Pastor Kaye's Blog

Being Enough

This week begins a three-week sermon series based on Wayne Muller’s book, a life of being, having and doing enough.

Why is it that we can achieve, create, build, fix, help, serve and give with every ounce of our energy and still not feel like we’ve made a difference? That somehow, no matter what we do, we feel like it will never be enough? It seems that just about everyone has felt this way at one time or another. But, why?

Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Voice of Knowledge” talks about the lie of imperfection. He believes that we have all bought into the great lie that we are imperfect. You see, when we were young children we were completely authentic, and never pretended to be who or what we are not. When we felt love, we expressed love (welcoming mom or dad home), when we felt uncomfortable with someone, we didn’t go close to them, when we were sad, we cried.  The greatest freedom was to run around naked and not care (though it is probably a good thing we don’t do this anymore). Then when we started to understand language the people around us told us what we were and we believed them, even though they may be contradictory. We were told that if we behaved in certain ways we were good boys and girls, and we understood that we were bad if we don’t behave that way.We were told that if we wanted to be successful and be somebody, we had to work hard. But we heard the underlying message that at that moment we were clearly nobody. For some of us, our churches told us that we were inherently bad and sinful and only through the death of a beautiful human being could God even begin to accept us again. By listening to all these opinions, we learned that we must not be good enough as we were, which is why we needed to be told how to behave to be good enough.Why would our parent’s not tell the truth? Or our teachers? Or the church? Eventually, Ruiz says, we feel not only not good enough for others, but not good enough for ourselves. Hence, we try to prove that we are good enough by getting straight As, being a sports star, working long hours, getting degrees and promotions; however, we are no longer making decisions based on our highest good and our truest self, but on what others think. And so we have bought into the lie of imperfection. It has become a cellular part of ourselves and now feels inherently true.

In Matthew 4:15-16, Jesus is speaking to crowds of ordinary people – not saints, not pillars of the synagogue – and he is telling them that they are the light of the world. We usually think about Jesus being light for the world, especially at this time of the year. We talk about how, at Christmas time, light is born into the darkness. But in this passage Jesus says that we are all the light of the world. We ARE the light, not “can be” or “could be” if only we did everything right. Muller points out that Jesus’ teachings did not come with any fine print, disclaimers or exclusions. He didn’t say, “You are the light of the world, but only if you are straight, or go to church every week, or give 10% of your income to the poor, or never screw up, or solve world hunger.” Instead he told all these regular folks that they are the light of the world and needed to stop hiding their light under the bushel baskets of not enough, of baggage, of fears, of the lie of imperfection.

Wayne Dyer, in his book, The Sacred Self, reminds us that “the Divine created being-enoughus in perfect love that is changeless and eternal. Our bodies change and our minds change… we are not our bodies and our minds. We are much more than bodies and minds, we are spirit, a spark of the Divine fire, pure love. Enough.”

If we are looking for a universal truth, this is about as close as we can come. All the great religions teach the same thing:

  • Buddha taught that we have wholeness within us, our Buddha-nature.
  • In the Torah (Old Testament for Christians), Yahweh, God of the Jews, declared that the most essential of life’s truths were inscribed on their hearts… in other words were a part of each person deep inside.
  • Native Americans speak of the Great Spirit who infuses all creation with the same sacred life force.
  • For Hindus, the Atman, or soul of the world, is everywhere.
  • All the mystical traditions – Sufism, the Gnostic gospels, the Kabbalah – all declare that the journey to the Divine is the journey inward to the true self where we are whole, where we are enough.

We are always seeking to be enough, but the truth is that we already have what we seek. We are enough. We just have to realize it. Then we have to own it. We have to claim it as our truth over and over again,  so that it replaces the lie of imperfection, that cellular knowing that we aren’t enough.

If we remain convinced that we are imperfect, damaged goods, defective or incomplete, we will live our lives and make our decisions out of this wrong belief. Then we make choices based on our feelings shame, guilt, unworthiness, failure… maybe even a belief that we should be punished.

