Pastor Kaye's Blog

God’s Vineyard

Yesterday we tackled the parable of the landowner who hired workers at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon and dinner time, to work in his vineyard and then he paid them all the same amount (Matthew 20:1-16). Hmm… I’ve heard that this is the most disliked parable in the Gospels, and I can see why.

(For the full video version, click here.)

It is tough because this parable seems innately unfair. It is an unrealistic social story kingdom of heaventhat tries to point out a spiritual truth about each person’s relationship with the Divine, but we get hung up and don’t understand it because we over-identify with that first laborer who toiled all day in the blistering heat and got paid the same as the last guy who started at 5 p.m.

It reminds me of when I was a kid. I had to wait until my brother (who was three-years younger) was old enough to ski before I could learn myself. And I had to wait until I was 12 to get a camera, but then he got one at the same time. It just wasn’t fair. I wanted him to have to wait like I did to receive those opportunities!

Perhaps it would help to know that right before this parable, Peter, Jesus’ top disciple, says to Jesus (basically), “Hey, we all left everything that we have to follow you… what exactly are we getting out of this?” And Jesus reassures him that of course they will all be taken care of and rewarded. But there is something about having to reassure Peter of his “reward” that rubs the author of Matthew the wrong way. It just doesn’t fit the model of laboring in God’s vineyard where all people are treated equally. So, the parable attempts to explain what Peter didn’t quite get.

In our world, we compare ourselves to others to make sure we aren’t being cheated, taken advantage of or treated unfairly. But the parable reminds us that the world of comparative thinking does not work when dealing with spiritual reality. On a spiritual level we need a different thought process that does not put us at the center of the universe…nope, not all about us.

If we remember that this parable says “the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” It is meant to describe the kingdom of heaven. And if we remember that Jesus told us that the kingdom of heaven is within, that it’s a spiritual state of being, then we have to recognize that the landowner represents the qualities and characteristics of the kingdom of heaven. The landowner (aka God) is generous, loved unconditionally, treated people equally with caring, compassion, and grace. The landowner lived with a sense of abundance.

God doesn’t look at each of us to judge who did more, made more of a difference, because we are now in the consciousness of the kingdom of heaven, not, as John Shea says, in the consciousness of “Comparative Status” or “Fear of Not Getting What You Deserve.” Those states of consciousness are of this world, and they are awfully hard to get out of our brains.

Most of the time we’re not even thinking about the fact that there is a larger reality that permeates all parts of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, social).  The Divine continually presents us with opportunities to learn and grow spiritually by volunteering, reaching out to someone, standing for justice, giving of ourselves and what we have, studying or worshiping, etc. Whether we do something huge or something small, it matters not. The reward is the same – a day’s wages, which echoes the concept of our “daily bread.” It is all we need for the day: sustenance, love, caring, abundance, equality, compassion, purpose.

It makes perfect sense to me that the energy of the Divine does not operate on monetary (how silly would that be) rewards, or any other rewards.

This parable is actually an extended answer to Peter, “Really, Peter, I’m grateful for all you’ve done, but in the eyes of the Divine you’re no better than anyone else.” God, being God, will give everyone all that God has. There is no option. God can’t be stingy or judgmental or punishing, those words aren’t anywhere in the definition of God.

The hope would be that we’d chill out on our own competitive spirits, and embrace the concept that God doesn’t have favorites. God’s love encompasses and gives equally to all.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Spirit of Reconciliation

I don’t think I’ve ever preached on Matthew 18:15-20 because I just didn’t quite know what to do with the procedure of the early Christian community in dealing with conflict.  In some ways the scripture sounded more like it was calling someone out and making an example of them. And if they didn’t change their ways, it sounded like they were shunned. Then I heard a different perspective from theologian John Shea.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In his book, On Earth as it is in Heaven, Shea said that “Jesus teaches and reconciliationexemplifies a relentless drive for reconciliation.” Within the early church community, this imperative spawns a set of procedures to be applied to breakdowns of community relationships. If the process doesn’t work, the person isn’t to be shunned or ostracized (though some commentaries I read suggested this passage helped justify the practice of excommunication), they are to be treated as someone in need of “missionary work to be brought back into community. They are like the Gentile and the tax collector, a special object of the community’s relentless care.”

That made much more sense to me; that and the suggestion that Jesus calls for acts of reconciliation to stem from a spiritual center.

Now, I understand that the concept of reconciliation (the restoration of relationships) is a touchy subject. I am asking you to have an open mind and not just shut down because you believe what I’m talking about is impossible. Stay engaged in this, struggle with this with me, because it is important.

First of all, I recognize that reconciliation is not always possible because it takes two willing parties to work toward repairing the relationship. One can forgive another without being asked for forgiveness, or having any interaction with that person. But restoring a relationship requires both parties to come together. Not everyone is capable of this.

John Shea tells a story about a couple that he had sent to marriage counseling. The counselor came back and told him, “They don’t have the background to make it. They have never learned to work through conflicts. Walking away is what they know best.” Some people simply don’t have the skill set to work through problems in a constructive way. Nor do they have any desire to acquire that skill set – to change, in other words.

