Author Archives: Eileen

Reason and Faith, Two sides of the Same Coin

Reason and faith are two sides of the same coin. Reason stretches our minds and faith stretches our hearts. And both come from God. It’s not either/or. It’s both dancing together, a paradox. The trick is not limiting our faith by reason and not limiting our reason by faith. Since God gave us both, when we are open to God through both, there’s not a conflict. Just don’t make scripture or science into a God. They are ways to God, but not God. And if we think that we know the truth, all the truth, and nothing but the truth, we are claiming to be equal to God. And whether we base that on science or scripture, it is hubris. And we are called to walk with God with humility, not hubris.

Suffering, the Door to Grace

The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus.                                                                                      Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering.  Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
Spring
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.

God, Jesus, and Buddha

“If we are willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” I have experienced this, so I believe it. It’s from a book called “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun.
But she also says, ” Without GIVING UP HOPE–that there’s someWHERE better to be, that there’s someONE better to be, we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” I struggle with this some, but I think it’s another paradox. When I have realized that some of my failures to love come out of insecurity about who I am, it starts a process that after a gap of time frees me to accept the imperfect me , which then helps me to become more loving of other imperfect people.
I believe that my courage to do this this comes through having accepted the unconditional Love of God expressed in Jesus with both my heart and intellect, so I can face, forgive, and love both my imperfect self and others’. I explore my experiences of discomfort through journaling and sometimes dreams and pray for awareness and grace to grow more loving. But there’s always a gap where I have to accept living with awareness of that unloving part of myself before I finally recognize that I have been healed and freed in that particular area. And as nice as that is, knowing that more encounters with unpleasant realities will have to happen again, pretty much prevents pride in my part of the process. Once again, one of my strongest beliefs from years of experiencing this is: I am loved unconditionally at my worst and I am still unfinished at my best. But with the grace of being fully known and loved, I will be able to continue growing, though some times much more slowly than others.
This life is a journey along a path filled with uncomfortable challenges all along the way. And the love of God is the grace we need to carry us through. But also, some of the insights of the Buddhists are helpful tools in recognizing and accepting the hard parts of this life long process. And with healing through the grace of the Love of God expressed in Jesus, we can continue becoming new and a little more free to love each time.

Lonely with People

Loneliness does not come from having no people around you. It comes from not being able to communicate what seems important to you.  Carl Jung

Paradoxes: Unconditional Love and Consequences of Choices / Best Friend and Almighty God

Been reading our Sunday School lesson about some differences of opinion between the famous preacher and composer of hymns, Harry Emerson Fosdick and the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich. Two of their issues still speak to our condition: Grace vs. Accountability and God as a best friend vs. a transcendent Glorious, Almighty and Powerful God.
To nobody me, the unconditional love of God does not preclude consequences to our choices. Those are more or less built into the nature of things and are how we learn from our bad choices. So we are loved at our worst, but are unfinished at our best. And the way we grow more loving is from a combination of learning from unpleasant consequences and being able to change through the grace of unconditional love. It’s not either/or. It’s a paradox. And after a while we should learn to avoid those bad choices. (Some of us are slow learners.)
When I got to know Jesus not only as my Savior, but as a friend, I was still Catholic. The liberal priest had changed the golden tabernacle to one of simple wood and moved it from the main altar to a simple table where we walked close to it. I was so full of love for Jesus then that I thought of the “Presence” in the tabernacle as the “Body of Christ” and I would gently and tenderly pat the top of it as I went by. The next priest was an old fashioned conservative and he moved the Host back into the golden tabernacle and put it on the central altar and expected people to genuflect when they were going to walk anywhere in front of it. I wasn’t into the genuflecting bit, but I recognized how much it expressed many people’s adoration of God. The next priest was another liberal and without telling me, he added a Directive to the list of parishioners that were Welcomers and Scripture Readers for each Mass that I created for each month without adding his name to it. It was a Directive to NOT genuflect. So many people got mad at me. And I was mad at the priest because I didn’t see why genuflecting, if it expressed their love of God, couldn’t be allowed, so the next time I was a Reader and had to walk across in front of the Tabernacle, out of sheer perversity, I genuflected. When I did, I was suddenly completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness and glory of God. I didn’t want to get up from my knees. Once again it is a paradox. Jesus is the physical human expression of the Love of God. God is Love. But God is so much more than our tiny brains and hearts can grasp, in the times when we get glimpses of God’s awesomeness, glory, power, brilliance, and love all we can do is kneel and bow in awe and joy.
It seems to me that Christians, and I guess all humans, spend centuries arguing, even warring over, things that are both true. Somehow we don’t know how to educate humanity to understand paradox.

TAKING ISSUE WITH A CORY BOOKER QUOTE AND WITH BOTH SIDES OF OUR DIVIDE

I am BOTH a born again, evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. Here’s the Booker quote and a few of my problems with it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all his children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith; teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I ‘m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
If people were perfect there wouldn’t be any need for going to church or believing in Jesus. If Cory Booker were perfect, then he could throw stones or even boulders. We Christians and Agnostics and whatevers, in our conviction that people who disagree with us are worse morally than we are, have stopped trying to understand each other. The thing that has puzzled me all along the great political and religious divide is that most of the people I know personally,(who are NOT politicians,) but are either: 1. Trump supporters, and /or: 2. Evangelical Christians, are kind people, who actually do go the second, third, etc. mile for anyone they don’t consider a possible serious threat to their children, loved ones, or their own freedom. In my attempts to actually dialogue with and understand several of my family members, I found that they have reasons for some of their fears that I had not heard before and I don’t yet have enough facts to prove them wrong. Politicians and the Press have manipulated us ALL into being judgmental, self-righteous, offensive, and closed minded. If we want to claim the moral high ground, we have to start with loving each other enough to commit to trying to understand one another. This is where it needs to begin. Trump winning or losing the next election isn’t going to change the stalemate of “solution blocking” division. Listen to what Cory Booker actually says by what he wrote that at first sounded reasonable: “Don’t talk to me about Jesus or grace or a need for moral guidelines until you are perfect.” I doubt if anyone on either side can measure up to that. Please, please, please…..let’s start rethinking on what the biggest blocks to solving our problems actually are. Some major blocks are everyone needing to win, needing to feel righteous, and wanting a scapegoat instead of working together to find some sort of reasonable solutions to our shared problems. There are real and scary problems to be solved and it won’t happen until we try to hear each other and find a way to work together. We are choosing to self-destruct as a nation because of our own pride. And pride goes before the fall. Is it really worth it?

