Constructive Wallowing

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img_0818I am a little behind on my goal to read a book a week, but I’m catching up and wanted to share one of my recent finds with you, Constructive Wallowing by Tina Gilbertson. I got it from a clearance table at Barnes and Noble, intrigued by the titled, and it did not disappoint.

Gilbertson writes a funny and easily accessible guide to allowing yourself to feel all your range of emotions, without guilt or regret, and having felt them to move on with life in the best frame of mind and emotional health. One of her niceties that will stick with a reader is her pointing out that the word wallow contains the entire word allow. This is to help free you to let yourself wallow and not be trapped by all the negative connotations we normally reserve for the word. We are allowing ourselves to be ourselves.

img_0816For me, after years of experiencing St. Ignatius’ advice on accepting my feelings and exploring them for all available meaning and use (seeking God in all I feel and experience), her advice feels very authentic, doable and constructive. Her book is fun to read and she peppers it with a wonderful array of quotes from notable quotables.

I’ve already passed the book to a friend who was also intrigued by the title when he saw me reading on my lunch break, but the link above is for the book on Amazon, or it would be worth a search at a local B&N.

Enjoy your day, beloveds. Remember that our God is love, not anger, judgment, remorse, regret or hatred. Our God is love and when we pause to ponder ourselves and the word around us, God is loving us more than we can comprehend. Let every voice and noise which threatens to drown out that love be silenced.

AMDG, Todd

Nov. 4, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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bless and do not curseNovember 4: What is my way? Do I follow a way of cursing or a way of blessing?

Romans 12:14-16, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”

St. Paul seems to believe that there is a harmony that exists outside of conformity or agreement, revenge or vengeance. In the face of those who disagree with us, even violently, Paul’s calling us to harmony. If Jesus hadn’t already presented us with the blessing of the peacemaker and the idea of not having enemies, I might just not worry about Paul on this one. But as it is, he’s following the lead of Jesus.

Harmony. What is a harmonizing life and behavior? In Paul’s view it seems to include an intense awareness of the other person and a response to them that meets their best interest and needs. So if the other is happy, be happy with them. If the other is hurting, hurt with them. If the other is attacking you, look into their situation and see their hurt, their pain and their need, and lift that in prayer. I’ve heard several wiser people than I mention the principle that “Those who cause pain do so out of their own pain.” Seeing the offender’s hurt is a needful step in responding in a way that might lead to their healing, and my truest healing as well.

Empathy seems to be a fundamental need of civility. We must learn to see the other and truly recognize where they are coming from and where they are going, otherwise we are just going to keep speaking out of step and missing each other. If we can’t emphasize with the other we’ll surely demonize them. Not only do we run the risk of falling into a cycle of vengeance, but we also miss the chance to share the other’s joy and share the other’s pain. This doesn’t mean we let ourselves be used and abused again and again. It means that we side-step the ego’s demand to retaliate and punish, which opens the door for a better response. Perhaps when we take a step to break that cycle of causing pain and pray for the one least deserving of our prayers, we might open a door to the needed healing.

It seems that harmony is another step away from the idea of dominating, defeating or winning. It sounds more like participating, sharing and supporting. It also sounds costly, because it demands an investment from me: energy, empathy and forgiveness. Honestly, the one persecuting and mistreating may never change. Their behavior might continue to be destructive. Our prayers have a layered effect of helping us maintain our responsibility to be as civil as we can, of helping us lay down the burden and move on with our healing, and of making sure that our voices are not found among the sources of discord and disharmony in the world.

Since we can only do what we can do, harmony is always our effort. Choosing a “way of blessing” for our lives is a daily walk, not necessarily a destination. I might often get a little off course, but hopefully not too often. That simple phrase in St. Paul’s verse “bless and not curse” is maybe the place we most engage harmony. It reminds me of the medical mantra, “first do no harm.” What’s my reflex? Do I move to curse or to bless? Am I a person of cursing or of blessing. What is my way? I guess I’m still working it out, but hoping to tip the scale toward blessing.

AMDG, Todd

Love My Enemy?

