Category Archives: discernment

We See Through the Glass Darkly: We Need One Another

Human beings, even in the same families, are born with unbelievably different ways of being in the world. It seems like God really complicated life on earth by making us this diverse. Yet, the mystics of all the world’s religions insist that the spiritual reality is that we are all one.

And even the Apostle Paul tells Christians, that we, the person next to us in the pew, and presumably the Christians worshiping God across the street and around the corner, are the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is an indispensable part that needs all the other parts to function as Jesus Christ’s visible presence in the world today. When the smallest, least important part is ignored or neglected, the whole body suffers.

Some years ago, when reflecting on this scripture while preparing a sermon for a group of Directors of Christian Education from diverse denominations, a very disturbing image suddenly filled my mind. I saw a person with their arms flailing in different directions, their head twisting side to side, and their out of sync legs struggling to stumble forward even a little with each step.

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach as I grasped the reality that this is the Body of Christ now. I literally cried aloud, “God, what can I do?” And immediately into my mind came the answer, “Admit what you can’t do.”
Well, that took me several decades. 

But I have finally realized that neither I, nor any of us, can discern God’s will unless we recognize with Paul that we see through the glass darkly. No matter what our natural gifts or spiritual ministries are, we need to be humble enough to consider other visions, so we don’t block what the Spirit is saying to the Body of Christ at any particular moment in time. Our vision may be valid, but just not in God’s timing for a particular part of His motley crew of Christians.

And like Paul, I have finally come to see that the most important gift really is love. That no matter how wonderful our own gifts are, unless we do the work of God with hearts open to all, with gentleness, sensitivity, patience and above all, humility, we become a noisy clanging cymbal that cripples the Body of Christ and blocks our broken hurting world from hearing the love of God expressed in Jesus.

The Broken Body

Reflecting on the Body,
you the hand, I the foot,
Christ the head, perhaps the heart,
all at times the hidden part,
I let the Scriptures
flood my mind with images,
with suddenly one image,
a moving picture
so harshly real
I gasp aloud.
A person staggers
stumbles forward,
arms flailing, head jerking
back and forth in spasms,
body parts all pulling
different ways.
This then, reality,
Christ’s earthly body now.

God, forgive us.

The prayer of my heart:
“Jesus, I want so much to use the gifts God gave me and the gifts of your Spirit to bring your love to our broken world and hurting people. Give me both the courage to let God use me and the humility to accept God’s timing. But most of all teach me how to love humbly, so that I do not become a clanging gong or clashing cymbals blocking others from knowing your love.”

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Some Blocks and Keys to Success

Finding what we love and have the talents for takes longer for some of us than others. We may have a lot of small talents and interests, so we tend to move from one project or job to another.
Often those who naturally have good study or work habits will out-perform those that appear to have more talent or higher IQ’s.
And lack of confidence can cause us to be over sensitive to suggestions for improvement, making us unteachable and leading to discouragement and giving up.
But, when we combine our natural abilities and focus those on what we value most, it makes a huge difference in how well we do.
Then motivation becomes the key to perseverance. And even those of us who hate detail and repetition can manage to do the necessary nitty-gritty to accomplish what we consider important.
PRIORITIZE: What interests and energizes you most that you are reasonably competent to do?
FOCUS: Identify resources of time, money, space, training, materials, and support people needed to accomplish this.
PERSEVERE: Don’t give up if you fail. Learn from your mistakes. Get help when you need it. Constructive criticism is instruction. Be realistic in your goal.

The Poor Are Not Voiceless, just Prefered Unheard

by CRAIG GREENFIELD

Being a “voice for the voiceless” is one of those things that we’ve solidly embraced as Christians. But the phrase no longer sits so well with me.

Sometimes, being a “voice for the voiceless” is another excuse to place ourselves at the centre of the story. It can become a subtle way of being a white savior, pushing ourselves to the forefront and taking the place of honour (Lk 14:8).

And when we do that, we marginalize poor people all over again. By attempting to be their voice, when they already have a voice.

When we speak for people who may prefer to speak for themselves, we reinforce their “voicelessness”.

We confuse not being heard, with having nothing to say.

Did you ever notice how often Jesus encouraged someone to use their voice? He asked beggars and lepers what they wanted him to do, when it must have seemed obvious that the guy was covered in sores or blind and needed healing.

So, I’d like to suggest 3 alternatives that may be more appropriate than being a “voice for the voiceless”:

1. Listen and learn first

Sometimes, I’m so pissed off by a situation of injustice that I’ve just read about on the Book of Face, that I’m tempted to leap to being a “voice for the voiceless” before I’ve even listened properly to those who are being oppressed. With social media, this temptation is racheted right up.

The trick isn’t to NEVER speak or post, but to remember the significance of listening properly to the stories of others first so that you can deepen your understanding of the issue. As Sarah Bessey says, “The problem isn’t their “voicelessness,” it is that we are not listening.”

Jesus himself, who knew everything, asked people questions and listened carefully to the answers, instead of lecturing the poor or talking about them ignorantly. He spent 30 years living among the people, before he ever opened his mouth publically.

