Author Archives: Eileen

We Are Growing Spiritually Until Our Last Breath.

An Evolving Faith

Pastor and author Molly Baskette describes how Jesus lived from a place of growth and inclusion instead of certainty and scapegoating, and calls us to do the same:

All claims to the contrary, Jesus did not preach from a place of rigid binaries and judgments but from a place of continual becoming. He befriended outcasts and lived on the margins of society while staying in relationship with wealthy and powerful people, some of whom became patrons and disciples. He lived in a patriarchal society, but let women correct him and expand his understanding of his mission. Innocent of the trumped-up charges, he allowed himself to be murdered by state violence to expose the injustice of that violence. He asked us to love our enemies, and to bless those who curse us [Luke 6:27–28]. He warned that those who lived by the sword would die by it [Matthew 26:52].

The churches I’ve served strive to follow Jesus in this “third way”: neither returning evil for evil nor caving in to it. Our God does not hate all the same people we do, nor does our God particularly want us to be rich or admired. Our faith, frail as it is sometimes, is also flexible. It is self-correcting as we have profound encounters with people who are different from us and are exposed to new experiences and ideas. If we are willing to be humble, we can continuously root out our own biases, the weeds of white supremacy that are deeply seeded into the soil of our culture, religion, and country.

Staying in the liminal place of holy uncertainty is deeply uncomfortable. But certainty in the life of faith doesn’t serve us well. At some point, the idea or theology or God-image we have adopted may become provably false. Then we’ll have to decide to double down on it or abandon it, which may feel like abandoning God or faith altogether, and leave us entirely unmoored. [1]

For Father Richard, evolutionary thinking and faith are inherently linked:

Evolutionary thinking is, for me, the very core concept of faith, where we trust that God alone steers this mysterious universe, where there is clearly much hidden from us and much still before us—and where “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and the human heart has not conceived, what God has prepared for those who love God” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Evolutionary thinking is contemplative thinking. It leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking agrees to knowing and not knowing simultaneously. It sends us on a trajectory, where the ride is itself the destination, and the goal is never clearly in sight. To stay on the ride, to trust the trajectory, to know it is moving, and moving somewhere always better, is just another way to describe faith. We are all in evolution all the time, it seems to me.

A Dirty Sock under the Christmas Tree

( The first of my yearly repeat of Advent Stories.)

My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family or young families with out parents or grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old deviled ham sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on a silver tray.

After my father died, she passed the Christmas torch to me and I tried to do the same. But I added teaching classes and organizing Christmas pageants at Church. I spent weeks with my five children happily making present for all their teachers and my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had just two children and a small apartment, but I had five children and a very large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in a traveling Christian ministry. Mom had set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.

So, pretty much every year, close to Christmas, I would reach overload, proclaim loudly that I hated Christmas and slam my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night.  One year, after I had once again crankily retreated to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning realizing that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk on “The Spirit of Christmas” to the women’s group of another denomination.  I seriously considered calling and saying that I had broken my leg, but I figured that was risky. God might have ways to keep me from being a liar. As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it. Christmas was about being open to receive our much needed Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for his imperfect children.

So, I ended up simply telling the women the whole story of my patter of Christmas breakdowns, my last minute panic about giving the talk, and what I thought God was saying to me in all of this. It turned out they could all relate very well to my experience. Then for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving a dirty sock under the tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas.”  Now, really?  Dirty socks under the tree?

Of course mother arrived, guests came, children were free from school, and Christmas Eve arrived with the stress building and me tensely rushing around. Just as I was hurriedly putting laundry away in a bed room close to the living room, I heard my mother ask, “Eileen, why in the world is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”  I got goose bumps. I could feel Jesus standing there with his hand on my shoulder, gently shaking his head. I dropped the laundry on the bed and hurried to stop my mother from removing the sock. She looked totally confused as I said, “Mom, leave it there. Let’s get a cup of coffee and right now take time to read the Christmas scriptures to remind us of what we are celebrating.”

Each year, after that, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and watch expectantly for Him to come some way, perhaps even in a dirty sock under the Christmas tree.

Suffering, a Chance to Love God as God Loves Us

I want to share what I have recognized late in life about suffering. I think there is much more to understand about it, but this aspect helped me.

God/Jesus loves us unconditionally. He hurts for us when we make mistakes and have to take the consequences so we won’t keep on making them. He hurts with us when others harm us and he hurts with those we harm and he hurts for those who harm us also. He’s in this duck soup of life even more vulnerable than any of us. Jesus told us that whatever we do to others, we do to him. Yet he never stops loving any of us.