The question really is: do we have the skill set? Do we want to acquire it? How do we learn to deal with conflict better? And how do we work on our own spiritual growth to a point that reconciliation becomes our standard goal – not walking away or giving up or shutting out or going into a rage, but reconciling with those around us.

Quaker pastor, Philip Gulley, in his book “If the Church Were Christian,” tells a story about a couple whose estranged daughter was dying of a terminal disease. The parents made several overtures but were turned away when they went to visit their dying daughter. (Several years before, the daughter and her sister had quarreled, the parents had refused to take sides, advising their grown children to work out their differences peaceably. The daughter felt betrayed and resolved never to speak to her parents again.)

Gulley said he thought of bringing the daughter and parents together in hopes of a reconciliation. But the daughter’s bitterness was so deep and sharp that he lacked the nerve to challenge her. In her final months, the daughter spoke often of her Christian faith and how it sustained her, while seemingly blind to one of that faith’s bedrock principles – forgiveness.

Before she died, she left strict instructions that her parents and siblings were forbidden from attending her funeral. The mother and father, mystified and heartbroken by their daughter’s anger, and not wishing to anger her spouse, stayed home to mourn privately.

What causes someone to get stuck in a place like this? Pride, ego, hurt, fear, anger, insecurity, stubbornness.

Gulley points out that traditionally the church has emphasized being “right with God” over reconciling with one another. The sacrament of confession in the Catholic Church, while great perhaps for self-reflection, lets one off the hook after doing penance through prayers. Not a bad deal. Or in earlier times sacrifices of money and perhaps animals and grains were required.

Jesus didn’t ask for sacrifices… at least not of that kind. Jesus asked us to let go of the things that keep us separated from others: pride, ego, judgments, the need to be right, the need to be better than, fear of rejection, etc.

Being truly engaged in our spiritual paths and intent upon doing more than just warming a seat in church on Sunday morning means (I believe at a soul level anyway) we want to respond to the conflicts in our lives in a healthier, more compassionate, caring, concerned way. Why? Because deep down we care more about the relationship than the perceived grievance. We care more about the person than our pride and ego. Yes, it takes working through whatever issues there are, but the goal in the end is to restore the friendship or relationship.

Our spirituality helps us in two ways (if we’re willing to focus on it in times of conflict):

  1. Staying centered. If we’ll look deeper than our hurt to the place in us that is filled with the energy of Love, the compassion of the Divine, the light of hope, it will help guide our attitudes, actions and words. It will help us remember that we are more than our hurt and so are they. Staying centered reminds us that we want not only our own well-being, but the well-being of the other as well.
  2. Staying sensitive to our connection with God and one another. Remember we are one. As such we may be aware of a force that wants to pull us back together, that wants us to apologize or to forgive. There is a force that wants us to make up and make amends. One couple described it like a rubber band… they could only pull so far away before the force became so great it pulled them back together.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us. Will we pay attention to the pull of the Spirit that is there asking us to lay aside our stubborn need to be right? It may not always be possible with certain people. But I believe that if we raise ourselves to the level of the Spirit, come at conflict from a non-judgmental, compassionate place of seeking understanding and resolution, we may just be able to lift the conversation to a place where peace and healing becomes possible. If not, we know we put our best effort forward in love.

Seek reconciliation… relentlessly.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

Here I Am

Twenty-four years ago I knelt in the beautiful Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. I was alone and the chapel was dark except for the lights streaming in the stained glass windows. I wasn’t particularly happy to be there, or perhaps I was just in shock to find myself there. Me… a religious neophyte, clueless, naïve, overwhelmed… what was I thinking?

(For the full video version, click here.)

I’d answered “the call” to become a pastor, but it was surreal. Who was I to be in seminary with all these folks who’d grown up in the church? My atheist background left me sorely lacking in the realm of Biblical and church knowledge. Who was I to think I could lead or guide anyone? I was 26 years old, married and with a child on the way, had buried my mother and grandparents, but how much life experience did I really have to help others? And who was I to proclaim a God I didn’t even understand? Or follow a guy named Jesus that I only knew in passing? I’d never taken a Sunday School class, a confirmation class or read much of the Bible.

As I sat there pondering my unworthiness and what now felt like a crazy path, my eyes were drawn to a stained glass window of Jesus with his hands on the head of someone kneeling in front of him. I suddenly had this inexplicable urge to cry. And as tears welled up, a song popped into my head that I’d sung numerous times at Marquette with the man who wrote it:

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

By the grace of God I somehow got from “who am I?” to “here I am.” I could not have imagined the crazy, twisted road surrendering to that call would take me on.

It reminds me of the story of Moses. Moses ran away from Egypt because he’d killed another Egyptian for beating a Hebrew man, one of Moses’ kindred (so the scripture says). He settled in the wilderness of Midian, eventually met the priest of Midian,  was invited to settle there and help the priest with his flocks. After some years he married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah and they had two children. Life was pretty good for Moses.

Then one day he was out tending the flock when he saw a bush on fire, but not being consumed.  Here_I_AmThen he heard his name. “I am here,” Moses answers. He’s directed to take off his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. The god Yahweh then tells him that there is something Moses must do… he must go back to Egypt and free the Hebrew people from slavery and oppression there.

