Playground’s Parable

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Hazleton News 1 Parks have been closed throughout the pandemic but have been in disrepair long before

As a child, there’s nothing like time at the playground.  It’s a place for imagination to flow as you fly free on the swings, daringly climb to the top of the monkey bars, and see who can get the other to fall first on the teeter totter by abruptly jumping ship, followed up with belly laughs!  I still walk near that park practically daily and am simply mindful of the memories, laughs, and even tears from falling atop the bars only to climb back up, renewed and ready to go, a sense of resiliency learned at a young age.

In our day, parents never knew much of what we were doing on the playground, or so we thought.  We went unsupervised, not because we had bad parents, there just wasn’t a need for supervision.  It was ingrained in us, growing up in a small town, there was always someone watching, someone who would take care or relay the message if need be.  There was a lived reality and belief where we looked out for one another and we weren’t the center of the world; there were others sharing this space with us.  Of course, there are negative connotations as we can assess it from an adult perspective, as if someone was ready to pounce on us if there was an issue, but I suppose as a child it’s a healthy fear to have, always knowing there was a line not to cross.

At times it still feels like I live on this proverbial playground.  It appears, at times, like we’ve gone amuck and the adults have left us to ourselves, not even wanting to supervise, as if orphans in an unknown world.  Now, though, we don’t know where the lines are and no one seems to care whether we’re hurting ourselves or each other, it’s practically each man and woman for him or her-self.  It’s as we like to say, the “inmates are running the asylum.”  It’s no longer about flying free, without a care in the world, swinging back and forth, but rather pushing each other off, mid-air, to see who we can hurt the most.  It isn’t about the fun of climbing the bars, but rather stepping on one another to assume the place of power to lord it over others, all while the park begins to fade and turn into shambles, as if the memories of a war had faded but the scars remain and are always reminding us what we have lost without a sense of moving forward.

The silence, as you walk through, may be the one redeeming quality.  As the children in charge continue to fight with one another, competing, lording, and most especially, simply surviving, it’s in the silence where you begin to cry at the reality, letting go of a world which once was and yet with some fear of what unfolds before the eyes.  Is it me who’s crazy?  Why do I want to remain disengaged from it all?  Why don’t I see the point in what they’re fighting over and trying too hard to hold onto?  It seems rather pointless.  All this while the world around seemingly speeds up its deterioration.  Is it our own inability to accept reality?  Is it our desire to hold onto memories with the fear of losing all that mattered?  I don’t know.

It seems, the one place where as kids we were able to escape, the playground, has been all but shattered.  Rust covers the bars, swings empty, police tape closing it off as if criminal to play and imagine in a time when kids need it the most, overgrown grass, dilapidated basketball courts, often used as a roller-skating rink back in the day.  Now, the wonder seems all but lost.  There seems to be a lost sense of the other, the looking out for one another, while the world burns around us.  Will there ever be a day when we recognize the other as ourselves?  Will there ever be a day, again, when it’s not all about me, my wants, my rights, and to recognize we’re given one chance at this life and there’s more than just me, a day when we help the other climb rather than step on them to get ahead of them in order to get my way?

Everything and everyone has become so transactional.  If someone doesn’t support my view or vision, we toss them.  Heck, there’s always someone else out there who’s willing to sell their soul to get ahead!  Isn’t that the way it works if you want to play the game?  We’ve lost the sense of just playing the game to play with an addiction to winning.  We’ve sacrificed what’s good and right for a gold star and a win to try to feed my own emptiness, only leaving me more depleted.  Heck, we’ve even tried to soften the blow of a sliding board as we can somehow avoid getting hurt.  We’ll go to the furthest ends to avoid the pain of loss and hurt.  The irony and paradox, it only hurts more.

It’s good to imagine in the face of reality.  It’s good to imagine not what the playground used to be but what it can be.  Heck, just a little care and concern would go a long way, a recognition there are still children who need a place to play and use their own imaginations!  Like us, as kids, they too need a place to escape into the world of imagination and dreams, not the seemingly, and all-too-real games, of a pad or gaming device!  If anything, this deadens the imagination.  A place, rather, which is illumined in the evening, where we don’t have to fear our own darkness but even play with our shadows.  How about a place which screams with excitement for their arrival, de-stimulating their minds in order to explore the vastness of their own inner life?  Better yet, a place where they can run free, risk the sting of a bee, falling flat in the mud, and get back up, a true lesson in resiliency.  Resiliency will get them further in life than winning anyway.

We need, now more than ever, a world which dreams for tomorrow.  We’ve settled for rusty monkey bars, overgrown grass, buckled courts, all while being distracted by the supposed adults and elders of society bickering with one another, consumed in their own pain, and failing to see the helpless child, screaming out, just wanting to feel safe and secure to dream and imagine a life as doctor, pilot, president, firefighter, dancer, teacher, etc.  Who wants any of that when all you see being mirrored back is anger, resentment, and a lack of care and concern for your own well-being and caring more about themselves, some unwilling to let go of failed expectations.

I don’t know, maybe we’d all be a little better off if we spent time in a park, feeling free, giving perspective, and using our imaginations for a better world for our children and ourselves.  Don’t they deserve better than we’re offering, and for that matter, modeling?  There’s nothing like the sense of freedom and flying, swinging back and forth, wind in the hair, without a care in the world knowing, all will be well.  I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but we can offer so much more.  Simply stepping into the shoes of a child for a time will enliven the spirit, not to command them to be “mini-me’s” but to be who they are, children, and us, young at heart.

Called to More

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Do you know people who never quite recover from difficult situations? We can probably all name a few who were never “quite right” after a particular loss, illness, or some other sort of tragedy, practically nailing someone to their grave long before their physical death. Yet, there are others who tend to be resilient, who are not going to allow anything in life to stop them and bounce back, using it as a learning opportunity to become better. It by no means they don’t face challenges and loss, but there is something within them not allowing them to lose hope or give up in any fashion. There is always this drive for “more” which doesn’t go away when things aren’t right, and until they reach the point of peace, there will be no stopping them.