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me at my baseThe Question

Jesus said, “Love your enemy.” (Matthew 5:43-48) What does it mean to love my enemy? I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. It seems appropriate to talk about as our culture continues it’s “war” and daily divides along a myriad of lines, political, religious, racial and economic. And it’s not just the “culture,” it’s often me. I seem to have enemies. Some are pretty up front about it and tell me clearly of their disdain for me, but others seem to have more of a guerrilla tactic of sniping quietly from the trees and hills, little hits and nicks here and there that seem minor at the time, but become a real issue for me.

And of course there’s the third angle… there’s the people I don’t like. I figure that most of us know we all have people in our lives we don’t like. We may hope that we able to rise above such a thing, and we may exert a lot of energy to rise above viewing all people with anything over than love, but we fail. I fail.

That’s when the words of Jesus then come ringing in and oppress me. He commanded love for enemies. A part of my gut reaction to that is to feel as if “I am told to lose.” Most of our enemies are not just in conflict with us, but also in competition with us. I also feel a reaction deep inside that says, “He doesn’t know my enemy.” Surely, if Jesus knew how much hurt I was feeling from the malice of another, he’d be as peeved off as I am! And finally, I have to admit that often at my core, I’d rather beat my enemies. You know, I’d prefer to get a little Psalmy and smite the skulls of those who would encircle me, right on?

So……….. I’m trying to find some things that “love your enemies” might mean in my life. What does it really mean to love an enemy? For me? Can I do this? Do I want to do this? Will I do this? Each question just surfaces another one, or three, or fifty questions.

I have to start with myself. After all, the command to love enemies is mine to own. It’s not a command that necessarily alters the enemy, it changes me. Here’s where I’m starting:

Love Your Enemy = I Am Not A Victim (even if I was victimized)

I need to step off the stage every time I start to feel like singing my woes. I am not a victim and my enemies do not control me. Victimization is too often an experience that becomes an identity. Of course, there are victims among us every day, and we are victimized. I would never try to lessen the pain or impact of anyone who is a victim of a violent or horrible crime or hurt. In my own life some things have been more painful and less painful at times, but my response needs to be consistent that I am not defined by the hurt.

The recent theatrical incarnation of Les Misérables gets some pretty mixed reviews, but I totally enjoyed it. One of the most haunting lines for me is in Fantine’s song “I Dreamed A Dream” when she sings, “…but there are dreams that cannot be / and there are storms we cannot weather…” The sentiment is echoed again in the song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” when Marius sings, “…there’s a grief that can’t be spoken / there’s a pain goes on and on…” I can’t speak for anyone but myself here: I know what they mean. But even as these lines resonate with me in deep ways, I also recognize that I must turn away from darker, hopeless view, even when justified by my own pain.

I cannot be a victim, defined by the injury done by my enemy, if it I am to love her/him. Love is not denial. Love is going to require that I find my way out of the identity formed by my injury. If someone abuses or attacks me in a way that devalues me, I must re-find my value. If the attack cause me pain, I need to heal. If the attack demoralizes me, I need to regain strength and courage. I will do these things so that I can return to the task of loving. I cannot do this alone. If Jesus commands it, I need Jesus to help me do it, and I’ll probably need you, too.

Love Your Enemy = Forgiveness

Just as love is not denial, neither is forgiveness. Forgiveness begins as my own way of releasing the need to punish, to avenge, to hurt another, to attack, to rationalize my own violent needs. Forgiveness is hard because when I choose to forgive I am choosing to shoulder the burden of paying for another’s crime. At least if Jesus wanted to command something he was willing to demonstrate it. On the cross, he spoke what I think might be some of the most awesome words uttered in the gospel narrative, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

What? Yes, they did! They knew what they were doing! Can I accidentally crucify someone? Could they have tortured and murdered so cruelly without intent and premeditation? What is Jesus saying? Is this the blindness and denial I fear that my own forgiveness might represent? Or is it a conscious decision on the part of Jesus to remake the world around him? Those words are a one-sentence-wake-up-call and alarm that something is happening here that breaks the ordinary into sharp little pieces.

