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.

There's also a providential time element to consider. When I've been down to the wire on figuring how to get by in a financial situation (had to replace the tires on my car as they crumbled in the Arizona climate, website renewal came up, the air conditioning bill was $225, and my teaching income was next to nothing), I received gifts in the snail mail. Sometimes they come in the form of a freelance job (that I work for), sometimes as a gift card marked "With love from Jesus," sometimes as a "just because" gift, and sometimes a random stranger decides he likes the research articles on my history blog. But there's no accident that they came at exactly the right time. The givers may or may not recognize the whisper of God in their minds. But I do. That's another difference between feeling thankful and being grateful. I know the source of the generosity.

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.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, educator and philosopher, passed away in late 2015. His daughter Serena Dyer Pisoni wrote of a sensation of her father's presence in her car when she was feeling burdened by stress, and the lesson she took from it:
"I don't have to wait for ... the stress and the turmoil to go away in order to feel peace. In fact, it's just the opposite. I have to feel peace inside in order to get ... the turmoil to go away. I cannot control what's going on outside of me. But I can control how I react to it. I can choose peace at any time despite what is happening around me."
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.
Who knew St. Nicholas was a Klingon? 


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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dog in a Manger

© Christy K. Robinson

The phrase, “dog in a manger” comes from an ancient Greek fable about a dog lying in the food trough, growling and warning off the cattle who would feed on the grain, though the dog had no use for it. It refers to a person who can’t or won’t use something himself, but spitefully withholds it from someone else.

“I don’t want it, and you can’t have it.” The ungodly actions and attitudes of professed Christians can be a deterrent to the sharing of the gospel. Their hypocrisy makes all of us look bad, and deters others from making their own examination of the claims of Jesus Christ. Example: While courting the votes of the far-right conservative Christians, often called Evangelicals, Donald Trump kissed up to the conservative political action committees, to fundamentalist groups and institutions like Liberty University, Values Voters, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and others. He said he was pro-life, though it was only a position held for the duration of the election season, and he claimed to be born again--though day after day after day, there were new words of hate and filth and lies. Surely you remember the jeering about evangelical Christians. And the divide between actual evangelical Christians and the Republican evangelicals who can't separate their religion and their party.

Here’s an unexpected one: preachers, teachers, and authors who use complicated theological concepts, “isms,” and multi-syllabic labels to explain what God has made clear and easily understood by children and Down Syndrome people: God loves us, and has moved heaven and earth because he wants to save us.   

Jesus had harsh words for religious leaders and teachers who have made following God’s lead unappealing, too harsh, too difficult to understand, legalistic, judgmental, and too full of restrictions. “Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.” Matt. 23:13

Dog in a manger!

The apostle Paul wrote about those people. “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.”  Romans 1:18-23

Jesus could have come as a king, president, senator, priest, minister, university professor, Nobel scientist, or anything else but the baby in a blue-collar laborer’s family, born in a cave that sheltered travelers’ beasts of burden. And maybe even their shepherd dogs or guard dogs.

But no. He came as a dependent newborn, as harmless as a kitten. Babies are inoffensive, and they have no history for us to blame or resent. They represent hope and potential, growth and a future. This baby came to GIVE.

If there was a dog in the manger of Bethlehem, perhaps it looked something like this: a homeless dog who just needed a safe place with no kicks and blows and curses, a soft place to rest from the strain of living on garbage in harsh weather. A dog who would come in from the cold for sanctuary.

Are you that dog in a manger? Are you looking for the basic simplicity of home, and love, rest, security, and sanctuary?

Jesus says, Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matt. 11:28-30
In Criciuma, Brazil, a church set up an outdoor crèche,
with images of Joseph and Mary, angels, shepherds,
and baby Jesus lying in the straw-filled manger.
On the night of December 16, 2008, a young stray dog found her way there
and snuggled up with Jesus for the night.
Photo by Kiko Della Giustina. The dog was adopted.

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.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Loving is difficult

I know this will sound shocking to most Christians, even those who know that I've been committed to following Jesus since childhood, but, um, er, cough-cough, you see it's this way--

I've always found loving Jesus hard to do. 

Yes. Pretty strange comment for a person who makes moral choices and lives according to the spirit of the law and not the letter of it. Pretty weird for the person who has been a church musician since childhood and led worship music countless times, and served in many other ways, including as an elder and teacher. And kind of crazy for a person who committed her life to the Lord and regularly confesses sins and claims forgiveness and grace, and expects to spend eternity in heaven.

My religion isn't a matter of weekly church attendance and doing the Church Lady thing, although I rarely miss a week at church. I don't use church membership as hellfire insurance. My religion is deeply ingrained. It's my fabric and it won't be torn from me.