But what if we believed in the goodness of our own souls? Believed that we have within us all that we need to be complete and whole? Believed in our own inner strength and wisdom? Believed that regardless of where we’ve come from, what we’ve done, what people have said to us, that we could carry this knowing into every situation with confidence? What decisions would we make? What would our lives look like? How might we respond differently to the world each day?

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Because this is truth… you are the light and you are enough.

Peace,

Kaye

Islam

This is the third and final sermon in my series on the Three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam by discussing Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were both given promises by God to become great nations. Even though Ishmael is driven out of his father’s house by Sarah (the jealous and protective mother of Isaac), God watches over Ishmael and he becomes, according to the Quran, the father of Islam. Isaac becomes the father of Judaism and therefore a forefather to Christianity. (Please note that neither of these religions existed at the time of Abraham.) We all worship the same God.

The great ninth century Sufi, Bayazid Bastami, described the evolution of these three religions with this image: “its seeds were set at the time of Adam, they sprouted under Noah and flowered under Abraham. Grapes formed at the time of Moses, and they ripened at the time of Jesus. In the time of Mohammad, they were made into pure wine. ”

Muslims believe that God sends a prophet whenever humanity is in need of a course correction. This does not make any of the prior prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others) wrong, just sort of outdated. Or, perhaps more to the point, many Muslims feel that people have distorted the true messages of the earlier prophets. So, Muslims believe that Muhammad is the most recent prophet to have been sent by God and therefore the most accurate, most relevant message.

So, part two focused on Judaism: Covenant, Sabbath and Blessing, and part three of this series will focus
on what I see as some of the key concepts and/or practices of Islam. I also believe that these concepts are not exclusively Jewish or Muslim, but contain spiritual wisdom for all of us if we care to look and listen. The three I’ve chosen to explore for Islam are peace, prayer and devotion.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

PEACEislam

Let’s begin with peace, mostly because that is perhaps the least likely word that non-Muslims would use to describe a Muslim in our world today. And, yet, to moderate and progressive (and probably to most conservative) Muslims, this is an inherent characteristic of someone who follows Islam.

Summing up the teachings of Islam, the Islamic Society of North America makes this statement:

Islam is an Arabic word which means peace, purity, acceptance and commitment. As a religion, Islam calls for complete acceptance of the teachings and guidance of God. A Muslim is one who freely and willingly accepts the supreme power of God and strives to organize his life in total accord with the teachings of God. He also works for building social institutions which reflect the guidance of God.

To be a Muslim means to be a “peacemaker and one who submits to the will of God”

I had an Imam come speak to my religion class at Carthage College a few times and he made it very clear that there is no room for terrorism in Islam. In fact, Islam forbids all acts of violence and disorder in the world. He cited the following verses from the Quran:

  • Sura 11:86 “And commit not iniquity in the earth, causing disorder”
  • Sura 5:33 “… whosoever killed a person – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind”

The Imam was also adamant that Islam condemns aggression, hostility and mischief:

  • Sura 5:3 “Help one another in righteousness and piety, and help not one another in sin and transgression.”

Jihad is a term that the media has co-opted and twisted to mean holy war. The true meaning of Jihad is “to struggle” and “to strive.” There are three levels of jihad. The Greatest Jihad is the struggle against one’s lower self. It is the internal struggle between wrong and right, error and truth, selfishness and selflessness, hardness of heart and all-embracing love. Our inner state is then reflected in words, actions and behaviors.

The Greater Jihad is about being in service to humanity and spreading peace in the world through the teachings of the Quran.

Finally, the Lesser Jihad is a war fought in self-defense only, and is regulated by 19 conditions.

While the Imam was very firm about Islam being a religion of peace, passages in the Quran can be found to support both a pacifist approach and active opposition to unbelievers. To me it seems very much the same way with the Bible.  One can find ample evidence to love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and follow the non-violence of Jesus… or one can follow a God who smote the enemy, destroyed people who worshiped idols and generally caused much death and destruction in the Old Testament.