Forgiveness is re-creation. When I can actively forgive I am re-creating things and myself. This is not a simple switch I throw or a decision I make. It’s a set of reflexes and intentional actions I take to make forgiveness real. And I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the best at it. Forgiveness will look and feel a little different for each person, reflecting our intrinsic variety as individuals, but it will always need to have the hallmarks of active, authentic forgiveness. Jesus forgave, and still hung on the cross. He still died. I think the reality of his forgiveness is in the narrative of his resurrection. He didn’t come busting from the grave like one of our contemporary action heroes might, kicking butts and slapping bad guys. He came forth and said, “Everything I taught you is still in force, my own pain and hurt doesn’t change a thing… go love, love God, love one another, love enemies… go do it, go teach it, go live it… everywhere… every when… with everyone.” (Yes, that’s my paraphrase and interpretation of Jesus after his resurrection. I personally don’t want the “great commission” in my life and experience of it to ever be divorced from the power of Jesus’ humble, courageous grace.)

Love Your Enemy = I Don’t Have Enemies

Unfortunately, I am me enough to get sidetracked by the statement Paul makes about enemies, that seems so close to what Jesus says, but adds that in doing so I will be “heaping hot coals on the heads” of my enemies by my love. I am bent and base enough to chuckle that Paul seems to offer me such a slick way to get revenge on an enemy, simply by loving. Is that not a bonus and a half? I really can kill him/her with love!

One of favorite authors and speakers is Fr Richard Rohr, a Franciscan out in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have heard him a couple of times mention what he calls “a low reading of scripture” and “a high reading of scripture.” I think it’s Fr Rohr’s very polite way of telling me how childish I am sometimes, lol. Whenever I read scripture in a way that gives me license to hate or attack or be mean/vengeful/negative, or in any way move against the actual fruits of God’s Spirit in my life… love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control in those moments I have misread scripture. So, for Paul and the Proverb he seems to be quoting, I will choose to focus on the summation of “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

Whether my love for an enemy is a purifying fire or a painful fire for my enemy, or more accurately feels like hot coals on my own head… it’s still love and not my need to punish or avenge myself. And for my part, if I love someone, it’s hard to call them an enemy at all. We may still disagree on things, we might still need to work on the consequences of their actions, or mine… but in the act of loving I am re-creating their role and place in my life. One who is loved is the antithesis of an enemy… she/he is precious, cared for, sheltered, redeemed.

The Answer

I wish that writing a blog post about love made me love better. The only thing a blog post might actually signify is that somewhere along the way I have recently realized a deficit of love in myself. It’s too easy to blame my “enemies” for that lack of love… they are either too unlovable or too deserving of hate. It’s too easy to make some quick excuses for myself… I drank too much, I’m too tired… or I didn’t really mean it, I just knew it would get a lot of shares and likes from people on Facebook who are angry or biased like me!

And that’s the reality. I recently find myself withholding posts and shares because I know they don’t stem from love, but from the hate I’m harboring deep inside. I find myself sitting in the corner of the room rubbing my hands together and evilly chucking “bwahahahahah” over the attack posts I could launch if I wanted to… and then, baby, they’d know how stupid they really are! Quite an image, huh?

Withholding the attack posts is only part of the equation for me… facing the reality of my own anger and lack of love is the other half. Dang it, having enemies can really enliven me! And just as my cat would love to shred my favorite couch, it would feel too good to sharpen my claws on the idiocy of another.

“They don’t know what they are doing” is not denial, it is re-creating myself. It is the reality that whether they know anything or not about what they do, I am still to know myself, and I am to carry the responsibility to make myself. No one’s action or ignorance is license for me to abandon that call.

“Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”

Live For Healing, Not the Blame Game

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When tragedies strike, or even multiply as they have this week in Boston and down in Texas, we have a myriad of reactions as humans and as people of faith. We hurt… we feel empathy and a real human connection to the victims. We pray… because we feel like our hurt needs to take action and bring about a response in us. We have been praying all week for our friends and neighbors in Boston and Texas. And we begin to question… we want answers. We hope that the answers, and more often the blame for these tragedies, can help assuage the hurt, confusion and fear.

jumping to blameToo many times we turn to angry accusations and blaming games that endanger people and multiply harm. We “want someone to pay” and our prejudices always supply a handy suspect. And when those desires also serve a political grudge? Well, all the better it seems. Yet this is not thoughtfulness or healing. This is not service to the hurting or help to the injured. But blaming feels good to us sometimes. Blaming feels “right” and justified to us. By  the way, the Saudi national that many jumped to blame, along with the President, was not to blame. And of course today we know that it seems to have been the work of two brothers who are not from Saudi Arabia. I thank God that whatever steps were actually taken to keep more tragedy from happening with this Saudi man were taken! If he was whisked away to prevent unnecessary violence, then “Well done!”