Life is about learning to love as Jesus showed us God loves, unconditionally. That means our self, our neighbor, our enemy, and God who is in control, but lets us and those we love suffer. Why?

Because that is learning to love like God loves. That is true love above and beyond the ordinary garden variety we call love in our societies.

Life is a spiritual journey of taking a leap of FAITH, of growing in faith until we can trust (which is HOPE). And with grace (the Love of God) hope can become LOVE with no small print, expectations or exceptions. I think that is the whole point of our human journey.

Two small experiences I’ve had illustrate some of the reasons I believe this:

Many years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible stabbing pain in my eye. There was no ophthalmologist in Dickson then and Julian was just recovering from the flu. So I lay down on the couch in the living room, hoping to be able to hold out until morning to wake Julian to drive me to Nashville. As I lay there struggling to bear the pain, I remembered about praising God even in times of suffering. I decided at least this way, God would get praise, so I began through gritted teeth to praise God. After a few minutes of praising God each time the pain hit, I had a very vivid sense of a presence in the room over by the window. I began to experience an awesome feeling of being tenderly and totally loved. I soon was overcome by joy even though I still was feeling the stabbing pain. Continuing to praise with joy, I finally fell asleep. When I awoke at dawn, the pain was gone and never returned.

Now, I have been in physical pain plenty of times since then and praising has not taken it away. But now, I know that God is with me in it. I am not alone.

I have been pretty insecure most of my life. Emotional pain can wipe me out as much as physical. In my fifties I was in a wheelchair from a painful condition on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands. But one of my sons worked for an airline and as his parents, we could fly free even to Europe. So, I traveled in a wheel chair to countries that not only weren’t handicapped accessible, but where the handicapped were even kept out of sight in attics. In one, it was raining and Julian was trying to get the wheelchair and me out of the street onto a covered sidewalk. Three middle-aged local women were chatting and blocking us from getting out of the rain. They saw our problem, but not only didn’t move, but when we had to go past them out in the street, they literally hissed at me! I was shocked. Why would people hate me when they didn’t even know me? I wasn’t used to being the victim of prejudice and I was very depressed that night. The next morning when we toured a very crowded Cathedral, Steve wanted to climb to the top of the dome and Julian wanted to take photos of all the gold and silver and even semi-precious stones in the walls. So, we finally found an empty dark corner to get me out of the way while they did their thing. They were gone a long time and I began to get more depressed and to feel sorry for myself. I could see the beautiful carved marble altar, but though Jesus on the Cross is usually on the wall above the gold tabernacle, he wasn’t there. I began to look for him and finally thought to look up behind me and there he was on the cross. We were alone together in the dark empty corner. Once again, I had that sense of his presence and even his understanding of my feeling of rejection. I realized then that we are not alone even in our feelings. Jesus not only suffered for us, he suffers with us. He is God with us in our humanity with all its joys and sorrows.

This was over thirty years ago, so those countries may have changed. But on that trip we ran into obvious prejudice several times. And again, I don’t have that same sense of his presence in similar situations, but I know he is with me. And it makes a difference. I can praise him with faith and trust and with love.

Gratitude for Our Natural Gifts

Our sermon on Sunday was about gratitude being the key to sharing. That if we are thankful for something, we share it or the fruit of it. If you have an inventive mind that has given you joy and /or success, you can share by both helping other inventive minds and by sharing the actual fruits of your success. If you have a practical mind that gives you both delight and success at making things, baking yummy things, fixing plumbing, cars, etc.. you can both teach/train and/or share the results of your talent. If you have a curious mind that leads you to learn interesting and even helpful information, you can share both your knowledge and your sources. The internet and face book are excellent outlets for sharing.

If you have an imagination that allows you to be open to spiritual possibilities that you cannot explain, so that you experience “miracles” that are rare for many people who limit their responses to logic and physical information, you can also share those. Our talents are gifts from God through genetics. We didn’t earn them. But it is our choice to develop and use them both for ourselves and others. Gifts are meant to be shared, that’s why we have different gifts. And even if we had to work hard and long to use them to bear fruit, the trait of stubbornness/perseverance is also a gift. In fact, it may be the most enabling gift of all. As the mother of five children, who are all very different from one another, I have witnessed how gifts that are recognizable early on, play out in our individual human journeys.

Gratitude is not a gift, it’s a response that motivates us to share. What are your natural gifts, whether you have developed and honed them or not? Are you grateful for them? How have you shared them? Have you found ways to share them with others outside your immediate family and friends? Creative thinking is a gift that you can share in many, many totally different ways. Make a list of gifts/traits that are natural to you? Now, list the ways you have shared them and then make a list of new ways to share them or new people or groups to share them with physically, mentally, artistically, or spiritually.

