Made for TV

Numbers 11: 25-29; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9: 38-48

What a crazy week.  Just when you think things can’t get any crazier we find a new way as we continue this reality TV program that we’re all a part of.  The week started with the conviction of Bill Cosby.  I can’t imagine being in my 80s and now having to spend the rest of my life in prison, and for what.  Of course, as the week continued we found ourselves glued to the television again for the Supreme Court hearings.  I’m not convinced, though, just how much hearing and listening actually went on in that room.  I’m not sure you can say you’re open to hearing the other when your mind is made up and judgment has already been cast.  There was one thing that struck me, though, from the press conference following the conviction of Cosby that I believe transcends much of reality TV.  I believe it was the prosecutor who simply said, “This was a man who hid behind his character.”

All of know that character.  He was America’s dad.  He was funny and loving.  If you didn’t have the best family life he somehow showed the ideal parent and family through his character.  Yet, now we see how hard it is for us to reconcile the character from the real deal and the trauma that he was inflicting upon women.  All too often we prefer the character to the real deal because of what it so often offers us in return.  If you’ve listened to the reading from James the past few weeks, especially today, he has laid it on thick.  These characters become a source of two things for James, power and wealth.  The two most ardent of idols, jealous of all the rest and have a way of taking hold of our lives, and more often than not at the expense of those we have deemed less than ourselves, the powerless.  When they team up, watch out.  James warns that they will lead to the impending doom of humanity when the real God is abandoned and these idols take center stage.

Center stage is where they continue to take and the characters begin to believe that they are untouchable.  It certainly played itself out with Cosby but we were also witnesses to it in these hearings, again, where very little listening and hearing takes place because of power and wealth.  Once we begin to believe that our power is being stripped of us we start to lash out and react in order to hold on more tightly.  I’m not sure what kind of example we leave for future generations when we find elders lashing out and screaming at one another, supposed to be adults yet looking more like characters, clinging to a reality that no longer exists.  If that’s what it means to be a man, well, then I’m embarrassed to be a man.  If you think any of this is about justice, well, we’re sadly mistaken.  Power and wealth, as part of the American way are symbolic of strength and success.  But it’s not the gospel.  It’s not the good news.  It simply makes for good reality TV where division and conflict rule, separating ourselves from one another, making judgement, and no longer seeing the humanity of the other person.  There’s no room for faith nor for God because these gods consume the space.

They are hard readings.  It is, though, the reality of human nature to desire power and to think we can control and contain that power.  It’s certainly what Jesus and Moses both contend with in the first reading and Gospel.  In both situations the Spirit is given and yet, no sooner they witness people outside their “trip” and “group”, they immediately demand it to stop.  They hold the truth.  They have the power.  They believe they control God.  No sooner you believe that, there is no room for God, for Mystery.  It becomes about idols.  Last week the disciples argued about who’s the greatest and today it continues about power and holding onto that power.  It becomes about their place of prestige.  Somehow we believe that if we play the role and live into that character, dress the part, that’s all that matters.  All we do is sell ourselves short and sell our souls for something other than God.  We sell ourselves for power and wealth because we’re convinced and told to believe in the gospel of the Western World that life is about power, success, and wealth.  If we have done all three, we’ve done it well. 

Well, if you believe that, James has a warning for you.  He tells us this morning that that’s what eventually does in the righteous one on the Cross.  It will fatten your heart.  It will lead to condemnation.  It will lead to division and often unnecessary conflict.  Heck, for that matter, it leads to death threats to this day.  That’s what we become.  It shows just how much we have separated ourselves from the other and are being held hostage by our tribes, our camps, whether liberal or conservative or whatever you call yourself.  It’s amazing how we can believe that our group holds the total truth and the other is complete evil.  How have we gotten here?  Well, money and power certainly play a part in this reality TV program.