The Problem of Blame

Here is a bit of what I see as the problem with our need to blame and rush to blame:

  • Blame can avoid actually dealing with the hurt and delay healing.
  • Blame can attack and injure innocent people, compounding the harm.
  • Blaming exposes and strengthens our deepest prejudices.

Let’s look at a text in John 9 about a man born blind. It may be familiar to you or it may not. Really, we’ll just be working with the first 12 verses, but the whole chapter is a very interesting story of Jesus healing a man and the dramatic aftermath of the healing within his family and community.

What is happening in the this passage? Jesus is walking along and comes upon a man born blind and about whom his disciples make an inquiry, “Whose sin caused this suffering?” There must be a little more action happening that we aren’t in on, like how does John know he’s born blind at that point, what kind of attention did Jesus show to the man to inspire the disciples to ask for details? Things like that… but the case seems to be a bit of a random event happening as Jesus moves through his day.

The Question: “Who sinned? Who is to blame?”

I first encountered this kind of thinking on blame when I lived in East Africa. It may seem strange to us in the West to automatically ask for spiritual causes for physiological problems, but it’s common place in other cultures and parts of the world. In East Africa a person rarely asked “why” someone was sick, they asked “who made them sick.” The change in question stemmed from the acceptance of the idea that bad things happening in life were caused by the bad thinking of a person that translated into spiritual energy such as an intentional or accidental curse upon another person. So why did my crop fail? Because my neighbor was envious of it. Why did no rain come this season? Because the spirits of our dead family are unhappy that we don’t pound dry corn the way they did.

For the materialist magicians that we are in the West this can sound very alien to us, and yet when we have bad things happen to us or in our nation we always hear the cry of “Why did this happen, God?” And there’s never a lack of unthoughtful preachers making news by blaming the people around them they love the least. And if they don’t love someone God must not either, right?

This happened after the attacks on 9-11 and after Sandy Hook. It happened when a tsunami hit Japan and it happens when an earthquake strikes the Middle East. It happens when bombs go off in Boston and it has probably happened when the building unexpectedly exploded in Texas, though thankfully I haven’t seen or heard the blame given to anyone yet.

In tough times, tragic times, we turn to blame someone. We crave to lay blame on someone. We rush to judge, to blame and to find someone upon whom to lay our pain and suffering. It brings out the worst in us socially, politically and often religiously.

Walking down the road the disciples had a chance to clarify their need for blame. Here’s a man born blind. He was blind before he had a chance to sin or do something to deserve the affliction, so who might have sinned to have caused this? Did his parents not attend synagogue enough? Were they bad Jews? Did they neglect to tithe?

It’s not as weird a question as we might immediately think. Did God not take King David’s child from him, the child born from the sexual sin and murder in which David took Bathsheba from her husband? Have we not at times seen in the scriptural narrative that God levies punishment on people in specific ways for specific sins? Have we not heard New Testament writers assure the people of faith to whom they wrote that trials and afflictions are God’s way of proving our patience and chastising us?

I don’t intend to remove any power or meaning from any of those passages, but I do intend to question the idea that such passages and pieces of our scriptural narrative give us license to lay blame at people’s feet when we feel the need to have a scape-goat for our hurts. I question our ability to know more than that group of speculating disciples walking down the road with Jesus. We often have the same question, and it’s not a bad questions. The real kicker here is where we get our answer. I hope it’s from Jesus.

The Answer to the Question: “Look for healing.”

The answer Jesus gives is both clear and a little ambiguous. Don’t you love that? He says clearly that neither the man nor his parents sinned to cause the blindness. Instead he says that the blindness of the man is intended to be an expression of God’s power, presumably in healing. So he clearly releases the man and his parents of the blame, but seems to sorta say it’s God’s fault. I immediately thought of poor Job. Remember him? He was the guy just living and loving life until God asks Satan, “Hey, what do you think of my man, Job?”

But is Jesus just playing the blame game that was set up by the question, only adding a third option for the blame, or is he doing something else? Is he simply saying, “No, it’s not him or his parents, but you’re on the right trail… it was God to blame!” Or is he trying to get the disciples thinking on a higher level, or deeper level we might say.

