Monthly Archives: September 2013

Words of Life or Words of Death?

(Notes from the September 29th sermon at Cross Point Churches in Nashville, Franklin, and Dickson, Tennessee, USA)
Whatever is in our heart comes out of our mouth. Just avoiding sin by keeping quiet is not God’s goal for us. God’s goal is that we will have and share joy, peace, hope, faith, and love.
Everyone needs healing, no matter how fortunate or together they may seem.
Today in our relationships have our words been healing or damaging? For most of us it will have been a mix of both. Some of us did not experience being built up verbally when we were growing up, so we may be uncomfortable loving in this way. But choosing comfort over building others up is a tragic choice.
The scriptures urge us to build others up according to their needs. This assumes we care enough about others to spend the time and effort to learn their needs.
The challenge for today is to list our top 5 closest relationships and become aware of whether we use words to build those loved ones up, or damage them, or just speak about the weather and safe impersonal things, assuming they know they are loved and admired and appreciated., or do we even speak to them on a regular basis at all?
As parents, our grown children, no matter how old, will still be like drought stricken flowers soaking in our life-giving words of affirmation and love. As grown children, our parents, no matter how old or even forgetful, will also soak up words of love and affirmation that will touch and heal their weary hearts. As spouses are the words exchanged in the frantic mornings or the exhausted evenings only reminders like pick up the laundry or questions as to whether we did? Are our longest conversations “nag lists” or worries about the children or money?
Today, tomorrow, the rest of the week, listen not only to your words, but listen to what’s missing. Are our words, words of life, or words of death, or even just silent deserts?
I do not attend this multi-congregational, non-denominational church, but I do listen to the sermons that are streamed online at 6pm on Sunday nights. This is the 3rd in a series of 6 on relationships. This church balances its words with action. The Dickson congregation meets in the high school auditorium. They pay rent, but also do things like paint the walls and this week they are cleaning up the stadium after the football game. They have adopted a stretch of a local road which they keep clean, they are chopping wood for people who need it for winter, and both adults and children visit nursing homes taking food and crafts they have made. They have outreach to Appalachia and third world countries where their members provide much needed services and supplies. They are beginning a new ministry to victims of slavery.
Their sermons can be heard online at Cross Point Church Nashville, Tennessee at 6pm each Sunday by clicking on Messages.

But Can He Dance?

I loved to dance. Ballet and other dance alone type dancing, but my favorite has always been ballroom dancing with someone who was light on their feet, and smooth, with subtle but good leading cues that let you just trust and follow. Frankly, through many many high school and college dances, there were only one or two people that lived up to that. And though I was never in love with them, dancing with them was like entering a different level of existence. It was like being one person simply flowing with music.

My husband of fifty-five years is a loving, kind, wonderful husband, but he is not a dancer.

We were dating seriously my junior year in college when I was elected to represent Rice at the May Festival at Baylor University. This involved the difficult intellectual achievement of wearing a formal gown and walking onto a stage and sitting with all the representatives from other colleges while some sort of presentations were made to students at Baylor. But a really big name band was scheduled to play right after this, so I was excited about it. Thinking I would get to bring my own escort, I selfishly invited one of the better dancers I knew. Needless to say, this was not a kind thing to do to my husband to be.
Of course I did not get away with this, since Baylor informed me I would be escorted by one of their football players. The football player turned out to be just that, a football player. He thought he was God’s gift to women, never having a clue that he was God’s lesson to this woman. But the really cruel part was that as a Baptist College, Baylor only allowed us to sit in an auditorium and listen to the famous dance band.

I know without a doubt that I married the right man, even though evenings spent where there has been a dance band have brought about a bit of toe tapping frustration over the years.

One night in my early thirties when we were out with a group at a club with a band, a stranger at a near-by table suddenly came over and asked me to dance. I glanced sideways at my husband and good sport that he is, he nodded cheerfully.

That young man and I never said another word to each other except “thanks ” at the end of the dance. I have only a vague memory of what he looked like, but I can shut my eyes and still relive the dancing. It was one of those moments in time when my inner self and my outside self and the world were in sync. It was sensual, but not sexual. There was an amazing sense of oneness, but not intimacy. Almost fifty years later, good music can bring that memory back whole. I’m realistic enough not to romanticise it. I probably would not have even liked the dancer, but I have always treasured the experience.

