Really Living & Living Really

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in…where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”  John Muir

“It is astonishing how high and far we can climb mountains that we love, and how little we require food and clothing…No sane man in the hands of nature can doubt the doubleness of his life.  Soul and body receive separate nourishment and separate exercise, and speedily reach a stage of development, wherein each is easily known apart from the other.  Living artificially, we seldom see much of our real selves.”  John Muir

I came across both of these quotes today by John Muir, legendary activist and protector of the woodlands of this country, who in many ways has a love affair with the outdoors.  It becomes not only the avenue for finding himself but for finding a being greater than himself, although rarely wrote about God.  He is considered the Father of the National Parks.

If there is one thing I have learned in spending time in the outdoors, whether it’s here at Acadia, the Grand Canyon, the vast forested area of Alaska, or even the shores of Maryland and Jersey, it’s that deep down what defines the soul is something much more than an urban landscape but rather a never-ending twist and turn, yet explored area that very much resembles these wild and uncharted lands that I’ve had the opportunity, and really, privilege, to explore.

His sentiments have been mine through these experiences, that the natural mountains that we climb or even the vast chasms that we descend throughout this land, how little, we begin to realize, that we truly need.  What becomes our challenge as humans is that we often climb illusions of mountains in our lives, seeking power, prestige, so often missing along the way just what it is we’re losing, forgetting, ignoring, that we become blinded by the climb itself.  A return to the mountains is a good reminder of how we fall prey to the illusions that power and climbing seems to offer, leaving us insecure and fearful of losing something that was never really real in the first place.

Of course, descending the chasms can be just as challenging.  The fall from the illusion of grandeur can be a humbling experience when we begin to see what it is that we have forgotten or ignored along the way.  I had that experience climbing, and descending, in Acadia this week, so intent on getting to the top of the mountain and not until I started to descend did I begin to see things differently, as if the hardness of the climb began to dissipate, noticing a fallen tree, a sparkling stream, an unnamed path that leads to one of the most spectacular views and serene locations in the park.

It seems in either instance, our temptation to remain at the top or simply climb, as we see so often in our culture and society, but also to become attached to the bottom, walked upon, taken advantage of or needing to please, both begin to increase what it is that we seem to need in our lives, when the insecurity and fear begin to take root in our hearts and souls, no longer free.  In the words of John Muir, a separateness of heart and mind begins to form, creating a deeper chasm within ourselves.  In some ways, we become needy and no matter what it is, nothing seems to be enough.

The more I give myself the space to explore the outdoors, which in turn frees me to explore myself, the more I see the value in protecting our lands and leaving them as a place of wonder and exploration.  Whether it was watching a group of young boys play the 21st Century version of “cops and robbers” on Cadillac Mountain or even getting lost myself and being aware of the anxiety it brings up within myself and learning again to trust that deeper instinct and voice.  Over and over again, the natural world has something to teach and to help us to understand not only about itself, but about ourselves and even about God.  In not only helps to fill the chasm between the head and heart, it helps to fill the chasm between humans and the natural world, where everything belongs.

The freedom necessary to not live an “artificial” life as Muir speaks about, requires a letting go, surrendering, and living a life filled with the grace of detachment.  No, not in the sense of not caring, but rather in its natural sense, where I can surrender outcomes and trust God no matter what happens.  Otherwise, we predict the outcome, which in and of itself, is an illusion, artificial.  And we’ll do it to ourselves again and again.  The natural world teaches us to be free, to go where the wind blows, and to accept not what should be, but rather, what is, gradually dispelling the artificialness and leading us to a holiness and a wholeness, reminding us how Muir is correct, in how little we really need to experience the fullness of our lives.

 

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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?

Freedom to Love

Sirach 15: 15-20; I Cor 2: 6-10; Matthew 5: 17-37

Despite being a rather lengthy gospel, containing probably enough for ten homilies, there are some common themes that hold the passage together, in particular, the way it begins where Jesus reminds the disciples on this continuation of the beatitudes, that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, in the context of somehow surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees.

