Category Archives: relationships

Forgiveness, the Heart of Love and the Core of Christianity

In the Gospel of John, when the risen Jesus appears to the frightened disciples, he says something unexpected and amazing. He tells them, if they forgive anyone’s sins, they’re forgiven. But if they don’t, then they aren’t. This isn’t power, this is responsibility. Jesus has spent three years trying to make them understand that receiving forgiveness and forgiving others are inseparable. In his agony on the cross he prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That prayer was not only for all those who played a part in his physical crucifixion that day, but for all of us who continue to crucify him in each other.
The humbling, often heartbreaking, recognition of the harm we have done to someone is designed to bring the life changing acceptance of God’s forgiveness that gives us the grace to forgive others. It’s all one spiritual process. Sometimes, our first clue to what we need to ask forgiveness for is what we cannot forgive in another.                                           And over and over the message is the same: forgiveness is the heart of love, the core of Christianity, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it’s our commission. And there is no escape clause in the small print even about forgiving repeat offenders. Remember the seventy times seven?
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, Whenever you are praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. This isn’t just a whim of God. It’s a cause and effect that was designed into the human condition.                                                                                                                                   Listen closely. Jesus died so that we might be forgiven, but in order to accept forgiveness, we have to admit humbly and sorrowfully when we need it, so we can be freed by grace to pass forgiveness on. This is the key to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus gave us, because all fall short of the glory of God.

Note:  Forgiving a broken person does not mean allowing them to abuse you or anyone else.  God forgives them, but doesn’t remove consequences that can make them recognize the need to change.

Sources of Grace for Scary Times

This is a break from my series, because so many of us are struggling right now with fear and depression:

So, I am being redundant – again. (That’s a lot of redundancy.)

My two hands-down favorite authors of a spirituality rooted in Jesus, but not religion, are Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott.

Henri Nouwen writes incredibly healing and understandable theology saturated with the love of God. He chose to spend the latter years of his life living in a community for the mentally handicapped. For an introduction and short overview of his writing, I recommend,” A Spirituality of Living.” Also another short book: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, which changed some of my deeply rooted prejudices.  He was a Catholic priest, but wasn’t limited by it. 🙂

For our nitty-gritty stuggle to live a grace filled life, I don’t think there’s a better author than Anne Lamott. Anne’s spiritual journey has been through alcoholism, abortion, single motherhood, great losses, and a terrible bitterness toward her mother on to the freedom of self- honesty, the grace of humor, and an always growing acceptance of others. She finds this amazing grace from a personal relationship with a risen Jesus, who is still calling us, healing us, walking with us, forgiving us, and suffering for and with us. I think she belongs to a small Presbyterian church with a woman minister. Or it might be non-denominational or both. She’s definitely eclectic in her spirituality. She has written novels, but I much prefer her autobiographical books. She is the most personally honest writer I’ve ever read. Here are several of her books: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually). She also has a marvelous face-book page that will share to your own page her day to day struggles with discouragement over our current political situation.

I realize that we are all very different and these authors might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am by personality focused on relationship, but not everyone is. These authors’ writings are what help sustain me in my journey by always reminding me of my greatest (though not, only) source of grace, the Love of God expressed in Jesus.

Law and Pleasure: Gifts from and Paths to God, but Not God.

The perceived conflict between body and spirit precedes Christianity and has alternately been absorbed and rejected by both Christian and non-Christian cultures over thousands of years. Generally, humanity goes from one extreme to the other by simply reacting, rather than responding, to excesses. This is a human evolutionary issue, not limited to Christianity. We just live in a society where reactionary Christians are the loudest right now.
Idols are subtle issues and vary between making an idol of the Law to making an idol of Pleasure by simply making one of them THE priority without taking into account the resulting human suffering this causes.
Both Law and Pleasure are gifts from God and both can be paths to God, but they are NOT God.
When we make Law into a God without any allowance for preventing brutality to other human beings, we defeat the purpose of law. Law is simply the beginning stage of logic and love. To live together humanely, we need laws. The minimum of loving others is to not kill, rob or use them for our own purposes.
As those humans inclined to consider future possibilities have evolved, they have challenged the rest of humanity to value not only pleasure and propagation, but relationships between humans: from mates, to parents and children, to families, to tribes, to nations, to hemispheres, to the world, to the natural world, and now, the universe. Humanity, however, does not mature easily or smoothly, but progresses in extreme zig-zags between ideal goals and present practical realities. Unfortunately, there are seldom any serious attempts to balance or blend the two.
Our concept of love has evolved from don’t kill or rob each other, to love others as you love yourself, and hopefully, we are finally beginning to recognize that when Jesus gave his life for us, he was both illustrating and calling us to whole new level of love. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
This brings us to the challenge to integrate body and spirit. Limiting ourselves to body ends up in hedonism, making pleasure an idol. Limiting ourselves to spirit ends up in an unrealistic asceticism that makes law an idol. Recognizing that we separate body and spirit at our own peril, we can find that when blended they both become paths to God/Love. Being loved by a human being is our appetizer, our small taste of the Spirit of Love that is God. Only when we integrate the two, do we avoid the pitfalls of the idols of hedonism and asceticism and even begin to want to learn to love one another as God loves us.
This is theory. Part Two follows by applying these ideas to “Natural” Marriage and Right to Life issues.

