Thursday, December 31, 2015

What it took me 5 decades to learn

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

I've always been thankful. When I receive a gift, I say "thank you" to the giver, or write a thank-you note before I use the item or spend the money. It's just good manners, as I was taught from infancy. I guess I thought that was enough: acknowledging the gift and telling the giver I liked it and they were very kind to give it. Not any more.

Gratitude is something deeper, I believe. The word comes from the Latin "gratus" or "gratia." We often use the word "grace" in faith settings, and it's usually defined as undeserved favor, or even as extreme as showing mercy to a known enemy. Gratitude is the condition of being thankful for a gift.

If the money or thing was earned, there's no grace about it--it's payment. But gratitude acknowledges that the giver owned something of value and relinquished it forever to the recipient with no expectation of repayment or reciprocation.

Something I've learned, again and again, but perhaps in a deeper way recently, is that gratitude is a lifeline out of despair. It doesn't make a lot of sense to be grateful for adverse circumstances, but I've found that being grateful that I'm beloved of God, and that I have the respect and love of friends, lifts me up from the pit where the Adversary flung me.

Rather than a rational explanation, the miraculous answer is that when I set my eyes on God, instead of my miserable circumstances, he has the opportunity to remind me from whence my blessings flow--and then sets them in motion. It's not that I deserve the blessing by my actions, but that he loves me and is liberal with his gifts. 

And as mentioned in the video "Just Be Held," if my eyes are on the storm, I'm not seeing the one who's saying "Peace, be still."

So being thankful, nay, being grateful right down to my core, is what I hope to be, and hold in my heart in increasing measure, in the new year ahead.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Saint Nicholas on Santa's Naughty List!

From a Facebook post by minister Benjamin L. Corey
Today (December 6) is the Feast of St. Nicholas-- yes, the original jolly fellow himself.

He's remembered for giving gifts to children, trying to save girls from human trafficking, advocating for people on death row, and perhaps most of all: punching heretics in the face.

At the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, The man who would become "Santa" lost his cool when Arius argued that Jesus was not co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father, and punched Arius in the face for being a heretic. Some legends have it that a man named Eusebius responded by urinating on Nicholas' robe, but the position of Nicholas carried the day anyway.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! Heretics beware. 


Comments from his readers: 

Adam Tate: St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra was present at the Council of Nicea but not on the list. So he was probably in a gallery around the Patriarchs involved. Or...its possible the slap was just days or even hours prior to the council sessions.

Arius was a deacon at the Church of Alexandria who defied the teaching on the nature of Christ. He had beef with the Bishop of Alexandria's teaching on the nature and substance of God. Essentially he claimed there was a time when the Son was not.

St Nicholas was known for his humility and poverty. He came from well to do parents who left an inheritance to him. Of which he gave away. He served time in prison for preaching the gospel. Just prior to Constantine taking the throne. He was an old man, while Arius was a young man. Probably young enough to be Father Nicholas' grand son. He slapped the young lad no different than we would scold a teenage son for his ignorance and defiance of their elders.

Michael Jay: Remember the result of this was he was removed from the council, stripped of his bishop's robes, and locked up until the council was over. His position was restored -- but, Nicholas removed himself from the council by his bad behavior.

Yes, he was an old man, but he also slapped a priest who was not in his Diocese, and who was bluntly the main reason the council was called in the first place. I imagine a lot of people wanted to slap him, but Athanatius (also a priest, same Diocese) managed to use his words; and that was what was necessary.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Christians spurring Christians

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

With all the poo being flung in the name of Christianity, from Christians right and Christians left, from atheists at Christians, and Christians at nonChristians, let's just stop and contemplate this lovely bit of wisdom from the New Testament, Hebrews 10:24:  
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."

Spur? That's a rather active verb! It doesn't say to spur (to rake, poke, wound) one another to criticism, discrimination, judgment, or fighting for what you think are your rights. It means to urge (impel, goad, press forward, proceed hurriedly, accelerate, empower, encourage) one another toward LOVE and good deeds.

Have you considered that insisting on your place in the sun, that your beliefs that abortion or LGBT family rights should be legislated, your desire for Christian holiday displays, prayer in public meetings, or taking up arms in the so-called "War on Christmas" is a never-ending source of derision and scorn to unbelievers?

Where atheists once sat quietly by when certain fundamentalists like the Westboro Baptist group, a televangelist, or political candidate made claims that most Christians wouldn't accept, now they openly ridicule and speak bitterly of all Christians. This is a comment, one of many like it, I found on a major magazine site:

I used to be a passive atheist, but no more. I finally realized that by being passive, I was complicit in allowing this nonsense to continue. These people's personal religious "freedoms" bleed over into everyone else's private lives. I'm not even talking about the the egregious and heinous crimes committed in the name of religion, but even in what should be normal, pedestrian affairs like with this dingbat in Kentucky.