So what’s going on? First of all, the law has it’s place. If anyone knows this it’s us. As Americans we have a tendency to obsess about the law more than anything else. We know it brings order to chaos but it also is there to protect us from harm or if we are harmed. The problem with law, despite all it provides, is what Sirach tells us in the very first line of the first reading today where he states, if you choose you can keep my commandments. It’s not a bad thing. However, I can will myself into following the law. I don’t kill. I don’t steal. Yeah, maybe break traffic laws from time to time, but for the most part, I can will myself into following the law. At the same time, it’s not going to bring fulfillment and quite frankly, there’s not a whole lot of joy in my life if I stop at simply willing myself to following the law. It’s tiring. It’s burdensome. It takes a great deal of energy. Honestly, that was the issue with the scribes and pharisees. They were obsessed with the law and it all stopped there.

The law says…but I say, Jesus says. Sure, there’s a place for all of that in our lives but we also know, in all of his statements that follow, he specifically deals with relationships. Relationships are hard and don’t always fall into the bounds of the laws we try to follow. There are elements that rise above, such as forgiveness and love. That’s the rub when it comes to this obsession with the law for the scribes and pharisees and which Jesus warns his disciples, when you become so fixated on it, there’s no room for love or forgiveness. That will be his message that follows next week. The law may be great for keeping order and creating some kind of boundary, protecting us from harm or if we were harmed, but it doesn’t leave much room for the greater law of love and forgiveness.

But we can’t stop there. It’s easy to say that I don’t obsess over the law. I am a person of love and forgiveness. Is it really that easy? There’s another law that has a tendency to creep into our lives and that’s the law we create for ourselves and try to hold others accountable. That’s also the reality of the scribes and pharisees, again, not leaving much space for love and forgiveness, and for that matter, error as human beings. That’s a necessary reality as humans because we’re not always going to choose in a way that brings about life. It starts to creep in when I say things should be this way, or we do things this way, and we try to hold ourselves and others to these self-proclaimed laws that aren’t even realistic and quite frankly, leave no room for God and the Spirit at work.

Paul speaks of that Spirit working in our lives in today’s second reading. The Spirit often meets us in this rub in our lives between the tension and this deeper desire for love and forgiveness. Somehow, as he tells us, the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God, trying to lead us to that deeper place in our lives. We are so often so unaware that we even do this to ourselves or others because it becomes our unconscious way and habitual that we don’t see it and can’t even begin to imagine ourselves not having it, because, like the law, it feels like we’re losing control and the law brings order and protects. In reality, it can protect and bring order all it wants, but once, we the people, are involved, there must to room for hurt, pain, suffering, and ultimately, love and forgiveness. No judge or arbitrator can ever bring that about in our lives and our relationships, only by allowing ourselves to enter into that rub, that tension in our lives, where we can be moved forward by the Spirit.
The gospel today challenges us to seek that awareness in our lives when we are obsessing about the law. As I said, it may not be civil law, it may not be Church law, although it can be, but it can also be that law we create for ourselves that acts as a way to control and protect us from being hurt, but it can also cut us off not only from others but from God. The more we are aware of our actions in that way, whether we want to admit it or not, where we make choices that lead to death and joylessness, the more we open ourselves to the grace leading us to let it go and create space for love and forgiveness. Why would we want anything less? Control can never bring it. Walls cannot bring it. Protection cannot bring it. Only the grace of God and the relationships that feed us in that way will bring us to a place where we can acknowledge the need for law but it no longer needs to define me.

Living With Uncertainty When Certainty is Expected

I question almost everything in life. No, I wouldn’t and don’t consider myself a skeptic by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a seeker and someone who’s always looking for a deeper truth in almost any place I can look. There isn’t a stone unturned that isn’t examined from every different perspective imaginable, despite the fact that the stone will always be a stone. In moments of questioning, as I do, there is always a truth to hold onto; the stone remains a stone, even if smashed. Just the same that, who I really am, in the eyes of God, will always remain, no matter how much it feels like what I have known is also falling apart.