It’s where I have often found myself. As life was slipping from my fingers in late 2018, I did everything in my power to try to contain it and hold onto the pieces without allowing them to shatter despite the desire for more shouting louder and louder within me. It’s hard to contain the voice within and makes it understandable why so many give up, but even harder to be insistent on holding things together despite needing to fall apart. It sometimes feels easier to give up on life, dreams, desires, and the rest than it is to ultimately, change, to let go. We’d rather be stuck in the same place rather than muster up the courage the inner voice is offering to catapult us to changing the way we live our lives. I dare say, not only as individuals, but as society as a whole. Fear runs so deep within us and is often utilized against us making it feel insurmountable. It takes resilient people around us to consistently remind us there is hope and possibility in the face of uncertainty and change happening at warp speed.

You rarely hear anyone speak of what it all does not only to our mental health but physically as well. We create walls for ourselves trying to protect ourselves from hurt, meaning, vulnerability. Let alone how it effects the world around us, in choices and decisions we make, not out of freedom as we love to tout, but out of fear which we have come to believe to be freedom because it’s what we’ve convinced ourselves of in our lives. In our inability to be resilient and agile, we continue to contain ourselves, shove ourselves into closets, and trapped in whatever way works for us. You need not look far into the political sphere at the level of anger existing in our society, often disguising resentment and unfinished hurts as if, somehow, we have been wronged by the government, professionals, doctors, religion, or whomever, creating a culture of doubt, mistrust, and cynicism and politicians cashing in on it.

We claim a great deal as a culture and society. We love to be the best at everything in comparison to the rest of the world, most innovative, best military, best medicine, and so on. I dare say, though, not the most resilient, which makes you better. If we were resilient, we’d change as needed and be able to admit we have real problems being left to politicians of all sorts and sizes. It’s easier to blame than to accept responsibility for the world around us, as if it’s someone else’s problem. Look around us and see an infrastructure aging and failing, a landscape continuously being raped of its resources, people still enslaved in various ways, instability, and all we can do is clamp down, out of fear of change. We may not pay the price in the moment, but this too is our shortcoming, unable to see beyond the tip of our nose on decisions, lacking long-term solutions to problems only deepening around, and I dare say, deep within us.

By definition, resiliency is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. A growing debt and a lack of care of this reality exposes our inability to make tough decisions. Our incessant need to demonize the other, whether from other countries, other political affiliations, career choices, and so on isn’t toughness in a resilient way, bouncing back. It’s a toughness rooted in fear, anger, and contempt, none of which are values able to sustain a people in a changing world. We continue to live in an alternate reality of wars among the peoples as problems only continue deepen and wounds unhealed. Who’s to blame? Well, all of us. None of us is free of blame but blame also gets us absolutely nowhere other than deeper into denial. It’s a denial that things will never be the same, as much as we’d like to hold onto the illusions of our lives, the glory days, we believe are long gone.

However, in our resilience the “glory days” always lie ahead. In our resilience we recognize at times things need to fall apart around us. You can look back through this blog where I have mentioned the mistake made in the financial crisis of 2008 was to band-aid the problem. How about after the 9-11 attacks to move too quickly out of the liminal space we were invited into because of the experience to attack mode. Even the church world, after revelations of abuse in the winter of 2002, it wasn’t to deal with lack of transparency, but rather, to clamp down, tighten things up, unable to recognize the strangling of people in the process. Institutions may very well be the least resilient and are lives are so intricately involved in all of them. It exposes the lack of faith and trust and most especially, our lack of resiliency. We’d rather be tough in less than stellar ways, allowing a cancer to grow within us, rather than to change and let go. Fear is deadly.

We still have the opportunity to do an about face and look at our problems square in the face. We no longer need to cling to illusions or delusions. We can speak our resentments of a life not as we had planned. We can empathize with the anger and hurt of the people around us. This is what makes us resilient people. Remember the days following 9/11 where everything simply shut down and quieted. We need more of them right now but not be so quick to run from the uncomfortableness it comes with deep inside us. If things need to fall apart, then we allow them to fall apart. It may feel like the end of the world, but it’s simply the end of the world as we once knew, a world no longer existent. We need resiliency more than ever, a toughness which comes from a people who don’t allow hurt and fear to control their life. We need to turn off the TV’s, politicians, and people who’d rather be politicians, and dialogue with one another about the hurt, the pain, anger, and resentment existing in our lives. If not, the world will continue to pass us by as we allow ourselves to be torn apart through blame, fear, and contempt. We like to tout our toughness, but there’s a toughness we can value, a better toughness, one coming from bouncing back, our resiliency.

 

Hung Up

Anyone familiar with my history knows that water is central. As much as I have a great love of the ocean and find the water extremely healing, spending hours at a time in Maine near the ocean edge, it’s also been a source of great pain. Over the course of my life I have learned just how powerful water can be and how quickly life can change when you encounter water in a violent way, leaving its mark in ways that run currents deep within my very being that will flow through me for life.

Yet, there I was finding myself kayaking nine miles down the James River, not allowing that deeper fear of water to stop me from enjoying what I love most, just being outdoors and breathing in the air breathing through the surrounding forest, coupled with a refreshing splash of water with each dip of the oar pushing me forward. There are elements, though, that still arise that sense of fear and anxiety within me as I venture down the river. There’s something about keeping your eyes forward when you enter into an area of more rapid flow over the rocks, fearing getting caught up in the shallowness of the water and the rocky ground below.