Jesus ramps the conversation up by rejecting the sin causality, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” and introduces a shared activity of revelation, “…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Interesting use of the light and dark themes so beautifully illustrated in the man’s blindness and restored sight! I love it when Jesus does stuff like that.

Jesus says the man’s blindness is an arena for seeing God work. He’s not really blaming God as much as tying the man’s blindness into a greater level of meaning. The man’s suffering in life is not simply a blame game, but a chance for good to move into action. Jesus says he is stepping past the blaming to grab hold of the healing, and I think we are invited to do the same.

In rejecting the sin argument of blame Jesus opens the door for healing and change. What would the story have been like if Jesus had simply said, “His parents cheated a household laborer out of her wages, and God hates injustice, so their child is blind,” and then just kept walking? That story would have sucked eggs. And in fact, that kind of story would have been too painfully similar to the times when we and/or our neighbors experience tragedy or suffering and some nearby person of faith starts in with, “Well, we have legalized abortion… It’s the homosexual agenda… It’s the atheists… We don’t pray over the loud speakers at our football games any more… It’s the Republicans… It’s the Democrats… It’s blah blah blah.”

I’m glad that we are being called into account for our words more and more. Soon after the bombs on Monday, when some voices started the blame game against their favorite prejudice (the atheists), a response from a thoughtful atheist hit CNN’s front page. Good. The blame game causes us to de-humanize our neighbor and build walls of “us-them” thinking that need to be torn down!

I have been personally saddened by the speculative blaming that has meme’d across Facebook and other social outlets this week like “Obama Protects Saudi Suspect!” We are so bent to name and demonize the usual suspects that we turn immediately to the worst kind of unsupported reporting and blame game tactics to attack the people we least love. And do we beat people in parking lots now for looking Arabic? It seems that maybe we do. Truly, truly sick. Blame game crap never brings healing… it exponentially expands the suffering. Blame brings out our worst. 

What to do?

People of faith should be some of the first to recognize that we have many questions, some that get pretty satisfactory answers and some that never do. We travel a road of faith, a balancing act of certainty and speculation. There is plenty in the scriptural narrative to point out that, though our dumb actions are often the cause of our suffering, there are also times when “rain falls on the wicked” and the world caves in on the righteous. Our task is not to assign blame, and then I guess go on with administering some punishment. Our task is to move into healing action. Our task to look at the ways that the goodness and glory of God can move to lift humanity from affliction and into wholeness, and how we participate in that. Our task is to gracefully love, pray, and hope and thereby act out of gracious love, prayer and hope. 

Is it unjust when the sinful hatred of two young men sets off bombs on a crowed street and kill innocent people including an eight year old boy? Yes, it is. Is it unjust then the actions of those two young men maim and injure hundreds more? Yes, it is. Is it truly saddening when an unexpected explosion devastates a small town killing workers and first responders? Yes, truly saddening. Is it gut wrenching to watch the town scramble to rescue and serve their neighbors in the choking, blighted aftermath of that explosion? Yes, it twists our guts inside out.

The question that matters most on the Friday of such a hard week are not “Who do we blame? Who will pay for this? Who will be punished for this?” The questions that matter most on Friday of this week are “How do we serve? How do we help heal? How do we better love? How do we better raise our friends and neighbors from their suffering?”

Already one Boston bombing suspect has died in a confrontation with the police. His brother and suspect #2 is still running. I keep looking over at the news outlets to see if there’s any resolution to the chase yet, not because I’m jazzed to see news of his death, but because the sooner we can divert all this energy from hunting to healing the better served many of our hurting neighbors in Boston will be. I hope he is caught soon, and I am sure he will face justice for his actions.

But for us though, watching from afar, let’s multiply the healing and not harm with our words and actions! This is our task. I am so encouraged by the people running to the bomb sites Monday instead of away from them… they accepted the task of moving for goodness. As tragic as it is, I am so honored to be a human being when I read of first responders giving their lives in Texas as they rush to defend and serve life in the midst of a volatile situation. They are the heroes who make a lump in my throat. It’s a very human responsibility to serve and love, to raise a neighbor from the depth of pain in any way they can, and humans of faith should not be the first to forget it.

Our words in these days matter. Love. Hope. Healing. Let’s speak the greatest things and live them and never trade them for the burning drive to blame, isolate and divide.  It may not be the answer our questions might seem to ask for, but it’s the answer that will speed healing for us and all who need it most.