The other day, while praying about my difficulty in staying in sync with God in my life, it hit me why dancing like that is such a magical, mystical experience. It’s a symbol, an infinitesimal taste of oneness with God and the universe that we unconsciously desire.

Lord, help me hear the music of your dance and trust enough to follow.


Can You Listen to a Stone?

Yesterday, on the blog Radical Amazement, there were beautiful photos of gatherings of butterflies on creek pebbles. Some were black and others were typical Monarch golden butterflies.

Years ago when I was experiencing several truly heartbreaking tragedies, I was seriously considering getting one of those tacky bumper stickers that loosely translated say, “Manure Happens.”

Driving out my country road one morning, I was yelling at God in my mind, “Where are you? I am up to my neck in manure here?” Just then, I noticed a large ripe cow paddy beside the road. It was literally covered in large golden butterflies. I had to pull over because I was both laughing and crying.

What a perfect symbol and answer to my cry. Yes, manure happens, but so does grace. And often it’s the manure that is the fertilizer that brings the grace of growth and transformation. A couple of days later a friend found me a bumper sticker that said, “Grace happens.”

After remembering all this, I decided to journal for the first time in months. When I opened to the last page I had written, the last line was, “Can you listen to a Stone?”

It seemed to connect with the small stones and the butterflies.  As I reflected on them, I realized that I actually do better coping with the larger disasters of life, because I do turn to God and somehow focus on listening and being empowered by grace. It’s the myriad of small difficulties that seem to accumulate and turn me into a nervous wreck.

I’m in one of those sieges right now. And not doing very well at letting go and letting God empower me. As I looked at the photos, it hit me that once again God had sent me a symbol. There is the grace of transformation even in the bunches of small pebbles in my life.

It’s a wonderful reminder to live in the present moment, listening to each small hard thing for God’s call to grace and growth.

“Yes, with grace, I can begin to listen to one small stone at a time.”

We don’t decide who we are (Excerpt from the blog, Make Believe Boutique

We don’t decide who we are. We discover who we are and decide what to do about it. For those who do not settle for an idealized, self-avoiding image of themselves, life is peppered with ongoing revelations about the real quality of their souls- hopes, dreams, desires, and capacities that sometimes come as a surprise….Robert Corin Morris

Art as Sacred (Excerpt from the Blog, Make Believe Boutique)

Be. Here. This moment. Now is all there is, don’t go seeking another. Discover the sacred in your artist’s tools; they are the vessels of the altar of your own unfolding. Look at this cup of holy water, washing clean the brushes. See the blank page, awaiting your blessing. Gaze on the colors before you, each one a name of God: Saffron, Cobalt, Azure, Ruby. Say each one slowly and taste its juice in your mouth Let this be your prayer. Brush them across the page. First the small strokes, then the larger sweeps. Lose track of all time. This too is prayer. Listen for the words that rise up: Awaken. Envision. Sing. Alleluia. Place marks on the page saying I am here. Watch as word and image dance together. Luminous. Illuminated. This is your sacred text. This is where God’s words are spoken, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. Be there to catch them as they pass over those sacred lips, tumbling so generously into your open arms…..Christine Valters Paintner

Reflections on Addiction, Divorce, and Homosexuality

Most of us agree that having an addiction is a bad thing.  An addiction is an idol, because it means something controls us. It becomes our God. The tricky part about addictions is that many are not only accepted, but even highly valued in our society. Addictions to work, to religion, to image, to power, to independence, and to self expression are just a few. It may take a lifetime for us to recognize or admit to some addictions, never-the-less get free of them. Spending time visiting at nursing homes has made me wonder if that particular stripping experience is the last part of the journey to freedom for some.  Perfectly good things, like self reliance, can become addictions. Those are actually the hardest to escape, because they are so difficult to recognize as addictions/idols.