It wasn’t far down the river when I found myself hitting one such area and getting hung up on a rock, unable to turn the kayak forward. The automatic response is one of fear and anxiety, as if going to tip over and falling into the water. I’m not sure why that would be such a fear knowing that it’s late summer and the water has a refreshing feel to the skin’s touch. Rather quickly, in trying to break myself free, the kayak tipped just enough to allow the water to begin to enter it; the flow coming directly into its opening. There was not much I could do to stop it, but without fear or any anxiety, I simply sat there and allowed things to happen as it was. The safest bet on the water is to not grow anxious in an anxious situation, even though it feels most natural.

It was then that I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. There was no “pull myself up by my bootstraps” in this situation, but rather the help of another was going to be required to dislodge me from the situation and set me free to further the journey down the river. All seems so simple after being dislodged but the experience of becoming hung up, the anxiety leading into that rapid, the letting go and allowing yourself to drift as you enter the experience, and knowing that the water has a mind of its own, allows you to recognize that much is out of our control and the help of others on the journey is a necessity.

There was a day when I would not have even considered going onto the river in that way. It became much easier to engage the river from the sidelines and simply “remember” what it was like during the days when I wouldn’t think twice about doing it. Sure some of it comes with age and wisdom, but for me it was that deeper sense of fear of what would happen to me and being turned upside down, out of my control, knowing that the river has a mind of its own, just as life often does. It’s easier to engage life from the sidelines and to simply be a judge of what’s going on. It is though a less fulfilling experience of kayaking and even life. Allowing ourselves to engage the fears and anxiety, even when it seems like the kayak is filling quickly around us, will always open us to being hurt but it’s the only way to experience life and love. The two accompany one another and even complement one another more than we can even begin to imagine.

As I’ve taken the time to reflect, and even laugh at, the experience on the James River, I think about how far I had come from that day back in October 2003 when I thought my life was coming to an end on the Youghiogheny River. The sense of panic at that time, along with tremendous fear of being trapped, had led me not only to great regrets in my life but has also opened the door to greater understanding of the human condition and how easily it is to no longer jump into the river and simply sit on the side wondering and regretting a life that could have been. It’s only in picking up the oar, jumping in the kayak, and even becoming lodged in the rocks, that reminds you that pain accompanies life and yet nowhere near the pain of loneliness that comes with disengaging from life and all it throws at us. With the help of others and a simple awareness of the real reality around us allows us to flow humbly down a river, enjoying every minute of it, and yet never becoming swallowed up by its great power.

A Reimagined World

Isaiah 62: 1-5; I Cor 12: 4-11; John 2: 1-11

We are all aware that companies and products often try to rebrand or rename themselves in order to put on a new front, typically because of loss of profits and things dying and somehow making it look new and flashy is going to sell it.  Sometimes it works but more often than not it doesn’t and often for good reason.  The Church can be no better at times.  We think making things flashy and attractive is once again going to fill pews.  Well, it hasn’t.  If anything, it drives more away.  Of course, political parties are notorious for spin and rebranding and yet often never change.  There is, as well, the government.  How many different ways do you think we’re going to try to rebrand a wall.  Yet, in the end, a wall is a wall is a wall. 

What makes a company or product successful at it, though, isn’t about rebranding or renaming.  More often than not that is simply about changing the look to make it more appealing.  Companies that succeed change from the inside out.  Apple has certainly learned that over the decades.  They return to their essence, to who they are and what they’re really about, and reimagine themselves into the future, living into the questions of what they’re all about.  The problem, it’s hard work, not only individually but for companies but also as a nation and world, it’s the only way forward.  There is a third way, in some sense, the only way, and that’s to return to the essence, the Inner Beloved for us, and reimagine from that place of center.

It is the challenge that Scripture presents to us as we continue the epiphany readings today, as to how the incarnation manifests in our lives and world.  In some ways, it often appears that God and the prophets try to rebrand Israel.  We hear today that they are going to be given a new name.  They will no longer be known as victims of desolation and forsakenness, but will learn to live into this new reality, this eternal covenant, as delight and espoused.  The risk, as if often is for us, is that Israel, as soon as it returns from exile, is to go back to what they were used to, where they were comfortable.  Like us, they often become their own worst enemy.  It’s easier to go back to old ways than to fall into something new and to trust, to reimagine yourself in the way God sees.  For Israel and for us, that’s the invitation.  Isaiah is bursting at the seams to point them in this direction as to return not to their old ways but to the covenant that God made with them and us from the beginning, to return to love and to reimagine themselves as God’s people.  Their time of being victim and of blaming is over.  Their time of simply trying to change the way things look is done.  It’s time for a new era for Israel, a return to the Inner Beloved who will now expand them beyond the horizon. 

The same is true for Paul as he writes to the people of Corinth.  We’re dealing with a community that as well has slowly, over time, moved themselves into exile, separating themselves from their essence.  They begin to have this internal squabbles, today being that of who has the most important and most popular gift.  Paul, not necessarily caring about the gift, tries to point them to the source of those gifts, that it is of one Spirit that they are given wisdom and discernment and all the rest he recites today.  Throughout the letter he pushes this community, more than most, to remember who they are.  Over time they have forgotten and moved away, separated from their essence as community.  They begin to think it’s about them and they could do it on their own.  So they find themselves clinging to their gifts, which become distorted at that point, rather than continuously returning back, not to the way things were, but to their very essence, to change from within and to live from the inside out.  All of the readings these weeks in particular are about the interior change that is necessary to move beyond ourselves and to live into our essence, to mystery, to love.  That’s how reimaging happens rather than simply changing the front.

