Category Archives: Paradox

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.

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.

Christian Idols

Focus on mainly one aspect of Christianity: Unbalanced Scriptural Interpretation, A Hierarchy that comes between God and humanity, Over emphasis on either this life or the next, ALL lead to idol worship.

Fundamentalist Christians have to struggle not to make an idol of scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture is vitally important, because scripture introduces us to Jesus. Jesus speaks to where individuals are and calls each to growth now, just as He did the people in the scriptures. He wasn’t adding more rules. The Jews had plenty of them. Our call is to an ongoing, deepening relationship with a living Savior who continues to show us the way of love that changes us. Though scriptures may be like letters from God about Jesus, they are not God, and He is not limited to them. And Jesus himself, was sent to awaken us to God’s Spirit within us and all around us.

Catholics have to struggle to not make an idol of the hierarchy of the church. Again, Jesus is the Word of God to each of us. The spirit of God grows in us through a personal relationship with Jesus. The church can be a rich place of nurture with its tradition of spirituality, but ultimately we are personally accountable for growing in our relationship to God through Jesus, the Way of love. The Church may be our mother, but it is not God, and God is not limited to it.

Liberal Protestants tend to idolize ideals for our physical world and this life. Which once again, are good things, and part of our call to stewardship and love, but are not God or our ultimate reason for being, because physical life is not all there is, either now or forever. That’s what the resurrection was about. Humbling though it may be, it is not just about our intellectual ideals for this life. It’s about recognizing our incompleteness and accepting the call to a growing relationship with God through the human expression of both His love and the spirituality that He is calling us to, Jesus.

The Scriptures and the commandments; the church and its traditions of spirituality; caring for the physical well being of others and our world, are all good and absolutely vital parts of Christianity, but none of them is God. None of them are a substitute for a personal relationship with God, which for Christians is given life and nurtured by our relationship with Jesus who is the love of God fleshed out for all.

Out of that relationship can flow a love for scripture, a love for the spirituality and community of the church, a love for all creation and all humanity and a valuing of all of these and appreciation for those whom God has given gifts in each area. It is not any one or two of these. It is the balance found when we value all equally. There is one God, expressing Love in Jesus, and empowering us to grow and minister to others by the gifts of the Spirit within each of us.

We are all children of God, but we are born with different personalities that have different gifts and ways of both seeing and being, so we need each other. When we only value one aspect of the kingdom of God, the one that is easiest for us, we have turned a good thing into an idol. Our inability to value and incorporate others’ focus and understanding, has led us to a church on every corner claiming to have a monopoly on truth, all of the truth and nothing but the truth, which pretty much is a claim to being equal to God.

Jesus, Himself, was sent to lead us to God, not just to Himself. His love, laying down his life for us, is the Way to God. He was taken away, so that we too would be filled with and led by God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit is love, love for all His creation and all His creatures. And the world will know that we are His by our growth in love, love that will free us to lay down our life with its hubris of believing we have a monopoly on truth.

Anything else is an idol.

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There is No “Other.”

One midnight in pristine newly fallen snow, I walked alone into a field on a hill where billions of stars gave light to the night. The silence was so profound, I could feel it like a soft comforter around me. As I gazed into an endless sky of light, I felt myself shrinking, almost disappearing into the vastness of the universe. Then suddenly, my boundaries disappeared and I was one with it all. I was inseparable from every star, every person, creature and mysterious molecule in that vastness. And I could no longer see anyone or anything as “other.”

I Am Not You

The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)

A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.

Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.)  It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!

The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being.  It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.

The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots.  Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.

There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing.  It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But believe me, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.

Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time when the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.

What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.

What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.

Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world.  Then, it can also help us accept not only that our way is a gift to the world, but that it isn’t enough.  We then can begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value both ourselves and those who are very different from us.  It isn’t either/or.  And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.

Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me.  It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth.  My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!”  And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.”   As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me,  One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on.  And  Two:  Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved.  And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.

The MBTI isn’t gospel.  But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.

There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com” that offers greater understanding of the going with the flow of letting go and developing in new areas until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to let scary changes open my eyes to opportunities in my new life at eighty-two as a widow.

Adventures in Grace

When we know with both heart and mind that we are loved at our worst and unfinished at our best, our lives become adventures in grace.