Riiight………….

Moses isn’t quite on board with this great plan. And I’m sure he felt completely unworthy, like I did. So, he hedges… maybe he can change God’s mind??

Who am I, he wants to know, that I should go to Pharoah and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt??

(Under his breath I imagine him saying: Are you nuts? There’s probably a price on my head. I have a wife and two kids. I have flocks to tend to. And, frankly, while I know the people suffer, but I’m pretty happy here and I’m not convinced I can be helpful. Who am I that you’re asking me to do this thing?)

God doesn’t even answer the question, basically just says, “no worries, mate, I’ll be with you.” (For some reason God sounds a little like Crocodile Dundee in my head right now.)

Moses isn’t giving in so quickly, “But Yahweh, how will they know you sent me? And why would they believe me? And who am I do to this when I am slow of speech and stutter”

Sure enough, Yahweh had an answer for everything and before he knew it Moses was taking a leave of absence and packing up his wife and kids to head to Egypt.

By the grace (or sheer stubbornness) of God, Moses got from “who am I?” to “here I am.” He could not have imagined the crazy, twisted road surrendering to the call would take him on.

Here’s the crux of the matter: how do we get from “who am I?” to “here I am”?  How do we get from “I’m not worthy” to “I’m surrendering to my path”? How do we get from “I’m happy with my life as it is” to “I trust where I’m being led”?

This reading comes up in the lectionary rotation every three years. The last time I used it was six years ago at our first weekly Sacred Journey’s service. Somehow we went from “Who were we to start a new church?” and “Who was I to be pastoring it?” to “Here we are God… use us” and “Here I am God… I’ll try again.”

How do we get from “who am I?” to “here I am”?

Fear is the biggest reason we question the calls and nudges we receive from the Divine.  Fear is why we ask “who am I?” and “why me?”

I know some of you were probably taught by the church you grew up in to fear God. But now that we’re older and wiser, do you truly believe you need to fear the Divine? Or do you believe the Spirit always has our highest good, and the highest good of others, in mind? I hope so, because this is the God I know and believe in.

So, if it is not God we fear, then it must be something else. Maybe we are afraid of change, being uncomfortable, doing something new, giving something up, or not being good enough. Maybe we afraid of failing… or succeeding.

I realize in this blog I’ve only talked about big, life-changing decisions. But I would suggest that the Spirit doesn’t just move in big let’s-start-a-church-become-a-pastor-move-to-Egypt sort of ways. I know when folks think about following the Spirit, or the Divine, or the energy of the Universe, somehow we’re all afraid that if we say yes, surrender, say “here I am,” that we’ll end up a missionary in Africa. If this were the case you’d think there’d be a lot more missionaries in Africa! Doesn’t the Divine nudge us in small ways all the time?

Maybe we’re nudged to call someone, to say you’re sorry, to mend fences, to say thank you,  to apply for a job, to volunteer, to give to a cause, to open a door, to smile, to do something you normally wouldn’t do, to take your umbrella with you, clean out your closets, risk being in a relationship, Look for a new job, go back to school.

The chances of coming across a burning bush anytime soon are slim. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t looking to get our attention and send us on our own mission, or nudge us to be the hands and arms and voices of love in the world.

What is required of us is to be open, to trust, to watch, to listen, to let go of the “who am I to be doing this?” questions and to respond “here I am God.”

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

Sincere Love

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he talks about how, when we unite in Christ – or more generally, when we unite in the spirit – we are all one body, with all of our various skills, and we belong to each other. As such, there is one thing that is essential: “Your love must be sincere.” That phrase caught my eye. What does it mean to love sincerely? Or insincerely, for that matter? As we batted this question around yesterday, we came up with some of the following answers:

  • Unconditionala sincere love
  • Authentic
  • Non-judgmental
  • Put others first
  • Caring
  • Kind
  • Helpful
  • Respectful
  • Vulnerable
  • Not forced
  • Not harmful
  • Accepting

It strikes me that you can have some of these – caring, helpful, respectful – without love. But you can’t have sincere love without including all of them. One person suggested that insincere love is an oxymoron, because if it is truly love, it must be sincere.

(For the full video version, click here.)

One friend of mine has a really hard time talking about this concept. As a child she had been forced to express love when she didn’t feel it. Not only was she was told she had to tell her aunts she loved them, worse yet, she was told, even after her father was mean to her and yelled at her, that she had to go tell him she loved him. Now she limits deep, sincere (“real”) love to people that she is willing to do absolutely anything for. Like if I say I love you, I had better be willing to bail you out of jail, pay for your college tuition, take you into my home, pay your bills and care for you until you’re on your feet again. While it is great to be able to help folks like this, it typically would then limit your field of those you can love sincerely.

But if sincere love is a state of being, we are able to include all creation as receiving parties.

In his book, An Active Life, Parker Palmer believes that God acts in this world, but only “incarnationally through the various forms of embodiment that God takes on earth, including our own human form.” He goes on to say that “the theology that makes Jesus a one-and-only incarnation” of the Divine “tends to excuse the rest of us from responding with everyday actions that incarnate God’s abundance.”