The prophet Muhammad’s farewell address gives us a very good sense of where he personally stood on this issue: 

“God has made the lives, property and honor of every man sacred. To take any man’s life, his property or attack his honor is unjust and wrong. None of you can be a true believer until and unless he desires for his brothers what he wishes for himself. My movement is based on love.”

My question for us becomes: what does it look like for us to struggle with our lower selves? Can we strive to achieve a level of peace within and then bring that peace to the world?

 

PRAYER

Most of us are aware that Muslims pray five times a day. For someone like me who truly lacks any kind of discipline in any part of my life, I find this a truly amazing practice.

Their prayer ritual is called Salat, the obligatory prayers to be said at dawn, midday, late afternoon, just after sunset, and between sunset and midnight. Millions of Muslims do this every day as a highly spiritual practice connecting them to Muslims around the world and to all who have uttered the same words down through history.

These prayers are not just phrases to be spoken, they include a set of movements so that Muslims pray body, mind and soul. Prayer is thought to do the following:

  • Strengthen belief in God’s existence and goodness and carry this belief into the depths of the heart and every aspect of external life.
  • Purify the heart, develop the mind and conscience, comfort the soul
  • Encourage good and suppress evil
  • Awaken one’s innate sense of higher morality and higher aspirations.
  • Words of praise and bowing express continual gratefulness and surrender to the One.

While mouthing the words and performing the outer actions they should be concentrating on the inner prayer of the heart. The prophet Muhammad reportedly said, “Prayer without the Presence of the Lord in the heart is not prayer at all.”  In other words, they are  expected to be prepared to pray by removing the hindrances from their hearts and minds. They should attempt to be attentive and open to the movement of the Divine while at the same time offering their whole self to the process.

This prompts me to wonder whether we just go through the motions of prayer, or worship, or volunteering, or devotional readings… or do we consciously strive to have an appropriate inner preparedness for giving of our hearts to the Divine and receiving within our hearts the Divine? What would this look like and feel like?

 

DEVOTION – love, loyalty, faithfulness, commitment, enthusiasm for a cause

I get a feeling of a deep sense of devotion that Muslims have to the Divine . At the very core of their faith is the intent to meditate on and give themselves (submit, if you will) to the will of God. They seek a change of heart, a oneness with God, and to live with peace and kindness. There is a devotion that is obvious, from their commitment to pray 5 times a day, to the millions of people who make a pilgrimage to Mecca, to the discipline and dedication it takes to fast (from food and drink) from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. It brings to mind the old 80’s song: “I’m hopelessly devoted to you…”

I find myself wondering: are we devoted to the Divine? Are we devoted to our spiritual paths? What does that look like, or what could that look more like?

I offer these Muslim practices of peace, prayer and devotion, to not only to give us insight into the Muslim understanding of, and relationship with,God, but also to offer us things to think about when it comes to our own spiritual lives.

Assalamo Alaikum (Peace be unto you),

Kaye

Judaism

Last week we began this sermon series on the Three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam by discussing Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were both given promises by God to become great nations. Even though Ishmael is driven out of his father’s house by Sarah (the jealous and protective mother of Isaac), God watches over Ishmael and he becomes, according to the Quran, the father of Islam. Isaac becomes the father of Judaism and therefore a forefather to Christianity. (Please note that neither of these religions existed at the time of Abraham.)