John, well, in his masterpiece it’s all about reimagination.  There is no new branding or naming in John’s Gospel, and from the very beginning is going to take the message of the Christ to a new level.  He’s going to deliver a punch that transcends time and space, even to the point of using people and places, like Cana, that don’t exist at the time.  None of that matters with John.  What matters is the journey in to a changed heart.  Maybe it is the fact that he’s writing with decades out from the time of Jesus, giving new perspective, but he delivers a message for the ages.  Even the fact that he doesn’t use the name Mary, like the other gospels, delivers a message to all humanity and not to become attached to what you think or the history of individuals.  Rather, imagine yourself there and hear the message, do as he says.  It is just the beginning of believing for the disciples, as we are told, because the hour has not yet come.  The disciples have not learned, yet, to let go of what was, their old way of thinking and doing, and be opened to new possibility.  John will take them on an imagination ride to a transformed life, a reimaging of what it means to be disciple, seeking first a changed heart and living from the inside out.

It’s a painful process and nothing easy about it.  Rebranding and Renaming may be the easy way out and a short-term fix, but in the end, it is only a life that is reimagined, that is allowed to fall into and to live into mystery, into the Inner Beloved, that we begin to see in a different way, through the lens of love.  That’s when we finally begin to recognize that there is no need for fear nor walls.  There is no need for war and violence.  There is no need to cling to anything in life because the source of life becomes the source of your life.  We can get the latest and greatest and continue to live with the illusion that all will be well, but like the companies that try it, we’ll find ourselves in the same position, still wanting more out of life.  The only path, the third way, is to reimagine ourselves as God’s people.  The gospel and the prophets demand it of us as individuals, as community, as nation, and as world.  It’s what these epiphany weeks are really about, the awakening to a new awareness where all we can do is fall into and live into mystery, the unknown, the Inner Beloved, and pray that it may be done to us in the same way.

More Than Imitation

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; I Cor 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20

They make it sound so easy, don’t they?  The disciples that is.  They simply drop everything, the nets, fishing, their father, other others and go on their way.  We can only imagine what the hired workers and the father thought in this moment.  There had to be some anger and a bit of resentment.  Yet, what the disciples don’t know, and often what we don’t know, is that as much as they can come out of the boat and follow Jesus, you can’t take the boat out of them.  That sense of duty, responsibility, guilt, obligation, expectation, or whatever you may call it goes with them.  They simply go from imitating one person, in their father, to trying to imitate Jesus.  That’s why it’s simply the first call of the disciples.  They were primed for it.  There’s a sense of adventure, something new, facing the unknown, and probably thinking, it’s got to be better than fishing.

And so their journey begins.  And sadly, for many, that’s where it ends.  This call of discipleship, as it was for the first disciples, is just the beginning.  Quite frankly, we all grow up imitating adults around us, for good or for ill.  Imitating Jesus shouldn’t be all that hard.  Although, we have trouble even getting that part of the journey down well.  But they’re not Jesus and nor am I or any of you.  I’ve mentioned this the past few weeks now, beginning with the Magi, it’s simply the first call for a reason.  The real call comes later in the story when the rubber hits the road and they are finally left with a choice.  For the Magi, it happens in Jerusalem.  For Jonah, it comes in Ninevah.  For the disciples, like the Magi, it happens in Jerusalem.  Those places become the apex of their first call.  You can’t go much further than death, despair, fear, anxiety, and that’s everything those cities become to each of them and where do they go from there.  That’s the real call and the choice for each of us.

For Jonah, he’s appears a little further along the journey than the disciples.  He’s already been called and in this tiff with God, which, as we all know, leads him to the belly of the whale all because he resists the call to go to Ninevah. You see, that place was everything that was wrong in the eyes of Jonah and others.  They were the enemy.  They were the oppressors.  To him, there was nothing good about the place and low and behold, back to where he started, he ends up on the shore of Ninevah.  He could resist all he wants but God’s going to keep pushing him there until he responds to the second call, which is to pass through the enormously large city, three day journey, through Ninevah.  Now if you read it, it appears that all lived happily ever after.  They repent of their ways.  They actually listen to him.  But, he still resists and becomes angry.  It wasn’t them that needed the message as much as it was him.  He too had a choice.  Was he going to continue to hold onto his own judgments of them and himself and of God and what it meant to be a prophet or was he finally going to surrender to where it was that God was leading him and become the prophetic voice that he was.  Not in comparison to everyone else but he had to become his own person.  In that image of the disciples, he finally had to surrender the boat because it no longer gave life.  That way of thinking and living only led to a resistance to the deeper call, the second call of Jonah, and for that matter, the disciples.

They will have their day.  The next weeks they’ll be living on a high.  They see all the good that Jesus is doing and they want a piece of that action.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something new and exciting.  But the sense of urgency and immediacy that Mark adds to the story, and which we’ll hear these weeks, is simply to get them to the real showdown and the real call that is being given to them.  As I said, imitating is easy but can they imitate all the way and surrender it all.  That’s where it becomes a rub for the disciples.  We know it takes them awhile as well, just as it does for us.  They’re immediate response is to go back to Galilee.  And eventually they will have to go back to Galilee but begin to see it in a different light.  They’ll go back to what they know, even if it hasn’t given them life.  They’ll go back to the boat because they think that’s good enough.  They’ll go back to being indentured to their father and the family business all because it got to hard.  Of course, they’ll eventually pass through the second call as the Magi did.  The Magi had to go through Jerusalem before they can reach the Christ in Bethlehem.  It’s one of the most humbling experiences because they learn it’s not about them but about this God who has called them forth not simply to imitate but to become and to be the fullness of who they were created to be.  It’s their greatest gift and it’s why they and Jesus were such a threat to the systems of their day.

Paul may sum it up best though when he speaks about all of this passing by.  We tend to worry about all the wrong things and get caught up the darkness of our day.  As much as this passing through is about us, it’s also about this city, this nation, and this world.  But like the cast of characters, we have to pass through dark times.  We have to pass through fear and anxiety.  We have to pass through our perceived enemies, as it was for Jonah, in order to experience the real call, the second call of discipleship, the choice of what we do in and with those times of our lives.  It’s crucial and life-altering but it’s the demand of the gospel and the fullness of the call of the disciples.