But do I really love Jesus, the way I observe that others do? Maybe my obedience, service, and life choices are a faithfulness to my vows that will go on for a lifetime even if the emotional, tear-filled, joyful experience doesn't come naturally.

I won't go into details, but I was molested by a relative from the time I was a toddler until I told my mother when I was 10 years old. Really, what kind of person commits sexual assault on a toddler? I was one of those statistics that one out of five girls are molested.

My parents dealt with the situation in the best way any of us knew--for the late 1960s, anyway. At one point in my college years, a relative pushed me into a confrontation with the molester, but though I chose not to speak with him, in a detached moment I realized I'd forgiven him and recognized his twisted disease even if he didn't acknowledge it.

Another oddity of my childhood was that because I was one of the primary caregivers for my chronically ill mother, I grew up fast, and was a very mature child with responsibilities of a young woman. My recreation was playing the piano or reading books, but I was never silly, and didn't learn to play games.

Memories are unreliable, and an adult, intellectual understanding doesn't cover the wounds to my heart and soul. We know now that without counseling, all kinds of things happen to the victim's psyche and body, that fester until they're healed with therapy. Our church distrusted psychologists and therapists because they could manipulate your mind or implant false memories.

I was raised in a denomination and a church school that stressed the "rightness" of its theology. Being right about our creed or denominational standard beliefs was everything. It was wrong to talk about loving God, or to lift your hands in worship, or to sing or play an instrument with emotion--that was fleeting, sweet syrup, not pure obedience and dogged carrying of the cross. Being right was of primary importance. Love was showing off.  

My parents loved me. My brother and I were good friends. Speaking of friends, I was the single adults ministry leader for my state for 11 years, and we were very close. But I've never been in a mutual love relationship with a man. I've wanted it, but it frightens me a bit. I know that deep love means risking heartbreak, and indeed, I've been broken several times.

When I was a teen and young adult, there were boys and men I had a crush on, but they didn't return my interest, and the men who were interested in me, I was suspicious of. (Like the Yugoslavian man who, on an hour's acquaintance, wanted to marry me because we were of the same denomination, and he needed American immigration status. Or the Jordanian man who wanted to give my father 500 camels so I'd marry him.) I rarely dated and never married.

I got on with my life, doing what I had to do as a single woman to survive. I worked my way through university and got my degree, started my own business when I couldn't find a job (because I wasn't married to someone in the network), fought my own battles with injustice, bought my own homes and stuff to fill them. 

Over the years, I did love one or two men who didn't want me, but I decided that one-way crushes are only tragic and I don't need to manufacture tragic drama. Requited, mutual love never came up, though I prayed for love and Mr. Right (not Mr. Perfect). I wanted children, but without a husband, I wouldn't go down that road. I've had fur-children over the years that satisfied the need for nurture and hugs. Meanwhile, I wrote articles and a book (and this blog, by the way) about God's love for us.

There was a lot of rejection in my life when it came to love in its various guises, from the men who said they loved me like a sister, but not like a girlfriend.  From my father, when he let his wife cut me out of his life. From the ministers who were the president and CEO of the religious company I worked for. From a boss who "resigned" me so he could hire his relative. From a religious system that taught me that God didn't really forgive and forget my sins because he reserved some to nail me with when I recommitted them. From my brother, who criticized me publicly on Facebook, and when I asked him why, he sneered an insincere "sorry." And even from God, who declined to bring me the husband and family I longed for and prayed for, and everyone said that if I delighted myself in the Lord, he'd give me the desires of my heart.

I probably haven't learned how to love.

But once in a while, when I was praying out under the stars, I wondered if it was wrong to not love God. Respect and honor, yes, but love? That was a worry that I couldn't shake. God commanded us to love him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. How do we love God as we ought to? How much love is he looking for, because I don't feel like I'm all in. Does he recognize my childhood molestation and (perhaps) fear of a relationship? Does he accept that I love him with all my mind, but there's something wrong with my heart?

So when I prayed about love, I echoed the man who came to ask Jesus for long-distance healing for his son: "Lord, I believe (love), help my unbelief (honoring you in the only way I know)."

One of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is love. God gives us love as a spiritual gift. And from 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV, we know that God gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So that's been one of the prayers I make.

He's answering it, too. Recently, I was speaking with a friend, and out popped, "One of the reasons I love the Lord is..."  And I meant it, from the heart. I'm also more able to recognize and receive the love he showers upon me.

It's a small start, but we're moving in the right direction. 

In his book, A Love Worth Giving, Max Lucado wrote:
"Be grateful for those who’ve encouraged you to do what is right and applauded when you did. And isn’t it good to know that even when we don’t love with a perfect love, he does? God always nourishes what is right. He has never done wrong, led one person to do wrong, or rejoiced when anyone did wrong. For he IS love!"



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