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Does Justice Require a Hell?

It is okay to be who you are as long as you are alive, because you are still becoming the person you were created to be. It’s important to know that, because otherwise you have to pretend- even to yourself- that you are perfect and don’t need to grow and change. It’s a lifelong process, a dance between grace and the limits of the hand we were dealt, that probably will still be happening at our moment of death.
I don’t know about afterward……I’m personally counting on Jesus, the expression of the unconditional Love of God, being God’s promise of forgiveness for those bad choices I made along the way to becoming the person I am meant to be. Remember the Prodigal Son story.
So, I was really struggling this week with the statement by a writer I respect: “That if God is just, there has to be a hell.” I’m wondering if that depends on your definition of “just.”
Justice to me means recognition of an evil that brings about change. The evil can be either personal or societal.
I don’t see it as a “get even” kind of thing. Plenty of people have hurt me, just as I have hurt others, but I don’t need them to suffer for it. I just want them to recognize it and sincerely regret it enough to not do it again to me or anyone else. I figure that’s what God wants from us.
I do suspect from my personal experience that a “balancing” plays out in life here in a lot of ways. Sometimes when someone hurts me, I have a sudden memory of having done the same thing to someone else. Depending on what it is, I may laugh, sigh, or feel heartbroken about my own blindness. But it frees me to not only let go of the hurt and temptation to judge, but to avoid doing it again myself.
I believe the whole point of justice isn’t retribution. Justice is about recognition, regret, forgiveness and change. It seems to me that in many ways it’s a dying to self and that we experience a lot of deaths and resurrections before the big one.

One note: Acts have consequences.  The reason there are “Do Not” commandments is that those things have negative consequences not only for others, but for those who do them. The rules are for everyone’s protection. I believe the retribution is intrinsic and comes in this life.

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God is not Finished with Us Yet

Today, the first Scripture reading says: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.”
In the Gospel reading it says of the twelve year old Jesus who has caused his parents great anxiety, “Then he went down with them and was obedient to them. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
The important words for us here are grow and increase. If Samuel and Jesus had to grow and increase, even in wisdom and in favor with God and man, it’s a pretty safe bet we do too. And the growing doesn’t stop when we are 12, or 21, 78 or 95.
Today’s second reading says to us: “As God’s children, holy and beloved,”(Don’t you just want to wrap that word ‘beloved’ around you like a warm soft comforter?)
But it continues, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
The word clothe implies that compassion and humility and patience are not necessarily natural human traits. What follows points the way to grow and increase in them: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Not should or ought, but must.)
The scripture continues “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.”
Oh boy, there’s the rub. I don’t know about you, but I am not very teachable and if you decide to admonish me, you probably should be prepared to run.
Here’s the good news, when we admit our own need to grow and change, accepting forgiveness brings the grace to change. Forgiveness actually has the power to free us from being trapped even in a lifelong destructive response to people or events.
THEN and only then, can we like Jesus be a witness by visibly fleshing out the power of grace through growing and changing. The best way to teach is to show how it’s done. (It’s probably the safest also.)
Listen please with an open heart to the PRAYER OF CONFESSION followed by a time of silent reflection:
God, you call us beloved. Jesus you showed us that we are called and can be freed to grow and change. Let us feel your hand on our shoulder as you gently shake your head at our blindness. As we listen in silence, free us by your tender love to see where we need to grow and change. Then help us to completely accept forgiveness in the depths of our hearts, so we may be living witnesses to God’s saving grace.
………Take time for reflection…………………
We are all God’s children. We are all God’s beloved. Feel that. Cling to it. Rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. And trust God to complete the good work he has begun in you.
Reflections on Scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, December 27, 2015 NRSV
1 Sam 2:18-20, 26 Col 3:12-17 Luke 2:41-52

Since We’ve Done Away with Sin and Hell, What’s the Point of Christmas?

To be honest,  I don’t see sin the same way I used to and I’ve discovered that we make our own private hells on earth, when we refuse to grow past needing into loving.

A view currently popular is that a world suffering from some original ancient ancestors’ screwing up isn’t reasonable or just and that tiny babies come into the world innocent and lovable.

I agree with both.

BUT, all tiny babies come into the world Needy with a capital N. Ask any parent. And some are needier than others, through no fault of their own.  It’s just how nature is.

And NEED is the opposite of  love, in fact it prevents us from loving.

We  can’t experience the transforming  joy of Christmas, until we recognize our neediness.

Note: needing to please others or even getting pleasure from doing for others is not always love.  It can actually be a destructive enabling out of our own neediness.

At one point in my life, I recognized that I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants.  And I felt totally unable to truly love- anyone, even parents, husband, children. I was like Snoopy, I loved humanity. It was people I couldn’t accept.

The paradox is this: unless we know, with mind, heart, and soul, that we are loved unconditionally, we cannot grow from needing to loving.  But that requires recognizing and admitting with mind, heart, and soul that we are needy, not loving.

At the point when I recognized that I was too needy to love, I also recognized that there was not enough love in this imperfect world of imperfect people to free me .  Fortunately for me, that is what Christmas is about.

Perfect Love for all of us came as a baby with human needs and offered us a Love that can set us free.

And that is the transforming  joy of Christmas: Saving unconditional love that sets us free and gives us  illustrated instructions on how to grow from need to love.

Joy to the world, for Love has come.  Let us rejoice and open our hearts to receive it.

Come, Lord Jesus, free us to love.

Once Again He Has Come

Christ came this Christmas for me in a moment of clarity.  He came when I recognized with deep joy that my husband and I finally “get” each other.

We were total opposites in personality, in upbringing, in spirituality, in interests, values, in our ways of responding to people and life. Our sense of humors differed, our ways of expressing and receiving love also. It has been a challenging fifty-four year journey, side by side, but never quite together.

Today, Christmas day, I realized that a few days ago for the first time, he actually heard something spiritual I wrote and responded spontaneously from the heart, and today I also realized that I see the physical world in new ways(his)and frequently now laugh out loud when I have spontaneous humorous images flash into my mind when I read or hear certain things, just like he has tried to explain to me over the years.  The gift of our seventies has been shared laughter.

When I reflect on the ways we’ve changed, I think it took more than just accepting how each other are, it took actually learning how to see through each other’s eyes and hear with their ears; for him to be able to feel with me and for me to become able to step back from feelings and see things logically. For him to be able to express love and for me to be happy showing it in small acts of service.

We are far from perfect at this, but we have broken through the walls of self and begun to experience being one.

Isn’t it amazing that life and love begin anew so many times and that it’s never too late to love in new ways?

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming once more, with your gifts of love.