As we continue this journey through the weeks of ordinary time, we may find ourselves in very different places.  Some still trying to imitate, others in the thick of Jerusalem, discerning that call, and yet others on the edge trying to figure things out.  Wherever it may be, the call remains because the call is the eternal.  It will stay and will continue to see us through even the darkest times of our lives and the deepest of troubles all pushing to awaken us to the deeper call within, not just to imitate but rather to be our best selves, our fullest selves.  I know quite well that the boat is a comfortable place.  We all know that.  But it’s not where we’re meant to stay.  At this very moment God looks at us and with the gentlest of voices calls us forth to be the more we were created to be in this world.

Foolish Wisdom

Wisdom 6: 12-16; I Thess 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

I don’t need to convince anyone here that we live in rather hostile times. How else do you describe what we witnessed this past week in the church shooting in Texas when someone feels they can just walk in and obliterate people. Or even here in Baltimore. We’re not even at the end of the year and the death toll due to violence has exceeded 300. It’s hard to comprehend. There also seems to be an increase in stories of accusations of assault against people. That’s just the actions of people. It doesn’t take into account the hostility we experience with the vile that often comes out of mouths and plastered on social media and other outlets. How can any of us deny this surge in hostility. It seems and feels as if there is this great upheaval taking place in politics, Church, and other facets of our lives that it seems to feed into that hostility. As much as we want to seek this sense of permanence and cling to it, there just isn’t other than what we seem to fear the most, death.
Matthew’s community which we’ve heard from all year was not much different. The reasons for such hostility may or may not have been different but he consistently worried about the community and whether it would survive. There were strong divisions between Jews, the Messianic Jews, who would go on to become Christians, as well as pagan and more secular people, all of which felt that they held the mantle of truth and found ways to hold it over the others. Matthew consistently tries to move the community to this deeper reality of who they are and despite differences in beliefs, way of life, knowledge, or anything else, there is something that binds them all. But when they and we get caught up in our tribes, our way of thinking, thinking we hold this mantle of truth and complete knowledge, hostility arises and there is less and less space for others, and quite frankly, the Other.
In these final three weeks of the liturgical year Matthew will once again make this push to this deeper reality by the telling of parables. We hear the parable of the virgins this week, followed by the talents, and climaxing with the sheep and goats on the final Sunday. Today, though, is this parable that appears to be filled with contradictions. There are these so-called wise virgins who appear on the surface to be given some kind of reward for their presence. However, their actions don’t speak great volumes in terms of wisdom. No sooner it is announced that the bridegroom is arriving, the foolish virgins seek help from the wise virgins, and yet, they want nothing to do with them. They shut them off and only worry about themselves rather than help the one in need. Go buy your own stuff and worry about yourself they are told. They go about their business only to lock the door behind them as they enter the party only to shut themselves off as some form of protection from the outside elements. It doesn’t sound like great wisdom.
But remember, this is how they envisioned God and now Jesus plays on words and uses stories to point out what they miss. The only other image that sounds so stark in Scripture is the closing of the tomb, death, cutting off from everyone else. Yet, there they were. Like today, it’s about insiders outsiders, the better than and less than, who holds the mantle and who doesn’t, who’s wise and who’s a fool. Yet, in the process, the parable reveals something about them and their own understanding of God and themselves. In the seeking of wisdom, one must first learn to embrace death and a reality and a part of who we are. It is in letting go that we begin to realize that maybe the best any of us can do is accept the fact that I may have some wisdom but I could be a damn fool all at the same time, ready and yet not ready. Like the parable, we tend to be filled with such contradictions. But for the Pharisees and their understanding of God, it was all about how it appeared and if we don’t move to that deeper reality we never really see that I am both wise and foolish, living and dying with each passing breath.
We hear in that first reading today from Wisdom that our lives are about seeking that gift of wisdom and the eternal. As a matter of fact, seeking wisdom leads us to the eternal. When we feel we carry this mantle of truth and certainty, there’s not much room for wisdom and for that matter, the other. Wisdom, and our ability to let go, leads us from a life of hostility to a life of hospitality, where we have space for the other, and quite frankly, we’re free to be ourselves. There is great wisdom in accepting that I am not all-knowing and I don’t carry the mantle of truth because it frees me to be myself and unlike the Pharisees, don’t feel the need to try to be someone other than I really am, both wise and foolish all at the same time.
Quite frankly, there is some wisdom found even in the foolish virgins if we’re willing to look a little deeper. They come empty, with nothing holding them back. They ask for help when needed, even in despair. Yet, they find themselves rejected, but not rejected by God but by who they thought God was, the Pharisee who felt it was their duty to guard the door and judge who comes and who doesn’t. So they’re not rejected by God but rather by us. We will hear this now these next weeks in our own seeking of wisdom and learning to let go of these images of God that no longer work in our lives and hinder us from going deeper in our lives. The hostility that arises with Jesus isn’t because of lack of knowledge or wisdom. He certainly proves himself in that way. The hostility comes when he shows hospitality to the excluded, the outsiders, the foolish ones as they were known. Jesus shows us a God who has space for both the wise and the fool.
As we make this journey together, as Paul reminds us today, we seek that wisdom, the eternal, that frees us to be who we are, often contradictory in our own lives and yet still loved by God. When we can begin to accept that about ourselves we become less hostile towards others, learn to respond with love, and honestly, become even more dangerous in such a hostile world because we are set free to love as God loves, the wise and the fool. Quite frankly, it’s all we can really ask for in this life. We pray for the grace to accept and to be aware of this deeper reality in our own lives, that we are both wise and fool, ready and not ready, open and closed, all at the same time. And yet, infinitely still loved by God in our fullness.