It’s easy to analyze a stone, but when it comes to our lives, we live with a much greater amount of uncertainty, despite our most basic of instincts wanting to grab onto something we can be certain of, bringing us some sense of peace, albeit momentarily, in moments when it feels as if everything is falling apart around us. I only know it because I’ve been there in my own life, my natural inclination to return to what I am most comfortable, not wanting to live with the uncertain and the uncomfortable. It’s as if, at times, where in my life I am playing a game of ping pong between the two, not always wanting to sit in the tension of the two, in finding another way of going forward. However, more often than not, even that feels like the unknown and uncertainty in my life because we have become so accustomed to our own way of thinking, tribal thinking, nonetheless.

We all want to belong. It might be the one thing we can be certain of in life. It begins with our desire to be a part of a family, and then peers, coworkers, church, political party, for it gives us some kind of definition in our lives and also provides us a platform to stand upon and something to stand up for in our lives, especially if we haven’t found our own voice. It gives us the certainty that we want in life, that helps to keep us feeling safe, despite its very rooting in fear. What we fail to see is that so much of it isn’t worth standing for and yet we’re willing to go to the stake for it, defending something that merely lies at the surface of who we are and never moves to the deeper understanding of our soul, of our identity in Christ and who we are as people.

I have found myself struggling greatly these days, in particular for a man that does question and seeks deeper meaning in life and in the world. I have found myself struggling with our inability to see ourselves in a different light, where we have gone wrong and where the Gospel demands us to look at our own fragility and shadow side that only seems to loom larger with each passing day and week. I struggle with how we can be so certain about where we go as a country, often locked in our tribal thinking that only seeks to destroy us as a people, when, even in my own life, I am almost never certain of direction. Something is dying and yet we fear it so greatly that we must clamp down on what we know and what we’re certain of, all the signage that has defined us as a tribe, digging our heels in all the more rather than allowing ourselves to sit without reacting and learning as to what it’s revealing about me and my life and what I’m holding onto and where I need to let go, a nonviolent resistance towards myself. Whether we like it or not, we don’t need to build walls as a nation because we’ve already done it with each other and our tribes. The mere desire of building walls rather than bridges should not surprise us, for that is what and who we have become and now we reflect it outwards. For all intensive purposes, the wall has already been built and each of us has helped to lay the bricks over these years.

Sure, maybe it’s not our tribe that wants to build walls, cutting ourselves off from foreign land. That doesn’t exclude me from my own fears and building of walls in our own ways. If it’s not our bricks we can almost be certain that it’s our cement that is helping to hold it together. We become name callers and step onto the world stage with a pride that dampens my ability to see the other as myself. We demonize and put down and think less of because of my own certainties rather than questioning and opening myself up to the possibility of doubt. In this quest for deeper meaning, it becomes unsettling and raises anxiety for our humanity, and maybe because of such tribal thinking, we must always view everything as winners and losers, and yet, when we do we all remain losers, giving into our own fears and continuously reacting, out of our own fear and often self-righteousness, while gradually cementing the walls of separation, each certain of the answers and direction yet neither seeking “a more perfect union” but rather a win for my America, not ours. A win for my tribe, not the common good.

Do I see walls as an obstruction, of course, but I also believe we live in a finite world, often plagued by sin. Do I believe that when the dignity of any human person is being violated we must, if anything, be open to providing out of our abundant resources, absolutely, but I am also aware of my own mortality and fragility in always getting it right. It’s what makes me question and seek deeper understanding and meaning and to examine that stone I’m ready to throw from all different perspectives before I cast judgment, knowing I may have missed a perspective different from my own. I also believe that we must also serve our own. I see them daily from the comforts of my office window, encountering them as they go and wait, often times in the biting cold, waiting for food. They’re not moochers and lazy, they’re my brothers and sisters to whom it’s often more comfortable to journey with in life. That I am certain of; so much else doesn’t matter much anyway, many times simply seeking the necessities of life.