We each have the Divine spark within us, we each are an embodiment, an incarnation of the Divine and the closer we touch this, the more we act with sincere love towards others.

Sadly, on a regular, everyday basis, we tend to forget that our essence is one with God, or one with anyone else, and so we get caught up in the stories of our lives, our society and our families. We look for differences, we make judgments, we risk only so much around people we don’t know,  and we’re afraid of how we’ll be judged and labeled.

My daughter, moved into the dorms at UW-Milwaukee this last Wednesday and her first comment about her roommates was that she felt a “vibe of unwelcomeness.” But that stage of life is the epitome of a time in life when we’re nervous, scared, anxious, and used to being judged for how we look and what we wear.  Hopefully over the course of time they’ll become friends and eventually have that sincere love between them.

The flip side of that are the many stories coming out of Texas this last week. Many folks are being hailed as heroes for their live-saving efforts after Hurricane Harvey, but it seems to me that in life and death situations we let go of some of the things that normally keep up from expressing sincere love. When your community is in danger, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore what religion someone is, or what color, or what political party, or whether they are in the country legally. People band together, without even knowing each other’s names, in an effort to save lives – human and animal alike. All life is sacred. We are all one.

Sincere love sees no color, has no boundaries, no language, or accent, or sexual orientation. Sincere love is an outpouring of the Divine Spirit within. Perhaps sometimes it shows up in small bursts – like in disaster situations – giving us hope once again in a benevolent universe. But the reality is that the capacity is always within us… it doesn’t require any money or any resources… it simply requires awareness.

I have pastored churches that expressed sincere love, but eventually something happened and they started judging and labeling. It didn’t last.

Many of you have expressed to me your amazement at how warm, and welcoming, and genuinely caring Sacred Journeys is. And I agree, and I’m thrilled. I encourage us not to take what we have for granted, but to continue to be intentionally welcoming, open, accepting and caring. To do so respectfully, without judging. To be hopeful, enthusiastic, “rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep” (to quote Paul). To love sincerely, of the Divine Spark that is within us.

Then our challenge is not to just do this within our own community where it feels safe, but to live this love more and more, offering a conduit for the work of the Spirit in our world.

Love & Light!

Kaye

What is the right thing to do?

This is the third in a sermon series on Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Questions.”

In Tolstoy’s story, a certain king believed that if he knew the answers to three specific questions he would never fail in anything.The three questions were:

When is the right time? 

Who are the right (or most important) people? 

What is the right thing (or most important) thing to do?

So, he invited all the learned men to come to him and answer the questions. But they all answered the questions differently. In answer to the third question some said learning science, others said skill in warfare, and others said religions worship. Since the king was clearly much wiser than he gave himself credit for, he traveled to see the wise old hermit. There the king discovers the answers to his questions. The right time is now. The most important person is the one you are with. And, the right thing to do is to do good for the one you are with.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In how many places, and in how many ways does the Bible tell us to do what is good and what is right? 1 Thessalonians 5:15 is but one of them: “Always seek what is good for each other and all people!” Other passages include:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
  • What you do to the least of these you do to me.
  • And then there are all the stories where someone in need runs up to Jesus and he puts everything aside to help them.

We almost always know what the right thing is to do in any situation… but what percentage of the time do we actually do the right thing?

St. Augustine, an early bishop of the Catholic Church in North Africa, and well-known for his philosophical and theological writings encouraged people to “ask God that you may love one another… you should love all people, even your enemies, not because they are your brothers and sisters, but so they may become your brother and sister.” The key here may be to “ask God for help,” because as easy as the answers to these three questions seem to be, doing them consistently is a challenge.

So, why is it so difficult? What gets in the way? How about these things:

  • Our judgments about that person… do they deserve our help? Do they look nice? Do they look like they need help?
  • Our own agendas… we’re so busy we sometimes don’t even notice the people around us.
  • Our egos…
  • Our prejudice…
  • Our fears…

Here’s a story about how this works when one can put aside their judgments, fears and prejudices. One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African-American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxi cab.

She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits.  Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.” Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole

For that young man, clearly the most important time was the time he spent helping Mrs. Cole, she was the most important person, and what he did for her was the most important thing.

If only we could always follow hearts that are filled with compassion not contempt, justice not judgment, hope not despair, caring not apathy. If we could only cultivate that expansive, loving kind of heart and then follow it with every person we are with, how would that change our interactions? How would we treat our spouse, our partner? How would we treat our children, our parents?How would we treat the server at the restaurant, the check-out person at the store, our cleaning person,  or our lawn person? How would it change the way we interact with the person we pass on the street? Or stand in the elevator with?

It seems to me that it could change the world. “Always seek what is good for each other and all people!”

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

The Most Important Person

This is the second in a three-part series on Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Questions.”

In Tolstoy’s story, The Three Questions, a certain king believed that if he knew the answers to three specific questions he would never fail in anything. Those three questions were:Crumpled colorful paper notes with question marks.

When is the right time? (Last week we learned that the answer is “now”)

Who are the right (or most important) people?

What is the most important thing to do?