2. Amplify their voice

After listening to people in unjust situations, what if instead of speaking for them, we looked for ways to amplify THEIR voices?

One of the practices I personally have tried to use, is bringing a”co-speaker” with me, usually a young Cambodian, when I am invited as a keynote speaker at events and conferences. I usually find, they will be the star of the show and their testimony is deeply impactful.

What if we used our influence to help lift up others and spread the stories of those who are oppressed or overlooked, allowing them to take centre stage, while we serve and encourage?

3. Speak of both the tragedy and the resilience

The way we “speak up and defend the rights of the needy” (Prov 31:9) says a lot about our understanding of justice and transformation.

When we speak only of the tragedy, and nothing of the resilience of the people involved, we paint them as helpless victims. Calling them voiceless when they are not voiceless reinforces the narrative that they are pathetic and can do nothing.

On the flipside, when we speak only of their resilience and nothing of the tragedy, we ignore the reality of their suffering.

We need to learn to do both – speak of the tragedy AND the resilience – as in this post. Arundhati Roy reminds us to “never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.”

Expensive Grace

Anything that annoys you is teaching you patience.                                                                             Anyone who abandons you is teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet.                   Anything that angers you is teaching you forgiveness and compassion.                                       Anything that has power over you is teaching you how to take your power back.                        Anything you hate is teaching you unconditional love.                                                                        Anything you fear is teaching you courage to overcome your fear.                                                  Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.
Jackson Kiddard Quotebook.in

The Narrow Gate

My memories collide with one another,
congesting into
higgley-piggley log jams
in my mind.
Complexity clutters my understanding
and confusions of
cobwebs cling to my bold
broken dreams.
Creativity thickens and congeals,
dwindling into small,
fallow pools clotted with
frustration.
Idols of old truths and securities
crack from the weight of
my twin to Thomas doubt and
Judas fear.
Now, a voice within gently warns me,
“Narrow gate ahead!
You must not be afraid
to let go.”
So, in this present moment I must trust
my inner Spirit
to transform even this
suffering,
with her woman’s powerful compassion
that can turn empty deserts
into hearts fertile
from her tears.

EON 1991

Christians Carry Two Passports

Christians carry two passports: one for the country in which we find ourselves, and another for that baptismal nation being made by God from all the nations.” Will Willimon applies Eberhard Arnold’s vision of the kingdom of God to the world we face in 2017:
Alien Citizens
The most revolutionary political statement we can make is that Jesus reigns; that God, not nations, rules the world: All political, all social, all educational, all human problems are solved in a concrete way by the rulership of Christ.
PLOUGH.COM|

MY TWO CENTS: Many of us have accepted Jesus as our Savior……that’s the easy part. Many of us have said we accept Him as our Lord (Ruler)…… that becoming a reality is the hard part. It takes at least a life time. We are often programmed by our parents and even more so by our culture to value many things that may not be evil, but in reality can become more important to us than the rule of God. Unlearning is harder than learning, because we don’t realize we need to do it.
Even “good” things can become idols. Sometimes we aren’t called to give up our values, but to turn them over to God and trust enough to hear Him just for the next step on our spiritual journey. This applies to Christians on both sides of any issue.

Tattoo for an Old Lady

I’m seriously thinking of getting a tattoo. The problem is that it would have to go either on my back side or my stomach to have enough space. That would defeat the purpose, because I couldn’t see it well in either place. And the whole point would be to have it as a permanent and visible reminder. Here it is:
Tips for Mental Health
Feelings are not facts!
Seven important things we need to develop:
1. The will to bear both physical and emotional discomfort (and only whine on Monday).
2. The courage to make mistakes, admit them, take responsibility for them, learn from them, ask and accept forgiveness, and then for goodness sake, MOVE ON!
3. Patience with small gains.
4. The will to do what down deep, we know we should.
5. The determination to stop digging up the past. (If necessary, write it down, cremate it and let the wind carry it away.)
6. The energy and caring to help others. (Look around: we are surrounded by invisible lonely people. We don’t have to fix them, just let them know we see them.)
7. The wisdom to not let the perfect defeat the good.

God’s Terrible Taste

I had a somewhat amusing, slightly terrifying thought this morning. God loves both Trump and Hillary equally and unconditionally. God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are. I’ve always said God has terrible taste, because God loves everyone. God loves sinners and saints, the smart and the stupid, the kind and the cruel, the sane and the insane, the crook and the law-abiding. Boy! That means if God has His/Her way, heaven is going to be as diverse as earth. I guess I better start forgiving a lot of people, so I can fit in with all of the above. I find I can forgive people if I can picture them as a child with a childhood that was unbalanced between love and the reality of there being consequences of our choices. Often, too much love and no consequences has pretty much the same effect as too little love and unrealistic expectations. Both are impossible to outgrow without the grace of recognizing both God’s love and the consequences of our choices. The present friendship and cooperation between Bill Clinton and the Bushes show how the responsibilities of the office of President obviously challenge Presidents to outgrow their limited viewpoint. So, regardless of whom you vote for, pray for both of them to experience God’s love and be freed to become the person God created them to be, whether they are in or out of political office.