 

Remembering to Forget

Deut 8: 2-3, 14-16; I Cor 10: 16-17; John 6: 51-58

There’s a rather obscure movie out right now, or at least I think so, called Dean.  The basic crux of the story is about a young man and his father who just keep clashing with one another because of this nagging grief that they share for the loss of their mother and wife.  They both have very different ways of dealing with what life has given them and neither understands the other.  Long and short of it, without even knowing it, separate themselves from one another to deal with their loss before they can once again come to a deeper understanding of their own relationship with one another and remember the love they have and share.  Quite honestly, it would be true of all of us here.  These deepest parts of ourselves, love, loss, grief, hunger, desire, all of them run so deep within us and often need to be found in our own way before we begin to see the oneness we have with the other and a shared love.

These two weeks now we’ve heard different versions of the story of the exodus of people Israel.  Today’s account comes to us from Deuteronomy.  The very first word out of Moses’ mouth today is simply to remember.  For the people today it was about this deepest hunger in their lives that they continue to seek out and to fill.  Much of their time, as it is with us, is forgetting who we really are in life and in our deepest self and love.  Israel was no different.  And, of course, over time, you begin to believe that you’re something other than you are.  You no longer remember.  For them it has been about their experience in the desert and the experience of slavery in Egypt.  They’ve thought God had abandoned them and somehow rejected them over time, punishing them for some reason.  But Moses simply reminds them today to remember.  It’s almost as if, as Moses points out, that they had to have this experience of the desert and to come into awareness of this deeper hunger in their lives before they can begin to remember once again.  So much, not only in their lives, must be forgotten and let go of before they can begin to question and remember and once again come together as community, more deeply rooted in their truest begin, in love.

Some who followed Jesus in those early days had similar experiences.  Shortly following today’s reading many will begin to disperse and fall away from Jesus.  They hear what he says, often taking it literally, and realize they just can’t do it.  Even in their own experience of separation from doesn’t necessarily lead them to the deeper places of their own lives.  They want to believe, as we often do, what we see and exactly what we hear in words.  But that’s not the Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel or who we encounter in this Eucharist week in and week out.  In his own way, John through Jesus and Christ through him is trying to move them to a place of remember their deeper identity as well.  As if, what speaks to us in this Eucharist can only somehow communicate with the deepest parts of ourselves.  It’s hard because we want to stay on the surface and go with what we feel, but this remembering takes us deeper than all of that.

Paul consistently tries to lead communities to that deeper place of understanding in their own lives.  They find other ways to separate themselves but in ways that often lead to divisions within their communities.  Even today, the larger context is to warn them about having more than one God.  That too is easy for us in our own process of forgetting not what we need to let go of, but forgetting that deeper love that we are.  We begin to satisfy those deepest longings and hungers within ourselves with something other than God, creating gods for ourselves, often fooling ourselves into believing that it will somehow satisfy, forgetting what is most important to us.

Over time all of this that we celebrate begins to be forgotten on the deeper levels.  We become more about worshipping, distancing ourselves not only from the drama of our lives but the drama that unfolds before us here.  We, over time, find ways to separate ourselves while this God, as it was for Israel, continues to offer manna, food that will satisfy, even in our desert experiences.  Yeah, in some ways I stand before you in a privileged position.  I stand at this altar celebrating the highs and lows of life, even my own.  I know the stories that flow through this table and Eucharist.  I have seen it unfold, trying to lead others in their deepest grief, their unsatisfied longings, and all the rest, to a place of remembering.  No matter what we may be experiencing in our own life, this Eucharist we celebrate and share it stands as a reminder of who we are and the life we are called to, a life of not simply worshipping this God, but allowing ourselves to be transformed by this God.  As we move to this Eucharistic celebration, remember.  Remember not only what you are but who you are in your deepest self, love.  In the midst of our own forgetting in life, the Eucharist calls us back to continue to be transformed into this love for an often divided and separated world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting UnStuck

Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; II Cor 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

Despite the passage of centuries, I do believe that to this day Moses, people Israel, and the whole experience of the exodus and exile has something to teach us about our own lives.  Their story really is our story.  We know what it feels like to live in exile from others at times, even from God.  It so often seems, in such contentious times with Moses and the people, that they lose their ability to relate to one another and to God and move towards cutting themselves off, moving into this tribal mentality of winners and losers, where, in the end, everyone ends up losing.

The same is true for ourselves and the climate in which we live these days.  On many levels we’ve lost the ability to relate to anyone different than ourselves and have really exiled ourselves from one another or at least from people that we have deemed the losers, the ones that think differently, creating this divide, and like people Israel, we have become stuck.  We can’t relate to others and then for that matter, with God.

Think about their experience, though, in relation to ourselves.  Despite this newfound freedom that people Israel experiences following the exodus, they don’t know quite what to do with themselves.  It’s as if they had become accustomed to being slaves in Israel that they no longer know how to live.  They don’t understand what’s up with Moses and his seemingly strange experiences, but they also don’t understand God.  Keep in mind that this experience has impacted them on a very deep level.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to abandon them.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to reject them over and over again, and now as they move to this place of freedom, they don’t know how to act and they certainly don’t know how to relate.  They react to it all and create these false gods for themselves, grouping themselves and finding, at times, a common enemy in Moses for leading them to this place.  It’s simply their experience but so is being stuck as they seem to become in the throws of the desert for years to come.  As Moses tries to lead them to a deeper understanding of this God, a God of mercy and generosity, their hearts remain closed and they become, as he so often refers, the stiff-necked people.  As life changes so does the way we relate to others and especially to God.