Yet, true power is shown, over and over, to the disciples and throughout the gospel through the one who is powerless.  The great power arises when the righteous one is nailed to the Cross.  But that doesn’t make for great TV.  It makes us turn our heads in shame.  We don’t want to admit that that’s what we continue to do by clinging to our idols.  More often than not the prophetic voice never rises from within the insiders of a group or tribe.  Each one is too blind to see itself for who it is and its own shortcomings, whether politics or religion.  There needs to be a restoring of humanity, the real humanity, not some character.  We need the space in order to truly hear and listen to the other while being open to what is said, dialoging with one another and not through a screen.  We must first remember that we are brothers and sisters.  We must first remember that we are sons and daughters of God, not of power and wealth.  That may all work well for reality TV, but not so much for the real reality, our lives, which take the hits and the brunt of the pain that it’s causing.  We pray for the grace to have that space in our own hearts and souls to listen and to see the other for who they really are and not some character to be destroyed on a screen.  It’s so easy to hide behind all of these characters, for all of us, but it will never lead to the fullness of life we desire.  It will never bridge the gaps and gaping holes that exist in our politics, Church, and beyond.  It is an acceptance of our own power in our powerlessness where we will find the strength to “cut off” the characters that cause us to sin and inspire the idols of our lives, and rather be who we really are.  It is only there that we see each other as ourselves.

Mediating Love

Ezekiel 33: 7-9; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20

During the 2008 campaign we often heard from Sarah Palin about the “bridge to nowhere”.  It was part of her shtick to prove the point of the ineffectiveness of the federal government, building a bridge that went nowhere just to benefit a few.  There are others like it where you can be driving along and all of a sudden if you try to continue you’d end up hitting a wall.  I tried to think of an example closer to home and all I could come up with is, that if you’re a regular driving around here you know that most of the roads from Homeland are One Way out.  All of it begins to send a message over time as the bridge to nowhere does.  Bridges to nowhere, one way out, walls, it’s what we tend to be good at in our lives.  It should be no surprise that we’d want to build walls rather than deal with the burning issues of our day.  It’s much easier than reconciling our differences and finding common ground.

Building community is no easy task.  Matthew is quite aware of that with all his community faces, including their own divisions, but we also know it from our families and any relationships we have been in and have experienced in their breaking apart.  So often we have to have mediators come in to work with people because we become so attached to being right, to knowing it all, to our certainty, to the other being absolutely wrong, when we know that there is often truth on both sides.  Mediators can often help sort out the truth and sift through the conflicts to find that reconciliation.  It doesn’t mean we always get what we want.  As a matter of fact, there often has to be a willingness to give up and surrender things for the good of the community in order to get to the other side and build bridges that go both ways.  We too often become comfortable building bridges only to those we feel we can tolerate, leading to the bridge to nowhere, to only people we can somewhat agree on, tribal thinking as we often see in our own society and certainly our politics..

Ezekiel was one such mediator.  He saw his role as the watchman of his community.  He had to be the one that stands in the middle, seeking the truth when conflict would arise, when people were abusing power or excluding others.  God reminds him of the immense responsibility that comes with such a task and the consequences when there’s not a willingness to be truthful about what he sees and experiences.  He becomes the one who has a keen sense of awareness in the life of the community to see where bridges between the oppositions can be made and what needs to be let go of in the process.  He’s the one that stands above, watching from the watchtower, to not lead them into the traps of bridges to nowhere, one ways, or walls, but rather to a richer sense of community.

It’s no easy task as we’ve heard from Matthew the past few weeks.  It’s quite the challenge when there is conflict and one can’t see the others perspective and not even willing to understand.  Matthew lays out a plan for dealing with such conflicts to hopefully lead to reconciliation but even he knows that that’s not always possible.  He realizes some will choose to not be a part of the community, such as tax collectors and Gentiles.  Of course, they have their own reasons to separate themselves from the life of the community and quite frankly, many had reasons why they didn’t want them to be a part of the community.  There were plenty that would be considered intolerant of them.  At times it seemed insurmountable to think that a bridge that goes between could ever be built.  However, Matthew, time and again, will remind them that it is no longer the prophet who stands as mediator but Christ who stands as love.  The gap could only be closed when love stands as mediator and we could see the other as brother and sister, as neighbor, no matter color, economic status, place of origin, or whatever other means that we used to build our bridges to nowhere and erect walls.