It’s easy to talk and it’s easy to cast judgment from behind my computer screen; really easy. I hike myself upon my high horse and cast the stones that I have accumulated, building a wall around myself, a tribe of one at times. How easy it can be to start throwing, free of reason, free of reflection, free of understanding, free of love, and yet, not free at all. That’s the irony of so much of our circumstances and the way of thinking that has plagued us. We fight for freedom for all and yet we’re not even free ourselves. I’ve learned that so much is theory, even the Gospel, until we have that personal encounter with the other who hurts and who we have walled out over time. I think of the homeless I have ignored. I think of someone who looks different that I feared. I think of someone who spoke in derogatory ways when I didn’t speak out of fear or wanting to be liked. Then the encounter. Then the uncertainty. Then the breaking down of the walls and ego. Then the change of heart. Then the comfort with mystery and unknown. Then the discernment. Then the nonviolent resistance. Then the real change that is needed.

All too often we pick and choose what it is we think is most important and what we’ll speak out against, so often as it’s been defined and spun for us, but at the heart of all of it are fragile human beings, often used and abused as consumers to get what we want for our own gratification and to stroke our own ego. Over the years, in particular since 9/11, we have gradually laid bricks and cemented them into place tightly around the heart of this country that found itself deeply wounded, an innocence lost and taken away, trying so desperately to fill that void with something, with a certainty we think we once had, the city on a hill, the beacon of hope to the rest of the world. It’s time we “tear down that wall” and no longer band-aid what has ailed us as a country. My fear is we will only continue to build the walls higher and with stronger cement; but one day Troy will fall, as every empire eventually does in time, when it can no longer sustain it’s own perceptions and illusions that it thinks it is, an illusion of strength, an illusion of superiority, especially when everyone else knows otherwise.

You can only avoid your own pain and hurt for so long before it catches up with you. That I am certain of and have experienced. The greatest challenge is, that when that uncertainty and doubt begins to creep into our lives, as it always will, that we don’t quickly react to it, laying yet another brick and stone; rather, to respond to it with love, for it is only love that begins to crack walls and move us forward and inward to our deepest identity that promises life and death, always uncertain and yet seeking, discerning what is necessary to lead not to more certainty to hold onto, but rather, the wings needed to fly above and beyond while descending me to greater depths of meaning and understanding while encountering my own deeper humanity in the other.

It’s not about our tribes and this reptilian brain that wants to trap us into our way of thinking and this need for certainty. Rather, it’s about our consciousness of it happening within me and setting it free. Then, and only then, do I begin to find the space necessary in my life for certainty and uncertainty, known and unknown, fact and mystery, superficiality and deeper meaning, tribal and yes, our truest identity, all of us, that holds all things together in Christ. That is why I question. That is why I seek. And for me, that is what it means to live with faith, with uncertainty, when all too often people demand certainty. If I’m so certain, I then question where God is in my life.

Bursting Bubbles

I Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17; Matthew 4: 12-23

These are often some difficult times to preach. I said it back after the election and I’ll say it again today. There’s always so much uncertainty. We don’t know where we’re always going. There’s so much hurt and division that has taken hold of us, putting us into our camps. But I was thinking about some of the final words of now former President Obama at his farewell speech that transcends political affiliation. He mentioned that night about stepping outside our bubbles and actually speaking to one another. Now if you think you aren’t in a bubble, well, you’re probably lying to yourself and you may even be trapped in one. Maybe it’s good that Saint Paul gives us this reflection in the second reading today on the divisions that existed in the community of Corinth to help us take a look at our own bubbles.

No one can deny that there is a Republican bubble and a Democrat bubble. That one we can all agree on. But we also learned through this election that there’s an urban bubble, a suburban bubble, and a rural bubble that exist. Of course, there’s also a MSNBC bubble and a FoxNews bubble. The Church is not excluded. We can name many factions that even seeps in here. The problem with all of them is the walls of these bubbles become so think that we can no longer hear or listen to something else. If we can’t listen to each other, then there’s a pretty good chance that we also can’t listen to The Other. We become trapped. We start to only listen to people that agree with us. We start to think we know it all. We start to think that we’re always right and demonize the other. Of course, social media has only magnified the problem. Be mindful, also, that these bubbles are really just another word for our ego that takes hold of us, both individually and collectively in these groups we establish. When we know it all, are right all the time, certain without a doubt, there’s no space for God, and quite frankly, no need for God.