This is what we encounter in this snippet we hear from John’s Gospel today.  In its larger context is an interaction with one of the more interesting characters in the gospel, Nicodemus who’s known for coming to Jesus at night.  At this point in John’s community, some fifty years after their formed, there is a great deal of contention and division.  We have certainly heard that during the Lenten and Easter seasons as Jesus often found himself in conflict with the leaders.  Well, Nicodemus was one of them.  He has his own way of relating in the life of the community as a Pharisee and is not yet willing to put that in jeopardy so he comes to Jesus at night.  As much as people Israel didn’t know what to make of a God that wanted to enter into relationship with them, even centuries later they still can’t quite grasp now this God who takes the form of one of them in Jesus.  It causes more tribal thinking, certainly among the Pharisees who had their own way and were stuck in that thinking.  For them there had to be winners and losers.  For Nicodemus, despite being one of them, he finds himself somewhat attracted to this Jesus guy and what he’s all about.  For John it is a process we go through, of letting go and reconciling, allowing ourselves to move forward in life with a fresh take on the way we relate to one another and to God, not in some distant universe, but right here in the midst of our own lives as they unfold.

In the end, it’s probably Paul that sums it up best for us in today’s second reading and provides us the tool to look at our own lives and the way we relate.  Just because we’ve related in one way all our lives doesn’t mean that it’s the best way or even the healthiest way.  Again, we see that on the large scale in our political system and the divides, people moving to the extremes.  Paul reminds us to mend our ways.  Reconcile with one another.  Love stands as the foundation of relationship and community.  Work towards peace.  Among other tidbits of ideas that he shares with us today.  If we continue to cling to a God that rejects, abandons, or shames us, it’s just probably not God.  There’s a better chance that we can relate to people Israel and find ourselves stuck in life, just as we find ourselves politically.  It impacts all of us and the way we relate.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, maybe it’s time accept the invitation to be the fourth one at the table and being challenged to change the way we relate.  If we cling to tribal thinking, where we’re right and others are wrong, where truth becomes relative, where there needs to be winners and losers, well, guess what, we all lose and we are all losing because we’re being invited to move beyond our stuck-ness and grow into a deeper relationship that goes beyond ideology and politics, to the deeper reality of a God that continues to pursue a relationship with us from deep within our very being and through all creation we encounter.  Where are we stuck in our own thinking and understanding not only of others but of God?  That’s the place this God pursues us and desires greater and deeper intimacy with us, relating to us in a more profound and deeper way, with others, our community, and with the Mystery that continues to draw us to the place of mercy, generosity, healing, reconciliation, and certainly, love.

 

Our Deepest Love

 

 Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; John 14: 15-21

 

Near the end of Beauty and the Beast, there is a scene where all the characters, the candlestick, the clock, piano, and all the rest realize that time no longer seems to be on their side and that this spell that they had been put under, hardening all of them, may soon be an eternal reality.  They’re left wondering as to why, though, because they realize that the Beast has finally learned to love Belle and yet it hasn’t broken the spell.  One of them comments that it wasn’t just about the Beast learning to love after living a life of using people for his own self-interest while looking down on others that he has seen as less than himself.  However, it wasn’t just about the Beast learning to love Belle it was also about her loving in return.  In those moments when time seems all but lost, hardness seems to be their fate.

 

Love tends to be a word that we throw around quite easily.  As a matter of fact, in the world and culture we live it seems that we have grown much more accustomed to loving things and using people.  It seems as if we love things that we can’t seem to live without but people can often become dispensable.  In order for love to deepen, as couples that have been married for years can attest to, often comes from a great deal of sacrifice, letting go, and surrendering, in order to move beyond the superficialities that we often become attached to in relationship.  It was the problem of the Beast.  He loved what others had, how they looked, while growing more deeply hardened in his own heart that he was no longer open to this deeper love, until he finally has to let go of the one he had experienced love with in Belle.

 

This deeper love is where Jesus tries to move the disciples in their own call to discipleship as we move to some of the farewell discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  This message of love seems to go on for chapters in John’s gospel but even they won’t necessarily understand what it’s all about until they walk through it themselves.  The experience of Jerusalem will do nothing but strip them of their own attachments and expectations of who this Jesus was and is.  They will learn first-hand the depths of his love for them and us as they witness that love poured out on the Cross, where water and blood flow. 

 

We know, first-hand ourselves, by our reading of Acts of the Apostles that they too move to this deeper place of love in their own lives, being freed of their own hardness and self-interest.  As a matter of fact, they become more attuned to it in others and aren’t so quick to give it away, this Spirit of Truth that Jesus speaks.  No, not even what we have made truth to be, facts and knowledge; but rather this deep knowing that love is all we need in our lives and it’s love that breaks that hardness, pursuing us until we surrender.  They face that reality as they enter Samaria today and encounter a young man who wants what they have.  His name is Simon the Magician.  His story is smack dab in the middle of what we hear today with Philip but they find themselves leery of Simon.  Like the Beast, he simply wants what they have for his own good, to make money and to use people, violating them in their own vulnerability.  He wants power on what he sees that they are capable of but really not love.  There is no mutuality in order for the love to grow, the give and take, and so they refuse.  They lay hands on the rest of the community.

 

For them and for this who process of forming disciples, it was about keeping them connected to their center.  In the everyday world it was about Jerusalem and the experience of love poured out on the cross, where their lives were transformed.  But even for us it’s about finding that center within ourselves as love moves us to this deeper reality, leading us to the sacrificial love of letting go and surrendering.  The more we allow love to move us to such deep places and to break through our own hardness, even if it doesn’t seem like time is on our sides, love still grows and frees.

 

As we move to these final weeks of the Easter season we live with the same challenge of recognizing and being aware of the places that remain hardened, entombed, in our own lives.  Where are we not being open to receiving that love.  We all know what it feels like when we’re rejected by people we have loved.  We know what it’s like to hold grudges and hate, simply as a way to hold power over others, or so we think.  We certainly live in a world and culture that thinks that’s the answer.  We settle for war.  We settle for violence, even in our own lives at times, all in the name of what we think is love.  Like Beast and Belle, there is a mutuality to this deeper love in which we are called to be.