The original bargain was, if people kept their religious views to themselves, inside their own houses, and as long as they don't violate any laws, we would leave them be. But that wasn't good enough. They simply are compelled to project their individual views unto others. That I cannot abide. It's reverse-persecution and they are the root of the problem.”
Does anyone think that castigating Starbucks for a plain red cup instead of a cup with snowflakes or flying reindeer on it is witnessing for Christ, when December 25 isn't Jesus' birthday but a pagan holiday? (The "evangelist" Feuerstein, who criticizes the company for "hating Jesus," is known for urging the murder of homosexuals! Who would want to be associated with a man like that? Well, two million Facebook followers of Feuerstein, plus Donald Trump and his followers.) Starbucks makes no claim of being a Christian ministry. They sell overpriced, burned coffee, not religion or politics.

How about the creation-versus-evolution controversy, or if humans were created 6,000 years ago or one million years ago? Refusal to serve or recognize the civil rights of same-sex couples? Providing contraception or pregnancy care for single female employees? Prayer in school? Living peacefully with other members of our community who espouse different religions (like, say, Islam)? In the United States, we have the Constitutional right to believe and practice what our conscience dictates, as long as it breaks no other law. So do that. Do that with all your strength. It's not your right to impose your beliefs on any other person or the government. Even God won't do that, which is why he gives us choice.

Consider how your "witness" may affect how other Christians are treated when fed-up nonChristians retaliate for being slighted. Blunt your claws. Do not resist the one that is evil, but turn the other cheek. (Jesus' words, not mine!) Practice the Golden Rule. Have the mind of Jesus, who "made himself nothing" to be one of us and save us.

Remember, God is not going to curse our country because you didn't fight for him or even because someone else sins. He is the judge, and his judgment day will come in his time. But he has left us with one commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." 

And then he inspired someone to write in the letter to the Hebrew Christians in Rome, "Spur one another on to love and good deeds." Spur, as in urge, encourage, empower, and accelerate.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pre-existing condition

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

Some Christians, perhaps many Christians, will be offended at this meme of Jesus meeting a man who is begging for healing. "Sacrilege!" they'll huff, and turn away in disgust, just like the Pharisaical lawyer and the Levite priest turned away from the beat-up, nearly dead traveler on the Jericho road.

Candidates say a lot of stupid things during campaigns. Part of it is the constant barrage of questions and accusations from the partisan media, but when they consistently make bone-headed comments, there's no disguising their foot-in-mouth disease.

Several prominent Republicans have said that if they're elected President in 2016, they'll do away with the federal mandate for health care, despite threescore failed congressional votes and challenges that the Supreme Court has struck down. One is left to think cynically that they only say this stuff to attract wishful voters.

But what would really happen if, as Jeb Bush says, the Affordable Care Act were struck down and a new plan were implemented--one that looks exactly like no healthcare plan at all, like America had until recently.

"Bush emphasized ... that if elected president, he would scrap the Affordable Care Act and “all of its mandates” — including those that prevent discrimination against women and those with pre-existing conditions." 

No coverage for cancer patients, or those with chronic disease or disabling conditions or accidents. Everyone pays their own way, whether the monthly pharmacy bill is $10 or $10,000. No coverage for pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes I or II, heart disease, cancer in its many forms, those born with missing limbs or organs, the mentally ill, veterans with PTSD or disabling injuries, and those with sudden onset of strep or MRSA that infects their limbs? Remember the impoverished elderly who ration their daily medications because they can't afford food and shelter and meds? What about newborn babies who need organ repair or transplant? Like Mitt Romney suggested in 2012, no one has to go without healthcare because people could call for an air ambulance and go to the emergency room if they're really ill. Maybe on Planet Romney. But not here, where a 15-minute flight can cost $8,000-25,000, in addition to the emergency room, doctors, labs, procedures, surgeries, and medications.

At one Republican debate in 2012, the discussion centered on a hypothetical patient who needed an organ transplant. A man in the audience shouted, "Let him die," and people applauded. No one protested that sentiment.

The very idea of Jesus refusing to heal, or attaching regulations and conditions on his miracles, is outrageous. You know what pre-existing condition every one of us have carried in our DNA since Adam and Eve? A sinful nature.