Pretty much everyone admits that loving is a good thing, and many of us consider learning to truly love, as the most important thing in life. But truly loving is a bigger challenge than most of us want to admit. Personally, I consider the core challenge in life to be learning to love another specific human being, up close and personal, and on past the point when the scales fall from our eyes and we see that they are not the person we imagined them to be. Sadly this usually happens before we realize that we too are not who we imagined ourselves to be. We may bail out before that reality can level the playing field. Or we may stick it out for less than loving reasons without ever becoming self-aware and make someone else’s life a living hell.

Ideally, we would manage to make it all the way past delusion and self honesty in our first commitment relationship. In an imperfect world populated by imperfect people, that doesn’t always happen. Somewhere along the way, between the second or sixth or ? try, hopefully, we finally figure out that we are part of the problem and get around to asking God to show us how to change.

But if, as Christians, we interpret the bible strictly, literally, legalistically, we don’t get second chances on marriage. We either stick it out or live alone the rest of our life, because Jesus was pretty outspoken about divorce in a society where women were treated as a piece of property without rights or means to live independently. But in our times, I’m pretty sure sticking with an abuser or addict seldom teaches us about loving adult relationships, and quite likely neither will living alone all our life. I’m even more certain that only God knows enough to judge people, relationships, and how many chances any particular person needs to get it right.

One of the few sermons I remember from my teen years is one a priest gave pointing out that all sins can be forgiven, but not divorce if you remarry, because you are just keeping on sinning every day you are living with a second spouse. This was in the early nineteen-fifties in Texas, where any woman who shot her husband for abusing her or cheating on her usually got off scot free. So, in my mind, I heard the priest saying, “If you make a mistake and marry a son of a biscuit, just kill him. God will forgive murder.” Seemed logical to me, but not very spiritual.

In a Barbie and Ken world, we would all marry a person of the opposite gender and have two and one half children, who would give us an accelerated course in learning to love. In the real world some people cannot have children, and quite a few others definitely should not. Some people also don’t seem called to marriage, but often they are called to be there for people in need,  for elderly family members, or as caregivers to people with handicaps.  I really believe all of us are called to relationships or ministry that teaches us to love as Jesus loved us.

In the real world some people’s only chance of learning to love up close and personal and past the experience of disillusionment may be with someone of their own gender. Jesus didn’t say anything about this, though Paul did, but like with divorce, only God knows whom someone can love up close and personal and past the part of the scales falling from their eyes.  However many tries it takes us, whatever gender we marry, the purpose is to learn to love someone as Jesus loves you and that is a major struggle that involves a lifetime of failing, repentance, and new beginnings through the grace of God.

Sarah Young in her powerful little book, Jesus Calling, hears God saying: ” Each of My children is a unique blend of temperament, giftedness, and life experiences.  Something that is a baby step for you may be a giant step for another person, and vice versa.”

Humility is admitting we are simply not capable of knowing the will of God for someone else. Paul says “We see through the glass darkly.” It’s a full time job just trying to understand what God is teaching us through prayer, study, mistakes, repentance, forgiveness, and new beginnings. It takes an ever growing openness to grace to keep our relationship with God and those He gave us alive and growing.

Judging others is one of the ways we use to escape focusing on what God is trying to teach us in our own relationship with Him and with those He is using to teach us how to love. That’s why Jesus said so vehemently, “Cast the log out of your own eye first.”

At the age of seventy-six I’ve figured out that takes at least a lifetime.

Truth: the Monster Under Our Bed

Excerpt from the poem
midnight in wonderland from the blog, Holistic Journey by Diana

“she archived her fears and

hopes in her kids, did

anyone hear the story

in between, did anyone   look?”

I literally gasped as I read this and instinctively bent double wrapping my arms around myself, but alas, too late.  “We are defenseless against truth camouflaged as art.” eileen

Excerpts from
–know? from the blog Holistic Journey by Diana

“Trees give up leaves like paper hopes
Swept into the sleepy season”

…….”We build skyscrapers and businesses and poems
And the tides rush up and claim
The sand castles of our dreams.”

Quote from Roland Barthe: “Truth resides not in the individual but in the chorus.”
I’d like to disagree with this quote, but as I’ve aged, I’ve learned we must listen to many diverse voices to get even a glimpse of truth.