 

The call to discipleship and missionary disciples, going out as the early disciples we hear of in Acts of the Apostles, challenges us to evaluate our own lives and our own ability to receive and give this love.  This season has been about conversion and transformation, to create space in our hearts to be open to such love and to begin to see people for who they are, fellow journeyers in this world, trying to make it work, and without a doubt, aware of their own deepest longing to love and to be loved in return.  It is the tale as old as time, not only for Beast and Belle, but for each of us.  Over time we have a tendency to become complacent and crusty, hardened as the characters were in that story.  But we do believe in a God that never stops pursuing us and never stops breaking through that hardness, realizing we are never but satisfied by anything but love.  It may not come in the ways we expect or even want at times, but without a doubt, no matter what remains unfinished in our own lives can be transformed by and into love.

 

Life’s Narrow Gate

John 10: 1-10

One of the final scenes of the movie Up is of Carl, the old guy who is just besides himself, wallowing in his grief.  He lost his wife before they could ever make their way to their dream vacation, Paradise Falls.  It’s all they ever wanted.  Yet, over and over again something happens, life happens, and it never happens and then her life is cut short.  He’s a grieving man who’s lost so much and is now at wits end with the young boy and the bird that have led him down this path that he just doesn’t know what to do.  They have a big fight and go their separate ways, leaving Carl to return to his house.

But something happens at that house that he’s tried to fly to Paradise Falls with balloons.  He begins to look at albums and realizes he didn’t know the whole story.  He was so trapped in his grief and in the way things used to be, his expectations of that dream vacation, that he had lost sight of the bigger picture and realized it was time to let go.  It’s one of the best scenes of the movie because you see him start to throw out the furniture, throw out anything hung on the walls, anything that was nailed down had to go out the door and gradually the house begins to fly once again, not to Paradise Falls as he thought, but a return to this makeshift community that he had grown to love.

It’s what we encounter in today’s Gospel of the Good Shepherd as well.  It’s not the cute, stained glass window good shepherd that we have become accustomed to over the years.  If you go back to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, this is the follow up to the story of the Man Born Blind which ends up in a fight between Jesus and the Pharisees and the staunch insiders that are wound so tight that they too lose sight of the bigger picture.  They think they know it all.  They have their eye on what they think is Paradise Falls, which more often than not was doing things as prescribed in their own way, and yet they grow angry and tired of this Jesus and today is really the continuation of his response to them after he tells them they are the ones that are blind.

Like Carl in Up, as time goes on and they allow things to become attached internally, their vision becomes more narrow.  They become blinded to the true paradise falls, or in John’s case, a return to the Garden of Eden, and the challenge it is to move to such freedom in life.  So once again, even though they still won’t get it, he uses this image of sheep, shepherd, gates, and all the rest which aren’t anything we’re accustomed to in our society.  They best I can come up with is if you’ve ever been to Ireland you can see rows of small stone walls that seem to go on for miles and then every now and then there is this narrow opening.  All the images used by Jesus, though, is taking what they see as derogatory and turning it upside down.  Early followers of the way or of the Christ were often known as sheep, similar to what in our own history we’d refer to people who might live differently or look differently than us might have been referred to as in life.  It appeared that they had blindly followed something that the rest couldn’t quite grasp because of the lack of depth in their own lives.  The followers, these sheep, had been led to the garden, the pasture, this place of freedom which only has one way through, and that’s through the narrow gate.  There’s no jumping over and knocking the wall down.  You can only through the narrow gate.

Like Carl, because of the narrowness of the gate it’s nearly impossible to take anything through with you.  The shepherd literally acts as the gate by lying on the ground and leading them across to this place of freedom.  We become weighed down by our own illusion of what this paradise is that we begin to lose sight like the Pharisees and the staunch insiders.  We begin to think that things can only be done in one way and no other way.  We begin to replace paradise with the American Dream and think it’s about accumulating, the white picket fence, and gathering things that begin to leave us weighed down rather than free to roam about in this life.  But the life and the life more abundantly that Jesus speaks of in this passage has nothing to do with any of it.  We keep trying to get to paradise falls with all our belongings and all we hold onto but end up stuck in life.  The path to a more abundant life that Jesus speaks of is often just the opposite of the American way of life, not about accumulating but about letting go.

One of John’s central themes is to move to this place of a more abundant life.  It’s not easy and it does come only with a passage through that narrow gate.  The path to that more abundant life is by living a life of conversion, of an ever-changing heart that doesn’t allow itself to become weighed down by fear, worry, anxiety, and all else that a life in this culture often leads us to each day.  The great thing about allowing ourselves to enter into this life of conversion is that on some level it gets easier.  The more we learn to let go of in life the less we try to carry through that narrow gate.  What makes the sheep so smart and how Jesus throws it all on its head is that more than anything, sheep trust that one voice, the true voice.  It’s where the Pharisees and the insiders get it wrong.  They worry about how it looks and all the externals of life, but the path John leads us on through the Christ in a dismantling of our interior life, just as it was for Carl.

As we continue this Easter journey on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray for the awareness in our lives as to what we still try to carry with us through life.  Where are we being weighed down and are hearts being weighed down by failed expectations, hurts, fears, and all the rest.  Like Carl, and the disciples, we often learn only by going through and not get comfortable with what we think is paradise falls because the Christ promises an even more abundant life when we learn to let go, cease control, and be led through the narrow gate.  We quickly learn, as did Carl, it’s no longer about getting to Paradise Falls.  Rather, it’s about living Paradise Falls in this very moment and quite often in the life of our own community.