That’s the issue Paul also faces in the community of Corinth. In many ways Paul is simply teeing up the ball at the beginning of the letter to begin to reveal to them where they are excluding and beginning to live in their own bubbles. He points out today that some are showing allegiance to Cephas, others to Apollos, and even some to Paul. But throughout the letter Paul is trying to lead them to a deeper place, to a deeper identity that transcends these allegiances. He will go onto say that their great obstacle as a community, and quite frankly, for all of us, is going to be the breaking down of that bubble. It becomes what we know. It becomes where we are comfortable and certain about things. For Paul, and certainly for Jesus, that becomes the great stumbling stone as he calls it. He even speaks boldly about it as this part of the letter continues and the emptiness that can be associated with the cross, which becomes the great symbol of this paradox. If it’s simply something we wear around our necks, Paul would have choice words for us. For Paul, it was everything.

Of course, for Jesus as well. We hear in this gospel today how he departs Jerusalem and heads to Galilee and begins the call of the disciples. It hasn’t changed much even today in Jerusalem. That city, in and of itself, is a very dense bubble. It will be the place where he meets the intersection of life and death. He’ll challenge, more than anything, that bubble that they have placed themselves. Think about the scribes and Pharisees, as well as the political figures of that time. They thought they knew it all. They thought they were always right and certain about everything. It is the great resistance that he faces and the great resistance we often face in our own lives. It becomes the source of war and violence. If I feel that within myself as I struggle with my own ego, imagine what it’s like when it’s magnified on the world stage.

The early call of the disciples is no different. They had their own bubble, but Jesus uses it to lure them out of their comfort zone and promises a fishing of men. They were fishermen. They knew it like the back of their hand. They lived it. There was normalcy and certainty to it all. But today will begin the journey for them of breaking down that bubble and begin the search for soul. It’s what we all desire anyway and yet we fight it and cling to what we know, growing our pride and so often our arrogance. He calls them from their boats, he calls them from their fathers, he calls them from everything they know and leads them on this journey to the great stumbling stone in Jerusalem, the cross. It is the place where life and death come together, where what is known and yet unknown come together, it’s where certainty and uncertainty come together, logic and what seems illogical, and where we learn to doubt and question and realize we too are bigger than our allegiances and what we feel so certain about. Quite honestly, all our bubbles do is make us smaller.

We need to listen. We need to come to accept that we can also be part of the problem. If we don’t, we simply become what we hate. We become what it is we demonize. And why would we want that? We need to accept that we don’t know it all and we need to learn to listen to the other and The Other. If we simply continue to react to everything and everyone that we disagree with, the result is further war and violence. It is the search for the soul, my own, yours, the country, and the world. We pray that we may move to becoming of one mind and heart that Paul speaks of today. It doesn’t mean we always agree or do everything the same, but it does mean that we’ve penetrated the bubbles that we have created and can finally begin to listen, to quiet ourselves and listen. That prayer will grow the space necessary in our hearts and souls that is necessary to break down what divides and unite us as a people because I know longer need to see the other by what they think or their ideology, but rather for who they are and whose they are because we’re more than all of that and quite frankly, we deserve more than that because we’d want the same for ourselves. It is the great stumbling stone but has a great deal to teach, most especially, how to be a fuller human being to ourselves and one another.

Fake News

James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11

You can’t seem to turn on any news these days without hearing something about “fake news”. There seems to be this blurring of lines between reality and some fictional world that is created, probably for a variety of reasons. Of course, there is the making up of a story, which is simple for most of us if we think about it. But there’s also the reality of people believing it, that we’ve crossed a line where we start to think that the “fake news” is real and reality is somehow lying to us or is wrong. It’s not a great line to be crossing for any of us and in many ways shows a lack of depth on the part of our culture and society that we can no longer discern these aspect of our lives and the world.