Recognizing Our Journey

What does God require of us?

To do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with our God.

To love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.

According to Jesus: To even love our enemies and to forgive those who harm or kill us as he did.

These three things remain: Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

What is faith?  Is it believing what our parents taught us about God?  Is it about a personal intellectual belief after questioning and seeking God? Or is it experiential like Paul’s?  Does it grow into hope?  Is hope the same as trust?.

Does faith open our hearts to the love of God?  Does the Love of God stir the Holy Spirit within us to give us the strength of trust through the hard times?  Does it free us to forgive and love not only our neighbors, but our enemies?

Is this the core of our spiritual journey, believing, trusting, loving and walking humbly with our God through whatever is asked of us in this life?

Who exemplifies this journey for you?

For me, Corrie Ten Boom does. Justice and kindness empowered by faith led her and her family to hide Jews from the Germans.  Ultimately it led to them all being in concentration camps.  Even after her father died, she and her sister led others in prayer in their bunkhouse.  When her sister died it was a dark time for Corrie. But she survived to speak all over the world about her experience and her faith. And finally, even to forgive, when the cruel guard from their bunkhouse came up to her after a speech and asked her for forgiveness.  For a moment everything in her rebelled against this, but prayer brought grace and she forgave and reconciled with the guard.   

Reflecting on our personal journey can help us see these experiences of challenge and growth in our own lives.  For me strength came from grace in the hard times that carried me far beyond my usual needy, weak, fearful self. I would weep and want to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb, but the last time years ago that I went to bed to do that, in my mind I heard the words, “Get up and do one thing.  Then do another.” So, I did. And when the challenges still come, looking back shows me the footprints of Jesus walking with me and giving me a hand up when I fell.

Covid quarantine gave me time to reflect on my life and recognize the pattern.  Take advantage of the hard things that give you down time.  Use it well. It’s a gift. That may be what old age is all about.

Christianity: A Movement, Not an Institution

Jesus Started a Movement

I really don’t think we can ever renew the church until we stop thinking of it as an institution and start thinking of it as a movement. —Clarence Jordan, letter, 1967

Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and is passionate about the church rediscovering itself as a movement of Jesus:

Jesus did not establish an institution, though institutions can serve his cause. He did not organize a political party, though his teachings have a profound impact on politics. Jesus did not even found a religion. No, Jesus began a movement, fueled by his Spirit, a movement whose purpose was and is to change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . . .

That’s why his invitations to folk who joined him are filled with so many active verbs. In John 1:39 Jesus calls disciples with the words, “Come and see.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he asks others to “Follow me.” And at the end of the Gospels, he sent his first disciples out with the word, “Go . . .” [. . .] As in, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). . . .

If you look at the Bible, listen to it, and watch how the Spirit of God unfolds in the sacred story, I think you’ll notice a pattern. You cannot help but notice that there really is a movement of God in the world.

Curry identifies several characteristics of the Jesus movement [1]:

First, the movement was Christ-centered—completely focused on Jesus and his way. . . . Long before Christianity was ever called the Church, or even Christianity, it was called “the Way” [see Acts 9:2]. The way of Jesus was the way. The Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, that sweet, sweet Spirit, infused their spirits and took over. . . .

The second mark of the movement is this: following the way of Jesus, they abolished poverty and hunger in their community. Some might say they made poverty history. The Acts of the Apostles calls this abolition of poverty one of the “signs and wonders” which became an invitation to others to follow Jesus too, and change the world. . . . It didn’t take a miracle. The Bible says they simply shared everything they had [Acts 4:32–35]. The movement moved them in that particular way.

Third, they learned how to become more than a collection of individual self-interests. They found themselves becoming a countercultural community, one where Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised, had equal standing [see Acts 15:1–12].

Curry continues, taking inspiration from the early church for our own moment:

Ministry in this moment . . . has to serve more than an institution. It has to serve the movemen

What Does the Lord Require of Us?

Some new insights from our sermon today.

Today had one of my favorite scriptures from Micah 6:8. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It was paired with the scripture Matthew 9: 10-13; ” As he (Jesus) sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.’ “

Now, the tax collectors were hated for several reasons, 1: they were working for Rome taking money from the oppressed Jews. 2. And they also enriched themselves by overcharging their own people.

So, these guys were double trouble, getting rich at the expense of their own people and supporting a government that oppressed them. Yet, Jesus hung out with them.