Jeb!™ Bush and Republicans who claim moral superiority with the Religious Right have forgotten that the sinful human nature is the ultimate pre-existing condition. Jesus's ultimate ministry was to heal THAT. But along the way, he freely healed bodies and minds, and seemed to make timely detours to heal those who weren't in his direct path! (The man with the withered arm who was healed on the Sabbath right in front of the people who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, the woman with the bleeding uterus when he was on his way to resurrect Jairus' daughter, the insane demon-possessed men of Gadara.)

I believe Jesus still does miracles today. He answers prayer, not always as we would wish, but for our best in the eternal sense. In fact, I believe that Jesus uses modern medical research, treatments, therapies, and pharmaceuticals to accomplish his will for us to enjoy the abundant life. And by providing a system of healthcare and prescriptions for those who had had no care or remedies for years, if ever.

I don't understand people who tell the world they're Christians, and then deny people healthcare because they can't pay for it. If they've read their Bible, they haven't understood it. 
  • Pure religion is taking care of the widows and orphans (the helpless in society): James 1:27
  • Caring for "the least of these" who are sick, in prison: Matthew 25
  • The crop gleaning system fed the poor and the aliens who had no land on which to farm
Do you have a pre-existing condition? Are you enrolled in the Book of Life? Did Jesus say, "LOL," or "Let him die!" or did Jesus himself bear our wounds, our flogging, our death, so that we may be healed from our sin? (Isaiah 53:3-11) And what about that command, the only command that Jesus issued, to "Love one another as I have loved you"?

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Rich Fool: rugged individualist

Build bigger barns!

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

Surely you've read the Parable of the Rich Fool numerous times, and you probably learned, as I did, that we should never say, "I worked for this or gained this all by myself," and leave God, the Provider, out of the statement. We should always give thanks that God has blessed in his provision. But you may have missed a very important concept that appears twice in Jesus' words. 

Luke 12:16-21 NIV
16 And [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” 

The oldest stories in the Bible show us that people were meant to live in relationship with one another. When Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, they went together. When Cain was banished for having killed his brother Abel, he was fearful that he'd have to live alone, in hiding, or be killed in turn, but God put a mark on him to protect him in his wanderings. Every society and clan lived together in villages and extended families for protection, but also for the common good of sharing work at planting, harvest, herding, care of the sick or injured, care of the infants and elderly, feasting, worshiping, and every other function of human life. 

Rev. John Donne
 In England in the 1620s, Rev. John Donne, the senior pastor of St. Paul's Cathedral, wrote his famous essay with the phrases "for whom the bell tolls" and "no man is an island."

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
This deep sense of community was also true of early colonial New England. Single adults, whether never-married, separated, or widowed, were not allowed to live alone, but were placed in families for economic reasons, and frankly, to police their morals! And in the first decades of the colonies, all people were required to live in villages for mutual protection and mutual assistance, and not allowed to homestead in the wilderness. Native Americans who were sentenced to colonial prisons withered and died because they were alone and separated from their people.  

Brain research shows that humans need other humans to function in a healthy way. 

In the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover pursued policies of "Rugged Individualism," which called for personal liberties with little state regulation. That sounds good until you realize that schools, safety and health, infrastructure creation and management, and police/fire/military protection are institutions that must be administered by government. That rugged individualist movement evolved into the John Birch Society ideology and we have it still, as we see with the Libertarian party. Hoover's individualist policies actually exacerbated poverty and worsened the Great Depression's economic conditions until President Franklin Roosevelt instated democratic socialist policies. A political scientist, Seymour Martin Lipset, has connected American exceptionalist theory (that rugged individualism thing) with the American Revolution, but a paper out of the University of Alberta finds fault with Lipset's conclusions.

 “To believe that our nation has always been exceptional requires a suppression of ordinary skepticism and a belief that calls for extraordinary arrogance,” wrote David Bromwich in The Nation.

Jesus told this Parable of the Rich Fool, and set the story with the man being alone, speaking with his soul. And later, speaking to himself 

Notice that the Rich Fool was an individualist. "Everything for me, by me." His alone-ness has been a dreadful concept to every society until very recently. He has no one to talk to but himself, having alienated everyone around him. That would have been a horrifying prospect to Jesus' listeners, for a person to be alone. It would have been horrifying to Rev. Donne's audience and early Americans, too. No spouse? No children? No parents or siblings? No friends? No professional colleagues? Just slaves to do your bidding but not good enough to socialize with?

The Rich Fool had done the unthinkable: he'd made himself an island. 

On one level, we see that the Rich Fool was ungrateful to God and refused to give glory to him. But that's not the point of the story. God doesn't need to have his ego stroked. He is all-sufficient and glorious without our puny help. He's not insecure about whether or not we give him credit.