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True Confessions of a LOL Kind

Don’t get hopeful. LOL here means “Little Old Lady.”
I belong to a LOL group in a small church. Last week at our meeting, several LOL’s expressed concerns for the welfare or a growing homeless population in our small rural town. Our church doesn’t have much money and the women who don’t work are mostly between seventy and ninety-three. So, I offered to research the problem to find out the main places the homeless were gathering and what groups were already helping them to see if there was a way for us to contribute to one of those in some small way. The next day I was preparing for my turn to lead part of Sunday’s service by reading the Lectionary Scriptures for that Sunday. All of them were focused on helping the poor, including the Gospel story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the beggar at his gate. This is a “Come to Jesus and Get with the Program” scripture, plain and simple. So, I gave one of my tiny sermonettes (I call them sermons from the molehill as opposed to on the mount or from the pulpit). And I ended it with,”The question Jesus is asking us today is, ‘Who is the beggar at YOUR gate?”
I had left my purse at the far end of the pew near the door, but when turning the pulpit over to our minister, I sat down at the other end of the pew. Usually my husband is with me, but he was out of town on a family emergency. A few minutes later, an elderly woman came in the door and sat down right behind my purse. She looked shabby enough to be homeless. I happened to have a rare hundred dollar bill that I had been saving for a couple of months in my purse. My first concern, I’m ashamed to confess, was that the woman would steal my hundred dollars. I didn’t want to be obvious about this by scooting across the empty pew and grabbing my purse. About then I noticed that she was crying. Instead of concern, I saw this as a chance to slide down and give her some kleenex out of my purse and then just sit there hanging on to my money. Another LOL saw her crying and came over to console her and find out what was wrong. It turned out she was being evicted from a room she rented, because she was behind in her rent. Well, I sat there thinking “beggar at my gate!” So, I finally got my hundred dollar bill out and handed it to her. Instead of being happy about doing that, I just consoled myself that she hadn’t gotten my credit card. Talk about your LOLC…(That’s Little Old Lady Curmudgeon.)
Any way, one of our Deacons went with her after church and paid her rent and a couple from the neighborhood took her to the grocery and bought her food. Well I’m sure she thought Christmas had come early, because she insisted that she wanted to keep coming to our church if someone would give her a ride on Sundays. I’ll be honest, we’re a liberal church and it’s much more natural for us to take care of people’s physical needs than spiritual. Though preferably at a moderate distance. And liberal though we are, she looked pretty flea bitten. So far nobody, including yours truly, has offered to pick her up. My first thought was we’d better find a bus, because when she went back with the “good news,” the rest of the almost homeless people living where she did were going to want to come too.
My friend, the LOL Deacon, has started planning on gathering help from some of our more prominent citizens to find a building to house the homeless, hire a director, and get grants to underwrite it’s upkeep. I confess that right now that sounds like a totally overwhelming project to me, but I am trying to be open to the grace to at least pick up our new friend, Wanda, and bring her to church on Sunday. Feel free to pray for all concerned. When I was a new Christian, I was so idealistic and impractical, I ended up getting literally robbed by people I helped and my children harmed even by people in Christian ministry that I took into my home. So, now I’m trying to “be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Mt.10:16 Funny thing, the name of our church’s women’s group is “The Doves.”

Eileen, the reluctant Christian

Grace Comes in our Helplessness and in the Present Moment

For me who naturally lives in the ideal land of possibilities, it takes both faith and perseverance to find grace when facing the harsh limits of human reality. I can only stand up to my inner Greek Chorus, that keeps me frighteningly aware of my frailties, by focusing on God who simply says over and over, “I love you.”

Some twenty-five years ago by the end of my mother’s fourteen years of dying by inches from Alzheimer’s, I really wasn’t strong enough to devote myself to holding her hand and sitting helplessly with her at the foot of her cross. It was partly because of my own emotional weakness, some because of selfishness, but ultimately because her suffering shook my faith in God.

Now, I’m being challenged once again to seek grace to live that out as my husband’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis progresses. Some personalities are naturally reasonably good at accepting reality, however harsh it may be. But I’ve always been a change agent, a problem solver,  a person that is good at finding alternative solutions.

Now, I know that there comes a time when that is not what we are able or even called to do, no matter how naturally good we are at it.
We are called to find grace in our weakness. But that is terrifying and only done by staying aware that though we are not good at this, God is and God is with us.

And grace comes only in the present moment.  That is where God meets us. And learning to live in the present moment is a whole new way of being in the world for many of us. Some of us live in the past, while others focus on the future.  I’ve always focused on the future with its infinite possibilities.  So my first challenge is to only ask where is God in this moment and reach for His hand. My second challenge is to accept that God isn’t asking me to solve anything, but to trust and stay with Him in the circumstances, like Mary at the foot of the cross of those we love most.