Hoge Poge and My Brother’s Birthday

I promise you I have been off any pain meds except Tylenol for over two weeks. Pain medicine makes my coffee taste terrible for a couple of months after I quit taking it and I am definitely addicted to my coffee.  But, as usual for someone who loves thinking about theories or possibilities instead of paying attention to the actual world around her, peculiarities still happen. I got to a doctors appointment recently and as they were taking my blood pressure, I realized I had my blouse on inside out. Of course, me being me, I didn’t keep quiet and just take the first chance alone to right it. The two nurses swore they hadn’t noticed. Which worried me a bit, because I like my medical people to stay aware of the real world in front of them, particularly when I am it.

Then a few nights ago when I was still wearing my back brace at night, I awoke to make one of my usual trips to check out the plumbing, but couldn’t get up because I was unable to move my arms. Luckily before I panicked, my attempts to free my arms made that noise peculiar to Velcro being tugged loose. It happens that the two wrist braces I wear at night for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have Velcro similar to that on the back brace. Somehow, I had Velcroed my arms to my body. I woke my husband up with my laughter, but managed to get loose without help.

Strange things also come to memory when I have way too much time on my hands while recuperating from back surgery.
Today is my brother’s birthday. He’s my only sibling and ten years younger than I am. I was trying to remember anything about the day he was born, but couldn’t. I don’t know if I just wasn’t sufficiently impressed with that event or perhaps I was significantly depressed and blotted it out. Because I do remember riding the train with my very pregnant mom back to St. Louis when my Dad got a job there after being in the army. She was very uncomfortable in the old Pullman berth and needed my pillow. I think that was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be like getting a kitten.
I remember living on the seventh floor without air conditioning and only having screens on the windows. And when my brother was about eighteen months old I found him sitting on the window sill in the bedroom with his face pressed against the flimsy screen. I didn’t scream or grab for him, but I did get mom.  Then we had to live with those child gates on all the windows. Kind of like a kiddie prison decor.

He had natural talent in art and music, but as the “late” child never got lessons. Where as, my nun piano teacher after three or four years suggested they try me on the drum instead. Life is not fair, is it? But when he was twelve and I had married and moved to Tennessee, I sent money for him to go to the Fine Arts Museum for Art Lessons. Unfortunately, I think my mother quit driving him to them, when she found out they were doing life painting of nudes. Oh, well, at least I tried.

I have wonderful memories of the many years he came to visit us in our hundred acre, Winnie the Pooh wood.  We two city kids, that had lived seven floors up, thought we’d died and gone to heaven. He enjoyed the country even more than I did, being willing one summer to haul water in buckets up to our garden during a drought. I would have just waved good bye to those tomatoes from the house.  I fell in  love with all the weeds and rocks and spent years making crafts with them. And he would bring an empty suitcase to take back full of rocks and fossils from our creek.  He taught a class in geology in Houston which only had sand and shells.

He and I would talk until sun-up about everything from politics and religion to physics and geology. He had so much passion about everything, I loved every moment. When he was teaching in a huge high school in a very impoverished neighborhood, he was constantly at war with the administration, who seemed only interested in their own survival, not the kids welfare. I know he was a good teacher, because when he retired, the adversarial principal told him grudgingly that no matter what they asked his students, (one of whom had held a knife to my brother’s throat once), they would never “rat” him out!

So, happy birthday to my “BRO” who all my friends think is much funnier than I am. He needs to be the writer in the family, but since retirement, he has opted to fight nature and turn a flood plain into a botanical garden.  Not too different from teaching .

Giving the Devil His Due: Senator Alexander’s Response to My Letter on Same Sex Marriage

A Mother’s Plea to Not Reinforce Prejudice and Precipitate Violence

My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean and our Senator Lamar Alexander’s letter in response.

1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.

2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.

Alexander’s Response possibly indicates he may have actually read my letter.

