speaking here specifically to Robin Williams’ experience, but in a broader sense… don’t go it alone. Chronic depression and the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and shame that it engenders will move you to separate yourself from others. Please don’t. Seek people. Start with a doctor who can help you determine if there’s a medical need that requires treatment, and get with a healing community… your friends, family, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.
4) Don’t help isolate people who are depressed! Please, don’t turn away from someone who is struggling with a depression that you don’t understand. Help create a community of hope and healing where you live. Read, study and pray to be prepared to be a healing presence for someone in need. Be prepared to love and to help as much as someone will let you.
5) For my fellow followers of Christ, if a “Christian” blogger or group speaks of suicide in a judgmental, accusatory fashion, lacking the grace and love we expect from Jesus, then for the love of Jesus DO NOT SHARE THAT BLOGGER! Why is it that the worst opinions and perspectives I have seen on the death of Robin Williams have been from “Christian” groups? This is not as it should be, and the solution is ours to enact. I refuse to link to them and expand their influence by sharing their hate and/or ignorance, even to refute and disown their words. Please, please, please be discerning.
If you’re up against that wall, when depression and it’s crippling grip have a hold, I’m yours. Email me, ok? We’ll chat. I’ll give ya my email, in code so the spammers can’t get in the way… it’s reserve7 @ gmail. com. Squish that together without the spaces and you got me. We’ll walk some road together. If you don’t like me, find someone else! We’re in this together.
“But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.”
For some, there are days that are hard earned, when holding on takes every bit of faith and hope… celebrate the victory! Luka Bloom celebrates that in his song, You Survive.
Here are a few other resources…
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 24/7: (800) 273-8255
The Trevor Project for our LGBTQ youth,
and for our veterans… Veterans Crisis Line.