Would You Want to See Like Jesus?

I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a very contemporary Church for his congregation . An amazing man, who even fills in for Protestant preachers and works with all sorts of other religions for the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting everyone,  even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water of bad Christian leaders and causing their own children to close their minds to the Good News. I don’t think I could bear seeing like Jesus. To see all those he loves on both sides of wars and economics and politics and religious fanaticism and all the other suffering in so many lives would simply destroy me. I can barely survive the suffering I see in my own family and other people I know and care about. Even when I love someone who is actually causing their own and others’ suffering, it is almost worse, because I don’t know how to help them get free of their destructive responses to the pain of life. Ultimately, we are helpless to save even those we love enough to share their pain. How heartbreaking it must be to see like Jesus.

Grace for the Moment

Our prayer for each of us is that we will be open to grace for the moment all through the New Year. Grace for the moment is within the limits of our tiny mustard seed of faith. So we pray for grace for each moment. Grace to live in hope each moment. Grace to hear God in each moment. Grace to trust God for the moment. Grace to be delivered from the control of idols/addictions for the moment. Grace to forgive ourselves and others for the moment. Grace to love ourselves and others for the moment. The grace of peace for the moment. Our blessings to you and yours for the moment throughout the New Year. ( A card from Donnie and Seth Norman)

Positive and Negative Side Effects of Feminism

When we focus on only one side of a goal, we have tunnel vision. Often, a perfectly good goal, if carried out without taking into account the realities of human nature, will have side effects, both positive and negative that no one anticipated.
In the struggle to give women with talents and proclivities other than maternal or domestic a level playing field with men, we created an economy based on two incomes. While this helped free women from abusive or unhappy marriages, it also increased the number of one parent households. Corporations, growing to sizes that have more employees than the governments of many countries, no longer have to be focused on pleasing customers or employees. Instead their priority is on increasing profits by both growing exponentially and maintaining a low minimum wage. This, combined with the other trends, has increased the number of children living below poverty level exponentially. In our small county’s school system there are at least two hundred children without an actual home. Many are living in cars or motel rooms or are in a cycle of moving from one friend’s house to another’s. And every where, women whose talents and personalities are maternal and domestic are not only no longer valued for who they are, but unless married to a wealthy man, cannot afford to stay home to raise their children. Until we recognize the side effects on children and ultimately the culture, getting a reasonable minimum wage will not become a national priority.
In the wake of women taking pride in their bodies and all this involves, such as pregnancy and breasts to feed their newborns, the fashion industry jumped on the bandwagon with styles that leave little to the imagination. Now older women with crinkly necks are looking on Amazon for Muslim clothes shops. This trend doesn’t really help us in our struggle to get respect for physical boundaries. Men and women may be equal under the law, but the reality is that generally we do not have the same reactions to bodily exposure of the opposite sex. When a man with the values of Jimmy Carter admits to looking at women with lust in his heart, it should open women’s eyes to how innate and strong the difference is. (I admit I do enjoy the freedom that the invisibility of being an old lady gives me while waiting in airports. I pass the time comparing the pecs and buns of the young men passing by. But it doesn’t make me want to grope them.)
If women want men to not only actually hear what we say in the board rooms and as teachers, preachers, and leaders, but to respect our physical boundaries, the reality is we need to dress reasonably. Recently, I heard a young woman arguing that women should be free to go shirtless, since men are. I think we are becoming out of touch with the reality that no matter how equal we are, there are some general, though variable in degree, differences between most men and women.
In the beginning of the feminist movement, my hopes were that women would bring the classical Yin/feminine traits, such as nurturing, conserving, subjective relating, unifying, and receptivity into the workplace and government to give balance to the Yang/masculine traits of competing, creating, objective questioning, separating, assertiveness. What I didn’t realize is that taking on the male power structure would require women with more of the Yang traits than traditional Yin ones. I hadn’t even thought about the obvious fact that we all come with different degrees of both. And on top of that, hormonal shifts, relative to age or health, can change us drastically.
It seems to me that the greatly increased acceptance of women as equal to men though not the same, may play a large part in the growing acceptance of the reality of feminine men and masculine women. It has become obvious that there are innumerable variations in combinations and degrees of feminine and masculine traits. And we may can fake ours, but we didn’t get to choose them when we were born. And our dominant ones may not match our exterior bodies. And while many men seem to be threatened by this, most mothers love their children whatever their individual mix may be.
So, as with everything under the sun, every change sets off many side effects, both healing and challenging, that we didn’t expect. And it take open minds and kind hearts balanced by practical reality to increase positive results out of them, while minimizing the negative.

Let’s Pretend Our Own Christmas Story

Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise? Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you? Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell about giving birth in a dirty drafty place and about the terror of having to flee to a foreign country in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and a little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set like most of us do? Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to families living in small rooms at some of the local Motels?” Might he even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check under the bridges for homeless who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion: that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees fleeing with their children like his parents did.
Maybe he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You wouldn’t feel condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because now you’d really know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but to free us by his love.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.