So, he invited all the learned men in his kingdom to come and answer the questions. But they all answered the questions differently. For this second question of “Who is the most important person?” some said the King’s most important people were his counselors, some said the priests, some said doctors and others said the warriors. The king didn’t buy into any of their answers.

In this day and age, we don’t call for the learned men, we Google it. So, I googled this question… who is the most important person? Interestingly enough, Google equated “powerful” and “famous” with “important.” Here is a sampling of Google’s answers:

  • Presidents and heads of state
  • CEOs of companies
  • Famous writers, inventors and artists such as Shakespeare, Edison, and Da Vinci
  • Very few women but among them were Oprah, Melinda Gates and Marilyn Monroe
  • Spiritual leaders (mostly dead): Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Pope Francis
  • Musicians: Michael Jackson
  • YOU (memes)

But the All-Knowing Google did not answer the question correctly (according to Tolstoy). At the end of the story the king learns from the old hermit living in the woods that the most important person is the person you are with.

(For the full video version, click here.)

When I thought about this question in terms of scripture, I immediately thought of the way Jesus engaged with and addressed people. For Jesus, there was no one person who was better, or more important than anyone else. We can see it in the stories of his interactions. He doesn’t turn people away when they come to him for help, even if they are diseased, or considered unclean by Jewish law (ie – women). He gave them his undivided attention and compassion.

Mark 10:17-21 is one example. A person Jesus doesn’t even know comes running up to him and asks a question. Jesus gives him his full attention and looks at him“with love.” There are many other examples where Jesus gives his full, loving, compassionate, attention to someone coming to him in need, including the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Martha after Lazarus dies, the woman caught int he act of adultery, the Roman Centurion, the blind man, the lame man, the bleeding woman, and the children. Each one, for that brief encounter, was the most important person to Jesus.

Mother Teresa says it very simply in her advice to the group of teachers. “Smile at one another. Smile at your wives.” It is a deliberate act of meeting someone’s eye and offering a smile of kindness and friendliness. For that second you’ve put that person on the top of your list and given them your attention, maybe even lifted their spirits with a simple smile.

Here’s a wonderful story I came across that emphasizes how important each person is:

Mary was in the second month of nursing school, when one day the professor gave the class a pop quiz. Now, she was a conscientious student and breezed through the quiz until she got to the last question: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”

Surely this was some kind of joke. She had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would she know her name? Mary left the question blank.

Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward the quiz grade.

“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’.”

Mary never forgot that lesson… and she learned that the woman’s name was Dorothy.

We get caught up in our own lives, our own thoughts, our own moods, and we often are too distracted to give our full attention to the people we are with, much less the people we pass in the grocery store, or in the hallway at work. But, once again, the spiritual path insists that we recognize that we are all connected and that all people are important. But the most important person to you at any moment is the one you are with… give them your attention, your respect, your smile. Shine your light on them, even if it is only for a few seconds passing in a hallway.

Love & Light!

Kaye

When is the right time?

A number of years ago I came across a children’s book that was an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s short story “The Three Questions.” I believe they are very meaningful questions for our spiritual journeys, posed by a man who went through a deep spiritual crisis that transformed him from aristocrat to spiritual leader. This week is the first in a three-part sermon series on those three questions.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In Tolstoy’s story, a certain king believed that if he knew the answers to three specific questions he would never fail in anything. The three questions were:

When is the right time?

Who are the right (or most important) people?

What is the most important thing to do?

So, he extended an invitation to all the learned men in his kingdom to come to him and answer the questions. Many came, but there was one problem… they all had different answers. And the king didn’t believe any of them.

For this first question, When is the right time? the learned men answered:time

  • To know the right time, one must have a plan, drawn up in advance and follow it strictly.
  • It is impossible to decide beforehand, but pay attention and do what needs to be done.
  • To know the right time, one must have the advice of others to help them figure it out (specifically magicians!)

Of course, as happens in these stories, the king goes to see the old hermit, who has very little to say, but helps the king to learn for himself the answers to the questions. For this first question, the king learns that the right time to do things is NOW.

I wracked my brain to try to find a Bible passage that might address this, didn’t have much luck.  Then I recalled Mordecai’s comment to his niece, Queen Esther, “Who’s to say? – you may have come into the royal court for just such a time as this.”

If you know the story, you know that Esther is the new queen of Persia, greatly favored by the king. When her people, the Jews, are threatened with annihilation, her uncle Mordecai implores her to act, even though she has kept her ethnic heritage a secret, even though she risks her life by approaching the king without being summoned. But, Mordecai says, it is this moment, NOW, that is important. Perhaps you have found yourself in this place and in this time for this purpose.

What if we adopt Mordecai’s statement just a little… what if we each come to each moment “for just such a time as this”? What if there is something special that awaits us at each moment if we’re willing to reach out and grab it, or risk, or seek? What if the Spirit is constantly nudging us toward being open to the possibilities, opportunities and experiences of each moment?