I’ve been thinking, though, that this is not something new. We’re all familiar with the famous Christmas letters that we often joke about. It’s often us presenting to others some kind of illusion of perfection of our families, telling others how we think things should be rather than the real real, such as the suffering and struggles that make up who we are as well. We become so dissatisfied with our reality that we have to resort to our own “fake news”, often to avoid our own grief, our anger, our dissatisfaction with life many times and our own “fake news” becomes a way to avoid our reality. But, we also all know, it eventually catches up to us when the illusions we construct begin to crumble before us. You see, this God we encounter is one that deconstructs what we construct in order to recreate us into something new, into the Kingdom as it continues to unfold within and beyond us.

It’s where John the Baptist finds himself today as we find him in prison. He’s a very different person this week than the one we encountered last week. Remember, he was the one down in the Jordan baptizing people. He was chastising the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He was going after Herod for his marriages. He was preaching this rebellious messiah that was to come to overturn the government and religious leaders. Yet, today, he’s somewhat somber. Of course, we would as well when we know our lives are nearing the end as he’s about to be beheaded.

For all this time, John was preaching one message and now we find him today asking whether Jesus is really the one. This entire narrative that John has been preaching is no longer the reality that he had hoped for. Jesus isn’t who he was supposed to be in the eyes of John. John thought Jesus should be someone else. His own narrative that he constructed is now beginning to crumble as he faces the reality of his own life through his own mortality. His idea of Jesus and his idea of God no longer works and once again God is opening John up for something new, despite being at the end of his life. The more narrow our vision of what we think things should be is a good indicator that it’s more about building our own kingdom rather than allowing the Kingdom to unfold within and beyond us. It’s us wanting to control and for John, he now finds all that being deconstructed to be recreated into something new. It’s what we prepare ourselves for at Christmas, the breaking in of God.

But it takes a great deal of patience on our part for that breaking in, just as we await the birth of a child. We hear that from James in today’s second reading. He’s writing to the poor who are losing hope as they find themselves being oppressed by the rich. They too are paying the price for a narrative that the rich are putting together about the poor and, like any of us, are quick to judge. As much as James tells them to be patient with the unfolding of the Kingdom but he’s also warning them about judging the other. Our judgments are also part of the “fake news” that we create about others, not just ourselves. However, all those judgments say much more about ourselves and our own dissatisfaction. James isn’t telling them to allow themselves to be walked upon by the rich. Rather, he’s telling them not to become what it is that they hate by doing what’s being done to them.

As we move into the final days of the Advent season and continue to seek the breaking in of the Kingdom, we are challenged to see where we allow our own “fake news” to take hold of our lives, avoiding the reality of our own lives. We do it individually and we do it communally. Certainly the internet has escalated all of it but it is something that we have always had to deal with in our lives, constructing our own narrative and building our own kingdom often to avoid reality. God can only meet us in our reality and wants to meet us in our reality. It’s in the healing of our hearts, the seeking of love, mercy, forgiveness, and freedom that opens our hearts to the breaking in of the Kingdom.

We all know what it’s like to be John and wanting things to be something other than they are, but at this very moment, on the Third Sunday of Advent, God desires to meet us where we are. Not where we think we should be or who we think we should be. That’s our own “fake news” narrative. But where we have allowed ourselves to be imprisoned and made ourselves smaller than we really are. The Kingdom is vast and wide. It’s that Kingdom we desire and it’s that Kingdom that we are being invited into being broken into our lives and world at this very moment, into the reality we are being called to embrace.

