Category Archives: Saved by grace and not by law

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.

Motherhood (Part Two of Law and Pleasure Series)

I was born in 1937 and married in 1958. I was a born idealist, living mostly in the imagined beauty of future possibilities. I grew up Catholic, but with only one sibling who was ten years younger than I am. I envied my Catholic school mates with lots of sisters and brothers as built-in playmates. My religion sent me a lot of mixed messages about my worth as a woman, but motherhood was definitely held up as the ultimate purpose for a woman.
Although I went to college on a full scholarship at Rice University, which was a predominately male, technical school, I simply didn’t feel attracted to a career. I was a history major that didn’t want to teach. I wanted to get married and dreamer that I was, I thought I’d enjoy having a lot of children as playmates. In fact, when I married, we spent time picking out names for thirteen children of both genders. (Thirteen was my lucky number. I passed Calculus on the thirteenth of one month and was chosen as a Yearbook Beauty on another thirteenth. At the time, I didn’t realize that neither of these was going to be particularly helpful in bringing up children.)
My father wanted me to be a scientist. So he discouraged me from taking Home Economics at my girls’ only high school and my mother gave up after one disastrous attempt to teach me how to cook.
She had decided to start me off as simply as possible with a cornbread mix. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl, add water, some vegetable oil, stir and put it all in a greased pan. She put everything out, pointed out the instructions on the box and left me to it. I was doing fine, really. But she came in right before I was going to put it in the pan. She said, “OK. Now, wash your hands and put it into the baking pan.” And she left again. I was confused. My mind tends to connect ideas and discover new possibilities. This is often a gift, except when I connect the wrong things. I wondered why I needed to wash my hands? I did remember reading somewhere that bread baking involved using your hands for some reason. So, I began to scoop out the mix with my hand and shake-fling it into the pan– and around it. Between what missed the pan and what was stuck to my hands, there wasn’t much left to cook. As I was standing there puzzled, mom returned, took one look, and yelled, “What in the world are you doing? What a mess!” I started crying and backed away from the mess. Unfortunately, I backed into the stove where there was a small pot of melted butter for the fresh artichokes mom was cooking. The butter went everywhere, down into the burner, down the front of the stove, down my back, onto the floor. As Mother stood open mouthed in horror, I fled sobbing to my room and threw myself, butter and all, onto my bed.
Mother was also a perfectionist housekeeper. Since my mind was usually occupied with ideas and impossible dreams, my attention to physical details was pretty much non-existent. So Mom didn’t delegate many housekeeping tasks either. And since she herself didn’t iron, I never acquired that skill either. Are you beginning to feel sorry for my husband, who fell in love with me at first sight in Calculus class?
Coming back from our honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, we visited my in-laws in Nashville. Then as now, fifty-eight years later, my husband wore white button down dress shirts. I decided to wash and iron them, more in an attempt to impress my in-laws, than out of love. It never occurred to me that this was an acquired skill, not a natural talent for all women. I remember hearing my father-in-law come into the house asking in a loud voice, “What’s burning?” and my mother-in-law hushing him with, “It’s Eileen ironing.”
The next part of this series will deal with both some of the humorous challenges of having four children in five years and the Religious crisis of my doctor telling me that having another cesarean section in the next few years would most likely kill me and my Catholic Pastor’s response that, “Lots of children end up with very good step-mothers.”

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.

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.

Christian Paradoxes

For all of you who aren’t sure, it is possible to be gay and Christian. It’s also possible to believe in God and science. It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion.
It is equally possible to be a feminist and love and respect men. It’s possible to have privilege and be discriminated against, to be poor and have a rich life, to not have a job and still have money.
It is possible to believe in sensible gun control legislation and still believe in one’s right to defend one’s self, family, and property, it’s possible to be anti-war and pro-military.
It is possible to love thy neighbor and despise his actions. It is possible to advocate Black Lives Matter and still be pro police. It is possible to not have an education and be brilliant. It is possible to be Muslim and also suffer at the hands of terrorists. It is possible to be a non-American fighting for the American dream.
It is possible to be different and the same.
We are all walking contradictions of what “normal” looks like.
Let humanity and love win.

This is a quote for which I am trying to find the original author. Will post their name when I find it.

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.

Spirituality fulfills the Law: The Beatitudes

Spirituality is foreign to us, because it is paradoxical and few of us have had training in grasping paradox. We’re faced with the challenge of choosing to lose so we can win and die so we can live. And that takes grace rather than logic, morals, or ethics.
Opening to grace requires admitting we need it. And that’s the leap of faith that jump starts our spiritual journey.
The following are my paraphrases of the Beatitudes. I have translated the word “blessed” as meaning “open to grace.”     The originals are in Matthew 5:3-11
The Beatitudes
Graced are the poor in spirit for they are not filled with self-righteousness, so they are able to be open to God.
Graced are those that accept the pain of loss for they will find the Comforter’s joy within instead of settling for  pleasure to escape pain.
Graced are those who do not need to own or control anything, for they are free to enjoy the beauty of everything.
Graced are those who know and regret that they are imperfect, for they are free to accept Jesus as their righteousness.
Graced are those who recognize the log in their own eye, for they can accept the unconditional love of God and grow more and more able to love imperfect humans, including themselves.
Graced are those who are focused on God, for they will see God everywhere.
Graced are the peacemakers, because no cause or group owns them; they belong only to God.
Graced are those persecuted for Jesus’ sake, for they know Jesus.
Graced are the falsely accused and rejected, for they learn to need only God.

These are the truths Jesus taught that fulfill the law.

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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Our Historical Era: Post-Christian or Pre-Christian?

Scholars say we live in the Post-Christian era. I say we still live in the Pre-Christian era. To me Jesus represents a turning point in human growth(evolution) from survival of the fittest to sacrificial love for the weakest. And anyone with eyes to see, can’t help but recognize that we haven’t gotten anywhere near to the kind of spirituality that God calls us to through Jesus. Perhaps, by finally giving up the warped worldly view of Christianity as “top dog” by force, we may finally be entering the bare beginnings of a true Christianity.  That is, a Christianity which doesn’t focus on winning or controlling, but on learning to risk loving instead. The worst set back Christianity has experienced was when the Emperor Constantine converted and made it the “state” religion, a religion of privilege instead of sacrifice.