I know we’re used to hearing about living in the present moment with awareness as part of our spiritual path. And I completely agree that cultivating that awareness of life, our feelings, our reactions and behaviors is important, and is part of dwelling in the NOW. The other piece is LIVING in the now. Not letting opportunities pass us by, but rather risking, sharing, experiencing, loving, forgiving BEING all that we can be in this one wild and precious life (as Mary Oliver says) that we have.

For those of us who are procrastinators, or who like to think things to death, or those of us who are worriers or planners, this whole concept may be challenging. Eighty-five year-old Nadine Stair talks about what she’d do if she had her life to live over again.

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

If the important time is now, then we shouldn’t waste it!

I think about my dad who is 76 and seems to spend most of his time in front of the computer.  I truly hope it makes him happy, but I am afraid he’ll get to the end of his life and say, “I wish I’d traveled more… I wish I’d spent more time with my kids and grandkids… I wish I’d painted more or had more ice cream…”

Now is the right time.

Now is the time to tell someone you love them, you forgive them, you’re sorry.

Now is the time to watch the sunset, to help your neighbor, to stand up for what you believe in.’

Now is the time to open to a process of healing yourself.

Now is the time to begin investing in your spiritual journey.

Now is the right time.

These are the questions we need to ask ourselves: If we had our life to live over again what would we do with it? What if we have come to this moment for such a time as this? What wouldn’t we put off until tomorrow? What is the Spirit nudging us to do?

Love & Light!

Kaye

Spirituality of Beauty

Typically our first reaction to the word beauty” has to do with physical attractiveness. I googled beauty to see what would come up and it was all about beauty products, makeup, fashion trends and hair salons. When I clicked on images for beauty all that came up was screen after screen of female models. So, for the sake of discussion, let’s label this type of beauty glamour, and move on to a deeper spiritual meaning.

Krista Tippett, in her insightful book “Becoming Wise,” re-framed beauty in a whole new light for me. I was especially fascinated by a conversation she had with a Muslim law professor at UCLA and a Jewish rabbi. Professor Khaled Abou el Fadl linked spirituality intimately with beauty and insisted “that the future of Islam lies in recovering its core moral value of beauty.” Rabbi Harold Schulweis, spoke of the Hebrew scripture (our OT) and “the beauty of Holiness.”

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But what does it mean to have a moral value of beauty? And what does the passage from 1 Chronicles 16 that talks “the beauty of Holiness” mean? I’ve found that the Bible itself doesn’t offer much direction with these questions; however, many spiritual writers have fleshed it out clearly for us in a way that makes sense and is meaningful.

Khaled explains that, “Beauty is in creation, not destruction, and in balance. It is in the human intellect and the human heart and to apply sacred text and knowledge toward creating things that edify and enliven.” Beauty is experienced in those things that build up and are life-giving.

And Schulweis explains that the beauty of holiness is actually the beauty of “wholeness… not just of forms and shapes, but of relationships.” Relationships that are loving, healing, compassionate, supportive and giving.beauty 2

Celtic theologian John O’Donohue says that, “beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.” In other words, it feeds our souls. “[B]eauty isn’t all about just niceness and loveliness. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming.” Beauty is “about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”

When we expand the understanding of beauty in this way it becomes so much more than glamour. Now it brings to mind images of poetry, music and art. I picture parents and kids building sandcastles on the beach, food cooked with love and care, weddings, baptisms and, yes, even funerals. I think of relationships that are based on equality, compassion and love, gifts given without attachment, and volunteering. Beauty brings to mind the healing of body, mind, and spirit after someone has experienced abuse or trauma.

So, does beauty work as a moral value? Can we use it as a guiding principle in determining right and wrong, good and bad? Using this understanding of beauty, would it now make sense to critique and measure our words and actions  by the question: “is it beautiful or is it ugly?”

I believe the answer is yes, beauty does work as a moral value. Is it beautiful or ugly? Is it creative or destructive? Is it helpful or hindering? Is it life-giving? Does it bring us to a greater sense of depth and grace? Does it feed souls? Does it help us to become more whole? I don’t think this has to do with easy or not. A path to healing can be very difficult, and actually downright painful and ugly sometimes, but often going through it is necessary to experience greater wholeness. That makes the process beautiful.

JoAnn Dodgson wrote, “Beauty is a celebration of is-ness.” It is a celebration of being-ness in that we experience it in the now. In the moment it occurs and we are aware of it, our souls are fed.

Have you ever said to someone, “What a beautiful day it is!” Only to have them respond, “Maybe, but we’ve gotten too much rain, and it’s supposed to rain again tomorrow.” They weren’t able to enjoy the actual presence of beauty because their mind was already negative about the next day.  How much beauty do we miss because we neglect to be present to the moment, to nature, to faces and smiles, music and art, and actions of beauty around us?

We have much to learn from a spirituality of beauty.

Let me leave you with a closing quote by Kahlil Gibran: “Kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.”

Love & Light!

Kaye

Raising a Pastor

All the big changes in life seems to ask us to step back and take in the big picture, survey the landscape of our lives from beginning to end. Our move into a new house, coinciding with the anniversary of 20 years in ministry, has prompted me to take a look back and say to myself (in the words of an old ad campaign), “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

But I didn’t come a long way alone. I’m grateful to have been surrounded by amazing people who were instrumental in my growth and learning. No, I haven’t “arrived.” And, no, I haven’t figured it all out. In fact, I’m fairly suspicious of folks who think they have. I simply thought that perhaps all of  us could benefit by me taking inventory.