Would a modern equivalent be Jesus hobnobbing with Elon Musk and all the Billionaires who don’t pay taxes? That makes me uncomfortable.

I spent Covid quarantine struggling to understand the Trump devotees, which has helped me move away from judging and hating……though I still have to continue working on my attitude. But as much as I’d like to feel secure financially, I have a really hard time thinking I’d hang on to billions while people struggle to keep body and soul together working two jobs. But since I’ve never had the option or the experience of having earned that much through my own talents, intelligence, and hard work, maybe I can’t really get into that mind set. Obviously, I still have challenges in the “judge not” department.

But if Jesus doesn’t judge and when dying prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” why do I think I can?

Over the years I have sincerely tried to do justice and as I struggled through the years, I tried to love kindness………..admittedly with some failures. But, old age is a whole other challenge…..”Walking humbly with my God” means being like a small child holding a parent’s hand facing four lanes of speeding traffic. As we lose our beloved mates, watch our grown children struggle, are forgotten by the grandchildren we spent so much time with and love on, and become invisible to a younger stronger more attractive population, our bodies and minds betray us. We actually become those dependent children again, rather than the parent protecting our children. Because of what we’ve experienced and what we now know about the vagaries of life and even about ourselves, old age is humiliating, frightening, and painful. This truly is like being a small child again and having to hold onto God’s hand and trust like a child in the Ukraine.

Pray daily for us old guys………nothing quite prepared us for this.

The Broken Body of Christ

Fellow Christians,                                                                                                                                                                                                        Today I’m going where anyone with a lick of common sense would just stay quiet. These are my recent reflections on Scriptures:

 Romans 13:13-14  “…let us live honorably, … not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,  

Good old Paul is still trying to shape us all up. He says not only no quarreling, but also to make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.

Well, pooh! I don’t drink, I stopped smoking, and as an eighty-five-year-old widow, licentiousness isn’t much of an option. During Covid I went on a low carb diet, so I even had to give up my addiction to jelly doughnuts. And to make it worse, quarantining gave me a lot of time to pray and reflect on my attitude toward those I strongly disagree with.

Do any of you find it as hard as I do, to give up feeling you’re right and that anyone who disagrees with you is not only wrong, wrong, wrong, but “BAD to the Bone?”  I never before admitted even to myself how addicted I am to thinking that I am not only right, but also feeling that being right makes me good.                                                                                                                                                                                                     I suspect that’s the definition of self-righteousness, which makes me nervous.

Being convinced we know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth not only claims we are infallible and equal to God, but it ends up making our quarreling push each other into extremes until we all become blind to the need to work together for good.  We are like the blind men who each felt just one different part of an elephant and thought that was how the whole elephant was. 

Even old self-righteous Paul admits we all see through the glass darkly. So, Christians beware! The worst sin is pride because we are blind to it in ourselves.

 And in Matthew 24:36-44 Jesus warns us, we may be called to account at any moment, at work, at a party, or even in our snug beds tonight. “Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

This is a poem I wrote years ago when preparing a sermon for an ecumenical worship service for Directors of Religious education. I was reflecting on Paul’s description of us as the different parts of the Body of Christ.

The Broken Body

Reflecting on the Body,/ you the hand, I the foot/ Christ the head, perhaps the heart/, someone else the hidden part,/ I let the Scriptures/ flood my mind with images./ Then suddenly one image/ is so harshly real, I gasp aloud./ I see a person staggering/ and stumbling toward me,/ arms flailing, head jerking/ back and forth in spasms,/ body parts all pulling/ different ways./ This then, reality:/ Christ’s earthly body now./ Lord, forgive us!

Our Shared Values

Interfaith leader Eboo Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), which brings together youth of different faiths through cooperation and shared service. When a skeptical questioner asks, “What’s the IFYC approach?” Patel explains:

“We call it shared values—service learning,” I said. “We begin by identifying the values that different religious communities hold in common—hospitality, cooperation, compassion, mercy. We bring a group of religiously diverse young people together and ask them, ‘How does your religion speak to this value?’ One kid will say, ‘Well, I really admire how the pope [John Paul II] embodied mercy when he forgave the man who tried to assassinate him.’ A kid from a different religion will say, ‘There is a story like that in my religion: when the Prophet Muhammad returned to Mecca, he extended mercy by forgiving many of the people who had waged war against him.’” . . .

“Are you trying to teach the kids that all religions are the same?” he asked, again growing suspicious.

“Not at all,” I responded. “We are showing young people that religions have powerful things in common, but they come to those shared values through their own paths. . . .”