The parable is about an extraordinarily arrogant millionaire or billionaire, if you will, who lived only to acquire profit, and so many possessions that he couldn't consume them for many years, and that his warehouses needed to be rebuilt. God's dread answer was that the Rich Fool's life would be required of him because he had no one to share his goods with.  "...Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"   

There was supposed to be a family, a community, a clan, a village. The care of the widows and orphans that God calls pure religion. But there was no one. Just the clod of dirt that dissolved, washed away in the sea, meaningless, leaving no legacy.

There's nothing wrong with being wealthy. There is something wrong with that wealth destroying our environment, oppressing workers with slave wages and conditions, and filling the vast warehouses of the super-rich when 99 percent of the rest of us live with reduced circumstances even though we work harder and longer than we ever did. You probably aren't part of that One Percent or ruling class. So think about whose policies you support and who you vote for.

I think we know very well what Jesus would do
because he already has done it. 
So now the question becomes, What will YOU do? 
Will you hang out with yourself, serving only yourself? 
Or will you live with and for other people? 

Postscript: As I finished writing this article, I saw the news story that another rich man had lost his life today. But this rich man was no fool. He left this world loved and blessed for having cheered people in hospitals. Leonard Robinson (though he shares my late grandfather's name, I don't know of a relationship) was Batman to hundreds of children and adults whose lives he touched with friendship and caring. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 10 Medieval Butt-Licking Cats

Why do I re-blog this Top Ten Medieval Butt-Licking Cats on this devotional site?
Four reasons:
1. Because it's funny.
2. I'm a cat lady (not too crazy, as I limit myself to two).
3. Because most of the original manuscript illuminations came from medieval religious books, painted by monastic artists.
4. Life is hard. We need to think more about the universal human experience (such as people 800 years ago surviving an even harder life than we have, yet delighting in the absurdity of a cat licking its behind, heedless of its audience), and sending their amusement down to us. Thank you. Gratefully received. 
When you finish looking at Number 2, allow yourself a mental drum roll before you look at Number 1. I believe the Lord has a sense of humor, as illustrated by his creatures (including humans). So go ahead, laugh. You know you want to.

Top 10 Medieval Butt-Licking Cats

The nastiest habit of medieval cats seen via illuminated manuscripts.

10. Regular licking

Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290 (Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r)

9. Licking and mouse-hunting

Ashmole Bestiary, England 13th century (Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1511, fol. 35v)

8. Licking, mouse-hunting and bird-stealing

Bestiary, England 13th century (Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 764, fol. 51r)

7. Hey cat! Stop licking your butt on the Book of Maccabees or you’ll get an arrow!

below the cat: 1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)

6. Otter-like cat

Bestiary, England 15th century (København, Kongelige Bibliotek, GkS 1633 4º, fol. 28v)

5. Devil and the cat worshippers licking the cat’s butt

Jean Tinctor, Traittié du crisme de vauderie (Sermo contra sectam vaudensium), Bruges ca. 1470-1480 (Paris, BnF, Français 961, fol. 1r)

4. Prayerbook cats

Hours of Charlotte of Savoy, Paris ca. 1420-1425 (NY, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.1004, fol. 125r, 172r)

3. Weirdly long tongue

Book of Hours, Lyon, ca. 1505-1510 (Lyon, BM, Ms 6881, fol. 30r)

2. Villard’s cat

Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, France ca. 1230 (BnF, Français 19093, fol. 7v)

1. Licking Cat of Apocalypse

Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt. Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)

Read the original Discarding Images blog here: Ten Medieval Butt-Licking Cats 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Of sex workers, socialists and smelly hippies

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

Nothing changes in 2,000 years.

As the United Kingdom is in their few weeks of campaign season, and America is in it for 18 months, I looked up a delightful page called "Random Political Rhetoric Generator." On the third push of the button, the generator supplied this: "My opponent is conspiring with sex workers, socialists and smelly hippies."

The random words and phrases reminded me of the charge that Jesus consorted with the worst sort of people.

Matthew 9:21-22. When the Pharisees [a Jewish political party] saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Matthew 21:31. Jesus said [to the Pharisees], "The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." 

Matthew 25:34-40. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus told a story about holding a feast where invited guests made excuses not to attend, so the person giving the party told his employees to go out and find the homeless and disabled, tax collectors and prostitutes and thieves, and bring them in for the best food, drink, and music of their lives.

Vote for Jesus. Of course, if you do, you'll be on the hook for conspiring with sex workers, socialists and smelly hippies.


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