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The Book of Proverbs exhorts us to learn, to discern the truth, to devote oneself to wisdomWisdom, Sophia (in Greek), Hokmah (in Hebrew). Even if it costs you everything (which it may at times, because wisdom tends to show up when everything has crashed and burned), devote yourself to getting Understanding (which The Inclusive Bible capitalizes as another name for Wisdom). Eventually, Proverbs says, this wisdom will serve you, bring you honor and glory… or at least, perhaps, help you to serve others and keep yourself out of more trouble.

In a poem by Cynthia Langston Kirk called “Stripped by God,” she talks about pursuing God in a way that reminded me of myself when I was entering my first church appointment: “I filled my pockets with openness and grabbed a thermos half full of fortitude.” I was ready to dive in, young, idealistic, full of the love of God, compassion, and a deep desire to serve and change the world.

But wisdom doesn’t come until you roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, stub your toes a few times, and occasionally fall flat on your face. I’ve done plenty of all of this in the last 20 year and though it was tough, I’ve distilled what I’ve learned into my top four:

4 – Develop an Alligator Skin.  I’m afraid I’ve always been prone to taking things personally. And my naïve, idealistic, young self was even worse than I am today. I wanted to be able to reach everyone in my congregations, and felt like I’d personally failed if I didn’t. Now, my theology has always been more progressive than not, and when I got to my first lead pastor appointment there were a few very strong fundamentalists in positions of power and authority in the church. While I couldn’t agree with them theologically, I felt horrible that one by one they were leaving “because of me.” It literally brought me to tears and I just didn’t know how to handle it. My goal had not been to run people off, but to make connections and build relationships with God. Then the Chairman of our Board came to my office and said, “Kaye, you need to develop an alligator skin. You can’t take everything personally. And you can’t reach everyone.” He said those folks probably didn’t belong in the United Methodist Church in the first place and that they’d find somewhere else to worship and we would be just fine, too. This was all true in the end.

But it didn’t just apply in that situation; it applied over and over again when I did or said something others didn’t agree with. I’ve tried very hard to learn that a disagreement does not have to be taken as a personal attack (and I’m still better some days at this than others.) Perhaps I’ve simply gained more confidence in myself, my beliefs, and my experience, and am able to take a step back to try to approach things more objectively, and less catastrophically. It’s ok if we don’t always agree. The world is a more interesting place with different points of view. And most days the things we disagree on really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

3 – Everyone suffers. Sure, some people look like they’ve got it all together, but everyone has something in their lives that they struggle with or that causes them pain. Some are just more private than others.

One of the biggest honors of being a pastor is that people have been more apt to trust me with their vulnerable side. That is a huge gift that I have not taken lightly. Ultimately, it has reminded me to always err on the side of love because we can’t know what someone else is going through. Over the years I’ve met with folks who, in regular interactions, seemed like all was just fine, only to find out that they’d been raped by their husband, dealt with depression and psychological issues because of their time in Vietnam, been sexually abused as a child, were estranged from their child or parent or sibling, had a family member who was gay but they were afraid to tell anyone, were in an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage, had a child or family member who was dealing with substance abuse… the list goes on and on. People are afraid to talk about these things because we’re afraid people will think less of us. We’re afraid of being judged. We’re afraid of becoming the subject of gossip or pity.

Everyone suffers, so hold judgment and err on the side of love.

2 –  You can’t wrap your own arms. The first month I in my appointment to Franksville UMC, I had one wedding and three funerals. Somewhere in the middle of that my husband (at the time) and I took our kids to his mother’s house to swim – she had a great pool and hot tub in the backyard. As we were sitting in the hot tub, I noticed how overgrown it was with vines and weeds, and I decided it would be really nice of me to clean that out for my mother-in-law. So, I climbed out, dripping wet in my bikini, and proceeded to pull and bag weeds for an hour or more. Come to find out (the hard way) that much of what I was pulling out was poison oak. By evening I had broken out in a rash nearly everywhere! It got so bad that it became systemic and I had to have a shot of prednisone. My arms were a blistering, oozing mess… and, of course, I had a funeral. It was then that I discovered that I couldn’t wrap my own arms in gauze! I took the roll back to the kitchen and found one of the women of the church wrap my arms and help me slip into my jacket to cover it all up.

We can’t always handle everything alone, nor are we meant to.

I’ve always been a pretty independent sort, wanting to prove that I could do whatever needed to be done. I didn’t need anyone’s help. Plus the hierarchy of the church impressed upon us that we were there to be served. We weren’t supposed to make friends, ask for support, or basically show any vulnerability. After all, the pastor is supposed to be the rock and how can they be if they have struggles? To some extent I get this. But we all need help at times and it is not a crime, or anything to be ashamed of, to ask for help. Being vulnerable is not a weakness.

And, yes, while I learned this a long time ago, I’m still practicing at getting it right.