Smart or Intelligent? Moral or Ethical? Religious or Spiritual?

Being smart and being intelligent are different in practice. Being smart is more about the present moment and the practical, being intelligent is about learning from the past, so humanity can live both free and humanely in the future.

Morals and ethics are different also. Morals are about not doing evil, while ethics are about not achieving reasonable goals evilly. Morals are immediate and personal. Ethics are long term and social.

Ethics question whether an end, particularly the goal of our personal happiness,  justifies means that hurt people and that set precedents for corrupting society.

In trying to pass down values for a changing world, I want to challenge my descendants:

1. Morals: Don’t do it if you don’t want those you care about to read it on the front page or see it on U-tube.

2. Ethics:  Don’t do it if everyone else also doing it will make the world less humane and not a place you would want your grandchildren or loved ones to have to survive.

Obviously we need both smart people and intelligent people.  We also need moral people and ethical people.

Unfortunately, the smart and the intelligent, like the moral and the ethical, often end up politically opposed to one another. Neither realizing that  issues aren’t either /or.  Instead, what is needed is serious dialogue in order to find a balance in the tension of opposites.

But that kind of openness requires spirituality, not religion.  And spirituality is very expensive personally. Spirituality is on a whole other level than morality or ethics or religion.  It’s about becoming and being, not doing or achieving.

It’s described in Matthew 5: 3-11       I am paraphrasing:

Graced are the poor in spirit for they can be open to God. (When not filled with self importance, we have room for God within.)

Graced are those that accept the pain of loss for they will find the Comforter within. (Sorrow, not escape, leads to the Spirit.)

Graced are those who do not need to own or have power over anything for the joy of everything is theirs. (Then we are free to window shop the world, enjoying its beauty and other people’s joy.)

Graced are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Jesus will come and abide in them.( When we recognize our own unworthiness,  we can accept Jesus as our righteousness)

Graced are those who recognize the log in their own eye, for they will know how unconditionally God loves them.( And then we can love the unloveable.)

Graced are those focused on God, for then we see Him everywhere.

Graced are the peacemakers because no cause, nation, or person owns them,  then we belong only to God.

Graced are those persecuted for Jesus’ sake, for we know Jesus.

Graced are the falsely accused and rejected, for then we are free to please only God.

Spirituality is foreign to us, because it is paradoxical and few of us have had any training in grasping paradox.

We’re faced with having to lose to win and having to die to live.  And that takes grace more than smarts or intelligence,

and it takes grace more even than morals or ethics.   And opening to grace takes admitting we need it.  That’s the leap of faith that jump starts our spiritual journey.

God of the Universe, we are yours, take us and give us the grace to become the people you created us to be. We cannot do it on our own.  Give us the righteousness of Jesus, so we will know the depth and breadth of your love, and fill us with Your Spirit to guide us on our journey back home to you. Amen

Become Peacemakers: Wars Kill Our Souls

From The Upper Room August 6, 2013:
A reflection on Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

I hated the Americans who massacred so many people, including my sister, with the atomic bomb when I was fourteen. For many years I could neither forgive nor forget what they had done. But as I started to read the Bible, I was challenged and changed by the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”(Luke 23:34)
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. We ask for our daily food, forgiveness, and salvation from evil. Then we affirm God’s dominion, power, and glory. For me, forgiveness is a strong and powerful attitude.
Paul said,”Be kind to one another” and “tenderhearted.” When we allow God to make our hearts tender, we become able to forgive. For me forgiveness is given so strongly and so powerfully from God through Jesus, that it breaks through the hatred caused by the atomic bomb. Contributed by Haruyoshi Fujimoto

My reflections:

War and fear breed hatred beyond understanding and war leaves wounds too deep for human healing.