Mending What Divides

Well, it’s over. It’s the day we have waited for, seemingly for years now. If there’s one thing we can agree on, the election cycle of 2016 was taxing emotionally and physically at times. There were days when I just couldn’t look at Facebook because I knew it would suck any life I had out of me. I’ve tried to stay out of the fray except with those I knew I could have meaningful conversations with about politics and this race between Trump and Clinton, or at times, just want to joke about it. What was once a nice forum to connect with friends became a living nightmare at times over the past months. Some of the struggle was I couldn’t quite understand how people could be so certain about so much that they would see and hear and then here I am struggling with who I would vote for, even up to the moment I picked up the pen in the polling place and felt the magnitude of it all. I used to be that person, certain about what to do. Maybe it’s my own lived experience, but things just seem more grey than black and white and I’ve been awakened to my own hypocrisy more often than I care to admit through the process.
Now here I sit reflecting on what I, since Brexit months ago, knew would always be possible, whether I liked it or not or whether anyone else did either. It’s a process that needed to unfold. There’s some reality in knowing that there’s going to be negativity in the days and months leading up to an election, just as their was in Britain, but what I have often found most disheartening is the amount of negativity that persists afterwards. Just look at it. Go to Facebook or Twitter and you won’t have to search far to find it. The irony, or the paradox in it all, is as much as Trump has been bashed for hurtful words, and don’t get me wrong, they are hurtful to many people and cannot be a part of such a position as President of the Free World, my negative reaction or your negative reaction, should only make you pause and say, you know what, I’m not much different than him. It might just weigh on my heart differently than his or others.
What we often fail to miss is that the more we move the charge towards inclusivity others can begin to feel excluded. The message of Trump was not simply about going after Clinton, as some may think, it was a resonation and capitalizing on a very human reality of feeling excluded, taken advantage of, lied to, and hurt by a system. She just happened to be the sacrificial, iconic figure of it all. Some may begin to feel as if thing are out of control and they no longer matter. At the same time, some will feel as if they know better and can make decisions for others, often failing to remember the forgotten and the outcast. Before you know it, suspicion begins to grow, uncertainty, and trust wanes like never before. I find a new way to judge and exclude.
I may not be a deplorable, as has been said, but there’s a chance I may be a part of the infamous 47% or I may have become part of the elite without even knowing it, while trying to include, through my judgment, ever so quietly often begin excluding others. It’s hard, in the midst of such intensity, to separate ourselves from our own ego that gets wrapped up in the need to win and to be right. But when only one wins others lose rather than recognizing that to truly win, we all most lose and give up something as we seek a common path together. More often than not, it is my need to win and be right. I know even for myself, the way I begin to separate is only listen to people that agree with me or say what I say, inflating an ego rather than expanding ones heart.
The only way we will find this path is to recognize and accept that the other is not much different than myself. They may have different struggles, think differently, act differently, vote differently, say things I might not, but really they could say the same thing about me. The more we separate ourselves from each other the more fear takes over and grows and the ego, both my own and the collective begins to take hold and I begin to think that somehow I am better than the other, above them. If you ask me, the two that lost last night were the political parties of this country, Republican and Democrat; and quite frankly, they needed to lose and they need to break down and once again connect with the common person. When a cry is ignored or written off, people will go to extreme to be heard. The Parties have become more about the salvation of the party than about the people that they have tried to sway into believing that they held the truth in its entirety, while at the same time demonizing the other and excluding them. That’s the craziness of it all because it happens on both sides, in their own unique ways. We just become blind to our own team’s weakness and shadow.
It’s hard to include everyone and remember everyone when we enter into these presidential elections these days. It’s easy to write-off all who were a part of the losing team. It’s easy to gloat when we win. It’s almost instinctual for us as human beings. But as a man who has really wrestled with this election, it’s time more for this, reflecting and delving a little deeper into my own self, and quite frankly, as a country, asking God to break through the ego at the moment and recognize our own hurt, just as we did in the days following 9/11. It’s the only way we move forward as a country and as humans. There is a deep hurt that runs through the blood of many at the moment, and if you don’t feel it now then you probably did just a few days ago. Redemption doesn’t come through winning. It comes through healing.
That is where we find common ground, in our own hurt and in our own need for healing and stop convincing ourselves that our truest power comes from winning and from beyond ourselves, but rather lies deep within. It’s the way we separate ourselves from the ego of these Institutions that have taken hold of our lives and convince us we are nothing without them. It’s a hard path and journey to manage because pain and suffering seems to stand in the way and we want to avoid it, when life calls us to go forth through it. When we give ourselves that space in our lives, to be as we are, we will also give it to the other and only then will the divide begin to decrease and a common path begin to show itself once again.