1 – Trust in the Spirit. Twenty years of preaching is a LOT of sermons. There have been more times than I care to admit when I haven’t known what to preach, or it just wasn’t coming together. And then there were the times when it felt like what I did say didn’t quite click, or that I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be, or I left something out that I’d really wanted to say, and I’d stew over it.

But the truth is that somehow, amazingly, I have never stood up on Sunday morning with nothing to say. So, on a weekly basis, I’ve taken up reminding myself that the Spirit hasn’t let me down yet! And, on top of that, invariably when I feel at my lowest because I wasn’t happy with my preaching, or I screwed up (yes, it happens), or I’m simply not feeling like I’m making that idealistic difference I thought I’d make, someone reaches out to let me know that something I said or did helped them.

I guess the lesson for me has been that the Spirit reaches people despite me. All I need to do is follow where the energy is leading me to speak, and then speak/preach from the heart.

The Divine moves through all of us, even when we’re not operating at our peak, even when our lives are messed up, and even when we’re not trying. We can trust the Spirit to use what we offer. That is the best thing ever to have learned!

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

 

Chaos Theory & Spirituality

I’d heard about Chaos Theory, but really hadn’t done much study of it until the whole concept popped into my head last week when I was trying valiantly to focus enough to come up with a sermon while packing and getting ready to move at the same time.

According to the Fractal Foundation, “Chaos Theory is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on.

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Linear systems have one cause and one effect. Non-linear systems are evident when one cause can have many different outcomes, or one outcomes may be the result of many different causes. These non-linear systems are also known as complex systems because they can’t be broken down into smaller pieces, analyzed and then reassembled with a full knowledge of the system. As Cheryl Chattfield, Phd, states,  “A non-linear system requires a holistic approach in which the pattern of the behavior of the whole, not the individual parts, is significant. This is similar to the spiritual concept that everything is connected.”

One of the Principles of Chaos Theory is the Butterfly Effect. This gets its name from themoonlight-blue-butterfly concept that a butterfly flapping its wings at the right time and in the right place can start off a chain reaction that could result in a hurricane across the globe. It seems a little crazy, but it expresses the potential that unpredictable small changes could have in the big picture.

Unpredictablility is another principle of Chaos Theory that holds that complex systems have so many variables, that it is impossible to predict an absolute outcome.

Another principle states that this pattern of Order/Disorder is natural and expected. What feels like chaos, or disorder, will eventually return to a new order. We can’t predict what it is going to be, but we know that eventually something new will emerge.

So, I think there are two important spiritual lessons here:

ONE… yes, we are all connected! And even the smallest of actions can make a difference. While we like to apply this only to acts of kindness, or paying it forward, we need to recognize that unkind acts also have the ability to set off a chain of reactions. So, walking through our days with awareness is exceedingly important. When we cultivate awareness that the Divine is in, around and through all things I believe we’ll be more apt to respond to the chaos in the world with compassion, gratitude, generosity and kindness. Maybe it is as simple as asking ourselves if we can give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they’ve acted poorly because they’re stressed out and having a bad day. Maybe their life is in chaos and they can’t see a way out. Our one kind act may help them to breathe again, it may help them to be kinder to the people around them. But a negative attitude, or judgmental comment might just push them over the edge and they’ll end up going home and taking it out on their kid or partner.

There is a story of a teenage boy who was carrying a huge pile of books home from school one day when he got bumped around and all the books went flying. Another boy stopped to make sure he was OK, helped him pick up the books, then asked him where he lived and offered to help carry them home when he found out they lived close to each other. Come to find out the boy had so many books because he’d emptied his locker and was planning on killing himself. That one kind act caused him to think again and he didn’t do it.

TWO… we will get through the storm. In the story of Jesus stilling the storm, most folks get caught up in the supernatural power Jesus is said to have had over the weather. But taken as a metaphor for our lives, what does it say?  Jesus isn’t worried about a little rough patch, he rests in the knowledge that he’ll come through it. The disciples are getting wet, they’re scared, they’re tossed and thrown about, maybe they are even getting sick. Plus they are probably angry at Jesus for sleeping through it and not helping them bail! But there is an implied assurance from Jesus in his comment, “ Where is your faith?” that suggests to us that the disciples are not alone, the Divine is seeing them through this rough time… and yes, they might get sick and wet, but they will make it.

It sort of reminds me of when my daughter was young and we’d go to see the latest Disney movie at the theater. Almost every time a scary part would come… the snake in Aladdin, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Scar and the hyenas in the Lion King… and she would get scared and anxious and want to be taken out of the theater. No amount of persuading could convince her that everything would be OK in the end and to just wait it out.

Chaos theory says that it is natural for there to be order, then disorder, then order and disorder. This is what happens. Relax and expect the unexpected. Life is a system too complex to predict. The assurance of chaos theory is that eventually things will right themselves again and a new order will arise. We will get through. In an odd way, we can trust in this instability, because somehow within even the chaos, there will be forward movement to something new. And that is the way of the Divine… transformation and new life. It won’t necessarily be what we were planning or expecting, but we can find peace in surrendering to the process and trusting that we’ll come out the other side most likely wiser and with more character!

Love & Light!

Kaye