The heart of the readings is Paul’s letter to the Romans.  He puts it so plainly that we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  Love does no evil, he goes onto say.  When we live our lives and grow community around love, around Christ, it finds ways to move from what is often superficial ways of separating ourselves to uniting us around a single purpose, around a single person in Christ.  Reconciling our differences and conflicts is hard work.  It’s the reason why we live in a world where war is never-ending and a constant state of chaos and conflict.  We get so hung up on our own way of things and thinking we’re right, prideful, that there’s no room for love to break us down and see ourselves as brother and sister, as one with our neighbor.  We don’t choose who gets to be our neighbor, mindful that I am a neighbor just as you are and we’d want to be treated with love and respect as the next one.

Yes, it is all easier said than done.  We do prefer walls and bridges to nowhere, and even one ways out so we determine it all and we use ourselves as the center of our lives, avoiding conflict and settling for less in life.  However, to be community and to call ourselves community, we often have to go where we have conflict and where we have made judgments and misunderstandings of each other to learn to bridge those gaps, just as we have to do in our own lives.  It’s so often what separates and it’s so often the easy way out but it never leads to growing deeper in love and in accepting that love.  We pray today for the grace to be aware of it in our own lives, where we may be avoiding what it is that we struggle with and ask love to build a bridge there as well.  In the end, what we can most offer the community is to not only open ourselves to that love in our own lives but ultimately to become that love to one another, to our brothers and sisters, to our neighbor as ourselves.

Pay Attention

Romans 8: 9, 11-13; Matthew 11: 25-30

From the time we are kids, we are taught to “pay attention” to certain things.  Of course, as kids it’s necessary because it often keeps us safe and secure even from perceived dangers.  However, as we age, it often grows into judgment, stereotype, even guilt and shame, that seems to dominate our lives where we begin to think what we have paid attention to is truth.  But over that time, despite some of its necessity early on, it begins to overshadow who we really are, hide our truest self from ourselves, often distorting our image of God, but also separating and dividing us not only from others but from ourselves as well.  It makes it nearly impossible to deal with problems because we try to fix what was caused by it in the first place.

It’s that place of hiddenness and what has been overshadowed where Jesus tries to lead the disciples in today’s gospel when he speaks of what has been hidden from the wise and learned but rather revealed to the little ones.  As is often the case, he’s speaking after an experience with the Pharisees where they once again found themselves in conflict with one another.  One way in which what we “pay attention” to rears its head is when things aren’t good enough or it’s never enough because the Pharisees continue to look through life through a rather narrow lens, which is what happens to all of us over time.  When it came to John the Baptist, they had problems.  When it comes to Jesus, it’s still not good enough for them.  More often than not they weren’t paying attention to the right things and got so caught up in the law that they become blinded.  It creates this tension and conflict and eventually to the violent act of the crucifixion.  He doesn’t necessarily react to their way but rather tries to expand the lens and understanding, which they often weren’t able to see but saw him as a threat to their way of life and thinking for that matter.

Whether you know it or not, it’s also what Paul speaks of in the second reading today to the Romans.  It’s probably one of the most misinterpreted passages in all his letters because we try to keep it only skin deep.  We probably have all heard it interpreted as “sins of the flesh”.  Like kids, that may work for a period in our lives, but that’s not the deeper meaning to what Paul is speaking of nor is it what he’s challenging them to pay attention to in their lives.  If we take out the word “flesh” from the passage and insert words like ego, what we pay attention to, or even that Pharisee within us, that’s more the point that Paul is trying to make.  Getting trapped in that place in our lives often leads to conflict and even hostility towards God and others.  It’s not a deeper life in the spirit as he speaks of, but one of conflict.  It ultimately is what Paul tries in his writings to lead people to learn to let go of; not their body, but their control tower, their ego, what they have been conditioned to pay attention to and yet now stands as an obstacle, which in other letters he also calls it.  This point where we don’t feel satisfied or things are never good enough, for Paul, is recognition that we aren’t living from the right place, from the divine, from the Christ within our very souls.  If we want to seek solutions to a world of problems, we must first be willing to make that journey ourselves and face our own violence and blindness.