In 2003, I visited the small town of Shrewsbury, England.  I went to their tiny, but ancient, Military Museum.  There were relics and accounts of literally millennia of wars.  There was a captured American regiment’s flag from our own Revolutionary War with England.  There were long lists of local men killed in war after war after war.  Many of the family names on the lists were the same for generation after generation.   Most of the wars were with countries that are now England’s allies.  Unbelievably, this small rather insignificant museum had actually been damaged by an IRA bomb a year before.  My maiden name is O’Leary, so I felt saddened by that, though after visiting Ireland and seeing the evidence of England’s repression and injustice to the Irish, I did finally understand the conflict. Seeing the lists of those lost to war, of families decimated, of enemies now allies, and allies now enemies, realizing that in all those other countries there were matching lists, I thought of all the little people who bear the brunt of wars and even the survivors who are never the same.  My life experiences have taught me that there are no good guys in wars. And now my beloved America was following in England’s footsteps.  Sorrow overwhelmed me.

During WWII my mother was Personnel Director for a large American Army Post. Part of her job was keeping up morale and this required showing movies of our soldiers cornering Japanese soldiers in caves. When the Japanese soldiers came out of the caves with their hands up, our soldiers set them on fire with flame throwers, and the civilian personnel watching these movies would all cheer. Mom came home sick and unable to sleep after having to show and watch these.

Some years ago, I worked in a Christian Book Store. A young man, about nineteen or twenty years old, came in to buy a bible and we got to talking. He began to tell me about being in the army and just returning from fighting in Panama. With tears in his eyes he told me about his squad being ordered to take over a building where enemy soldiers were thought to be hiding. As they approached, people suddenly came running out of the building, and he and his fellow soldiers responded with machine gun fire. It turned out that it was a school and the people running out were teachers and their young students.

Almost thirty years ago, I was a Civil Service employee on an U.S. Army Post. Technically, I was an Education Specialist-Religion in the Chaplains’ Division. I was Associate Director of All Religious Education for the Post and Director of the Catholic Religious Education Program for the 9,000 Catholics on Post. Central America was at that time a hotbed of political revolution with America unofficially supporting various sides. I had many military men and women volunteers teaching in our Sunday children’s classes. I learned quickly to make sure each of our fifty classes had two teachers, with at least one of them being civilian, since overnight without any warning, all the military would disappear and I’d end up with classrooms full of children without teachers. I never knew exactly where they went. Everyone just said people had gone “south.” There were no official declarations of war and often we ended up fighting in support of blatantly evil dictators, because the communists were supporting the rebels.

The individuals I met in the military are amazing people.  They spend their lives far away from their families of origin, so they form close bonds among themselves, which they renew when their paths crisscross over the years.  With both men and women now serving all over the world, their families and their communities are small versions of the United Nations Assembly. In civilian life, people coming from other countries tend to cling together and to their native cultures.  The army life more or less forces the military to live with, work with, learn with, and support each other across races, nationalities, and cultures.  Marriage with citizens of other countries and cultures is common place and families are multi-racial and cultural.  Frequent separations make marriage harder than normal and many blended families may have children of several different racial and national backgrounds. It is a paradox that the rank and file of the military are the greatest witness to hope for peace among diverse people, I have ever encountered. When we protest against war, these are not the people causing them.  These are the people dying in them. War is political. We civilians are just as much a part of the political systems that create wars.

One of my friends did training for Religious Education teachers for the nearest Catholic Diocese. She also happened to be a leader in the local Peace and Justice movement. I invited her to come lead one of our Teacher Training Workshops. I think the title was: Teaching as Jesus Taught, which stressed using stories like Jesus did. Our Religious Ed Department included a large combination Library/Conference Room, which we used for this workshop. It just so happened the room was already set up for a Chaplains’ conference on ministering to soldiers when battles involved limited nuclear weapons. The set up included horrifying photos, that I hoped were only simulated, all around the walls. My friend was a kind and sensitive woman, who did not intend to cause me any problems by being offensively anti-military. She did not need to. As she gently led us in listening to Jesus’s words, one of the teachers noticed the photos and called attention to them. No words could have illustrated the gap between the world’s way and the way of Jesus better. The photos said it all.

God forgive us all, for we know not what we do.

Whom do you see as  the “bad guys” in your world?  Your parents’ world?  Your grandparents’ world?  Your children’s world?  Your grandchildren’s world?How do we become peacemakers?  Where do we start?  What helps you be peace filled? What has helped bring about reconciliation in your life?

A Kind Word Heals

A Kind Word Heals

A Kind Word Healsbloggers-for-peace-badge