“The IFYC always gives young people the chance to actually act on the religious value they are talking about through a service project. It’s amazing how many faith stories of compassion kids remember when they are building a house together for a poor family, or what their insights into hospitality are when they are tutoring refugee children.” [1]

CAC teacher Brian McLaren writes about the sense of “with-ness” that arises when people of different faiths join in service, justice, and solidarity:

Another friend . . . went to a Muslim-majority country specifically to convert Muslims to Christianity. After some time there, he got a sick feeling: he felt he was serving neither God nor the best interests of the people around him, but was instead serving the colonizing agenda of the religious clan that sent him. So he changed the direction of his work. He started mobilizing Christians and Muslims to work side by side in helping the poor. “Something happens,” he told me, “when we work together for the poor. We all change. I know that both the Christians and the Muslims feel they are encountering God in one another, and together we are encountering God as we join God in serving the poor.” He discovered that witness led him to with-ness. . . .

Talking together is important—but that interfaith dialogue becomes much deeper in the context of multi-faith collaboration. Words are good, but actions are better—especially actions that bring us together solving problems that affect everybody. . . . [What] so many other people are doing is a lot like what Jesus did: bringing together unlikely people to serve and heal together, to liberate the oppressed and their oppressors together, and to model, in their collaboration, the kind of harmony and human-kindness the world so desperately needs. [2]

Universal Grace

Learning to Love

As a Christian, I have been freed by recognizing the journey of Jesus from a twelve-year-old, who was oblivious to hurting his parents, growing into the one who on the cross loved enough to pray, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” His human growth in wisdom and holiness is our WAY also for growing from need to Love.  So, for me, Jesus is my go-to for the details.  But I have learned from other religions and recognized that those that started them knew that we are literally all one somehow.  What we do to one, we do to all.  It’s that simple and that challenging.  I grew up Catholic and though I am now Presbyterian because, though I am a woman, I felt called to preach about Jesus as God’s expression of Love for us all. But Richard Rohr and Henri Nouwen, both Catholic priests, are still my two go-to guys for wisdom about love. Ann Lamott, who I think is Presbyterian,  is my go-to girl for honestly living out loud, the partners’ dance of our humanity and grace. 

Here’s Richard’s take on God alive and well in all the world’s religions in spite of our unfinished humanity.

 Learning from Others

If something is true, no matter who said it, it is always from the Holy Spirit. —Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate

Father Richard reflects on how his commitment to Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have continually helped him recognize God in other traditions:

In my own life, going deep in the Christian religion of my birth has enabled me to see the same Spirit and Love in other religions as well. It’s been quite a journey from growing up in a Catholic “ghetto” in Kansas, and hardly even knowing any Protestants. And yet, at age fourteen, I was sent to study with the Franciscans in Cincinnati, Ohio, and they gave me a very ecumenical theological education.

One of the best courses I had was on the Hebrew Scriptures, which gave me a great love for Judaism. It’s probably why I emphasize the prophets so much, because I realized the prophets really weren’t about what we call today retributive justice. They were about restorative justice. When we stay with their message, there will be these magnificent passages toward the end of their books that invariably point toward love. God eventually says through the prophets: “I’m going to love you anyway. I’m going to redeem you by my perfect love. I’m going to love you into wholeness” (see Isaiah 29:13–24 and Hosea 6:1–6).

In 1969, when I was sent as a deacon to the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, I had only a basic introduction to Indigenous religions. I observed how mothers in the pueblo would show their children how to silently wave the morning sunshine toward their faces, just as we learn to “bless” ourselves with the sign of the cross. Indigenous peoples here had contemplative prayer long before we Franciscans ever appeared.

The rediscovery of Christian contemplation opened my eyes to Buddhists and Sufis—their teachings and practitioners. Buddhism taught me the phenomenology of perception—what’s going on in our brains. Every world religion at the mature levels discovers some forms of practice to free us from our addictive mind, which we take as normal. Starting in the 1960s, our increased interaction with Eastern religions in general, and Buddhism in particular, helped us recognize and rediscover our own very ancient Christian contemplative tradition. The Sufis’ deep love of mysticism, especially as expressed by their poets Rumi and Hafiz, often captures the stirrings of my own heart.

My latest discovery was really Hinduism, which is considered the oldest world religion. In the early 1980s, I gave a retreat in Nepal; between talks I would just walk the old streets and walk into temples and try to remain invisible. I remember these lovely Indian women coming in wearing saris, so gracefully, and paying no attention to anything else except maybe the flame or the oil they were holding. With what reverence they would bow! What do we think they’re bowing to except God, the Mystery?