It is the invitation that Jesus gives to the disciples and to us today as the gospel continues.  He says to come to him all who labor and are burdened.  Come to me all of you that are struggling in one way or another.  This invitation isn’t just about handing our problems over to God and somehow they disappear.  No, the invitation that Jesus gives is to move beyond the struggle, often defined by what we pay attention to, and move to the place of the Christ and learn to live from that place.  It is the place where the judgement and stereotype, division and separation, begins to disappear.  It is a journey inward and a journey downward, and quite frankly, a journey that takes great humility to finally begin to admit that maybe what I have paid attention to is not the fuller picture.  It’s learning to live our lives inward out rather than the outward appearance of things defining us, who we are, and what we do.  It is a path that is quite difficult but the only path to a fuller life and where we finally become agents of change in the world.

All too often we try to deal with problems in this city, community, country, and world, by doing the same thing.  It leads to people butting heads and as we have seen in this city, a great deal of violence.  We are trying to solve problems with what separates and divides rather than moving to this deeper place within ourselves that unites us with God, others, and even ourselves.  This city and our lives do not need more separation and division and certainly do not need more violence.  But it will continue if we try to fix things by an old mindset.  The healing begins with me and you.  The healing begins when I can finally begin to ask myself, “What am I paying attention to?” and is it leading to healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and a more loving posture towards God and people or does it simply dig in my heels and lead to further violence.  If our faith and our religion are going to have any impact on our lives, it’s going to require change on our part, change in what we pay attention to, and be led to the deeper places of our lives, people of spirit and soul.  That is how we begin to make a difference here and everywhere, including our own families, in becoming the agents of change, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, while learning to let go of what only continues to separate and divide.  There’s no more time for any of that.  It’s time for a new way, a deeper way of living where we bridge differences and live lives filled with love, healing, and forgiveness.  First and foremost, what is it you find yourself paying attention to in life?

Crossing the Red Line

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Luke 14: 1, 7-14

The gospel humility that Jesus exemplifies for us and we hear about in today’s gospel and first reading from Sirach, is often a virtue that we misunderstand and misinterpret in our lives because it’s vice, pride, is masterful at hiding itself as a false humility, one that we all fall into in our lives.  The virtue of humility that scripture calls us towards and Jesus exemplifies has more to do with an interior disposition of our hearts and souls.  It is an “at-homeness” with ourselves, who we are, and what we believe.  It’s being comfortable in our own skin.  This is why Jesus is so often bucking up against the Pharisees as he does in today’s gospel.  But for we mortals, we have to look at the whole because we have the Christ within us but we are also the prideful Pharisees that he often confronts.  We have heard a great deal the past weeks of Syria crossing the “red line” and I would dare say, that in the spiritual world, the red line that we often have to walk is between this virtue and vice of humility and pride, again, because pride masks it so well.

We don’t know why Jesus is invited to this dinner at the home of one of the Pharisees.  He’s out of his element because they wouldn’t have considered him with the same social status or one that can give them something in return.  It had to be an uncomfortable situation for him and everyone else because they’re all there looking at him carefully; I know I’d be pretty self-conscious if that were the case.  It’s as if he was simply invited to “put on a show for them” to see how he would respond.  Would he cross that line that they so often did themselves?  We don’t hear the story in its entirety, but before the parable, a sick man with dropsy arrives at the dinner seeking healing.  Was that the real intent?  How would he respond on the sabbath?  Of course, he heals him and sends him on his way, and rather than attacking them and using the method of the pharisees, Jesus tells a story.  He tells a story of a banquet and a question of who would be invited.

You see, this wasn’t just a gathering to enjoy each other’s company, it was a spectacle of which one can outdo the other with knowledge or status or understanding of the law, and that’s the pride that Jesus comes in constant conflict with during his faith journey.  They would lord it over others thinking themselves superior and better than because of knowledge, but didn’t care much about the people they looked down upon.  Of course, Jesus’ actions only inflame them all the more.  If humility is that at-homeness within ourselves, there wasn’t much that would get under his skin, and they certainly tried.