Dear Eileen,
Thank you for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

I believe that the states, not the courts, should be responsible for deciding how to define marriage. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruing is now the law of the land. Congress will have to carefully consider the effect of this ruling on religious liberty and religious institutions.

I’m grateful you took the time to let me know what is on your mind regarding same-sex marriage and I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as this issue is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.,

Sincerely,

Lamar Alexander

Maybe he read my letter and this response is his and not an aide’s. It’s the only response I’ve gotten from Senators or Representatives at state or federal level that even slightly sounded like someone actually was responding to what I said. It encourages me to continue writing on other issues also.

I have been calling, emailing, and writing letters and post cards. The responses to my emails didn’t make sense. The calls were answered
by interns politely and were hopefully at least counted. Letters get slower responses because of security checks, but they may be what actually gets read. I plan on keeping on doing all of the above.

A Mother’s Plea to Not Reinforce Prejudice and Precipitate Violence

My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean  ( An Edited and Condensed Previous Blog Post )

1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.

2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.

The Death of Feminine Values?

I am struggling with the turns feminism has taken. I thought it was about freeing women to be themselves, not expecting them all to want and be good at the same things, and that women who needed to work or chose to work outside the home would be rewarded equally with men. And my hopes for it were that it would bring traditional feminine values into the places of power traditionally held by men. I realize that not all women are nurturing, any more than all men are competitive. So when I talk about traditional feminine or masculine values, I am not limiting the yin and yang of them exclusively to either gender. Of course, like any movement or theory, we manage somehow to always take it to illogical extremes. Our economy has adjusted to two salaries and now, unless we marry and both partners work or one partner makes a whole lot of money, women need to work. So, the ones that want to be hands on with raising their children and love to cook and decorate and create and maintain beauty and welcome for others in their home environments are more and more forced into working outside the home, often in very limiting and non-creative jobs. And many women, who are not married, live close to poverty.
I went to an exhibit at the Frist museum recently on the history of the Samurai. Samurai were the greatly respected and highly honored soldiers of Japan. During a long peaceful time in Japan’s history, there were women Samurai. This period led to better treatment for women. Though better is a relative thing. Still, it surprised me, since this was a long time ago and  it was a position of honor traditionally only held by men.
In Sweden, Dads are now being given turns with wives at new parent time off from work. And two American women have qualified as Army Rangers. The whole point these days is to not consider anything as identified appropriate for only one gender.                                       This would work out, if nurturing professions and skills were rewarded the same as combative ones. Though the rank and file of the military don’t get paid extravagant salaries, as long as they are on active duty they live in a completely socialistic society. Retired military used to have pretty much the same benefits, but with constant wars the cost of supporting the military and war has gone up with corresponding cuts in veteran benefits and services. If you aren’t actively killing enemies, you aren’t important any more. Teachers are underpaid.  They are not provided free medical care, reasonable housing, cheap retail prices, inexpensive or free social activities, free churches and religious education, and special schools for their children. And frankly these days a lot of schools in the civilian arena are the equivalent of war zones.                                                           I think what I am trying to say is that while I want women and men to be equal, I also want traditional feminine values such as nurture and inclusiveness, to be considered equally important and rewarded as such.                                                                                                             Sexual mores are obviously now emphasizing the pleasure of sex as more important than its role in creating, deepening, and strengthening relationships. When the immediate gratification through pleasure becomes the accepted goal in life, relationships become disposable. Human relationships are simply not constantly pleasurable. They aren’t even meant to be. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake only, with no balancing maturing in relationships, leads to a population of aging irresponsible children.                                               Okay, I haven’t thought all of this through, so I need to stop and reflect on it. It’s hard to free myself from my generation’s programming enough to discern what is progress and what is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I tend to think traditional feminine values (not roles) are more evolved than masculine ones, so I don’t want to have those values disappear.  Obviously, I am prejudiced. But, before I take a break, I have one funny story that sort of illustrates some of the challenges.

Some years ago I had an army staff sergeant friend who had fought in Korea and Vietnam. Close to the end of his twenty years, he was given a cushy staff assignment in Boston near his wife’s hometown. After several staff meetings with his female officers all crying at times in each meeting, he volunteered to go to Korea, which was not a cushy assignment. I could understand a reasonably kind, but combat seasoned soldier, being uncomfortable with weeping officers, but I also wondered if the officers on all sides of conflicts cried instead of becoming aggressive, maybe it would cut down on the wars. After all, Jesus wept, why shouldn’t we.

 

This Life: Appetizers Only

During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.

Heartbreaks that have brought grace:

The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.

Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.

Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.

Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.

Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.

Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.

Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:

The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.

These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life. 

Passiondeathresurrection: the Narrow Gate

Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and  sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering.                                                         Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of  humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.