Our own pride often gets in the way of the humility Jesus shows and calls us towards in life.  It masks well with making choices in life, often for the wrong reason.  He goes onto say that even though you may serve the poor, what is your real intention?  Is it to empathize with the other or is it for others to look at me in what I do; somehow make myself superior because of what I do.  Or the other end, we become the martyr in our “woe is me” thinking, hiding behind God and religion as a false humility.  They invited people that can give in return and that can build up their own ego, inflating their pride all the more!  Jesus says don’t invite any of them; the poor, the blind, the lame…they’ll keep it real and they’ll keep you real, grounded in who you really are! 

As Jesus mentions in the gospel today, if we want that greatness in our lives, it doesn’t come by abusing our power and lording it over others, or for that matter, having a low self-worth, but he says you must first humble yourself.  We must first let go of who we think we are or what we think we are.  We must let go of our idea that somehow God didn’t create us “good enough” and sulk in our own pride.  We must let go of the illusions we hold of ourselves and dare to cross the red line in our spiritual lives to a life of humility and then the greatness will follow.

As we come to this banquet feast today, what is the disposition of our hearts and souls? Are we here for the right reasons, to be fed, recognizing my own weakness and frailty as a human being, seeking eyes to see the Christ in all?  Or is it to punch the card?  Is it to be seen?  Is it out of fear that somehow God just might be watching today?  That’s often our own pride, the pharisee within us, coming for the wrong reasons.  But if that’s the case, that’s ok!  If we seek that humble heart and to be like Jesus, our intentions and motivations can be purified and the disposition of our hearts and souls may be freed to we can truly see the greatness that already exists within us, we can be comfortable in our own skin, so that when we do buck up against the pharisee within ourselves, we can choose the humble way, the way of Jesus which opens our eyes to the gift within; that we truly are sons and daughters of God.

Conflict Resolution According to Acts


Acts 15; John 14: 23-29

As we move into the final weeks of the Easter Season, with Ascension next week and Pentecost following, the message begins to shift in the readings.  For weeks we have heard the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus from Luke and John as well as the formation of the early Church in Acts of the Apostles.  Now, though, in these final weeks it will be about the Spirit, the Advocate as John calls it, as well as the parting gift, the gift of peace.

And yet, as much as peace is the parting gift and promise, it often seems anything but peaceful in our lives, community, Church, world, that is constantly facing tensions and conflict.  Peace seems all but a dream than a reality and at this point in Acts, it is far from reality.  At this point, it is one of the most contentious times in the life of the early Church which we now identify as the Council of Jerusalem.  The conflict and tension resulted over the tradition of circumcision, which obviously has been a part of Jewish tradition for centuries, and whether it was necessary for salvation.  It appears that the conflict stands between what it means to be Jewish and what is necessary for salvation; a debate we so often still have in the life of the Church.  So the leaders of the early Church gather to discern the matter and to seek resolution on what is dividing the people.  They find reconciliation in that yes, this is very much an intricate part of Jewish faith, but not a necessity for salvation.  For some, it was an unacceptable resolution and can be seen as what eventually divides what we know as Jews and Christians today.

But note that the leaders don’t rely simply on themselves; they make a point to note that it is not only their decision, but also the decision of the Holy Spirit.  In bringing together the parties and hashing it out, even between Peter and Paul; Peter often being the heart of the Church and Paul being the head, they managed to resolve that both can be a part of the faith, even if it did lead to this split.  Peace, as much as it is the promised gift, often only comes through reconciliation.  It is reconciliation between our own head and heart; reconciliation between families, in the Church, and seeking reconciliation in the world where we can finally begin to experience that promised gift of peace.

As we head through these final weeks of the Easter season, where do we need reconciliation in the conflicts that are a part of our lives?  What, inside us, needs to change and give up control, in order that reconciliation is possible?  Where can we better trust that Spirit working within our own conflicted states so that we can seek reconciliation?  If we allow ourselves, like the early Church, to stay with the tensions and conflicts long enough, rather than run from them, eventually we can move towards that reconciliation and allow us to grow as individuals and as a community, and ultimately, experience the promised gift of these final weeks, the gift of peace.