Parts two and three of this series on the Abrahamic Faith focus judaism-3on what I see as some of the key concepts and/or practices of Judaism and Islam. I also believe that these concepts are not exclusively Jewish or Muslim, but contain spiritual wisdom for all of us if we care to look and listen. The three I’ve chosen to explore for Judaism are covenant, Sabbath and blessing.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

COVENANT

A unique belief introduced into Jewish theology was the idea of a covenantal relationship between the Jewish people and God. This was a two-sided agreement with the Divine, a sacred promise, a contract, in which both sides have a responsibility to the other. On the people’s side, obedience to God is expected. On the divine side, God grants special favors and is bound by God’s own ethical agreements to the people. These were the three great covenants in Jewish history:

  • Noah – God sets a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of God’s covenant to Noah, his descendants, and every living creature, to never again send another great flood.
  • Abraham and God – essentially God says, “I will be your God and your protector, you will be circumcised.”
  • Moses “re-established” the covenant between God and the people. God is said to have met Moses on Mt. Sinai and given the people a set of rules for righteous living (Torah). This includes the 10 commandments. It also includes a set of social norms, prescribed religious feasts, and detailed instructions for the construction of a portable tabernacle (think Indian Jones and the Ark of the Covenant). These make up the 613 mizvot, laws, or divine commandments Orthodox Jews are required to keep. Conservative Jews and Reform Jews have more options about which laws they can choose to follow or not.

A covenant describes a personal and interactive relationship, including responsibility and accountability, between the Divine and humanity. The question this raises for me is whether we, as Christians, feel that we have this sort of relationship with God? Or do we simply rely on God to be present at all times, to provide strength, comfort, guidance, or whatever is needed without any return on our part? And how do we feel about that? Do we have a responsibility to God?

SABBATH

For about the last 3000 years, Jews have observed their Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday. It was so important that it was commanded by God in the 10 commandments and echoed in Leviticus and multiple other places in scripture. It was not just a day to stay home from the office, if you will, but to slow down, reflect, build relationships through conversation and prayer, give time to your spiritual life through reading and study, and rekindle your marriage through making love. Everyone was given the day off… even from making food and lighting a fire.

We find the basis for the Jewish Sabbath in Genesis 1, in the story of Creation. God created the world and all that is in it in six days. On the seventh day God rested and enjoyed God’s creation. If resting was important for God, then certainly it is even more important for people!

Obviously, this has not been strictly a Jewish concept. Many of us can remember “back in the day” when Sundays consisted of church, sharing a family meal, and spending time with family and friends. Shops weren’t open, and there weren’t kids sports on Sunday mornings. It was a day of rest, renewal, nurturing your body and your relationships.

Sadly, we’ve lost this essential rhythm to our lives. We fill our lives with things to do… because action and accomplishment are “better” than rest, better than doing “nothing.” Even when we have down time, we fill it with our computers, phones, iPads, and televisions. We read books, but not necessarily to edify, to escape.

Our lack of rest and reflection colors all that we do and all that we are. When we are exhausted – physically, mentally and spiritually – we become more anxious, more fearful, less grounded and less able to make good decisions. When we don’t seek to grow spiritually, our souls stagnate and lose touch with the Divine.

There is a little book called Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas by Arthur Green, who is one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Jewish thought and spirituality. Green suggests that there have been whole generations of Jews who have rebelled against the Sabbath laws, until their observance became the exception rather than the norm. Still, he says, that Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath) is needed more than ever, but perhaps it needs a more contemporary perspective and so he offers a simplified Shabbat for moderns

Ten Pathways toward a New Shabbat

DO

  1. Stay at home. Spend quality time with family and real friends.
  2. Celebrate with others: at the table, in the synagogue, with friends or community.
  3. Study or read something that will edify, challenge, or make you grow.
  4. Be alone. Take some time for yourself. Check in with yourself. Review your week. Ask yourself where you are in your life.
  5. Mark the beginning and end of this sacred time by lighting candles and making kiddush [a ceremony of prayer and blessing over wine] on Friday night and saying havdalah [formal prayer marking the end of the Sabbath] on Saturday night.

DON’T

  1. Don’t do anything you have to do for your work life. This includes obligatory reading, homework for kids (even without writing!), unwanted social obligations, and preparing for work as well as doing your job itself.
  2. Don’t spend money. Separate completely from the commercial culture that surrounds us so much. This includes doing business of all sorts. No calls to the broker, no following up on ads, no paying of bills. It can all wait.
  3. Don’t use the computer. Turn off the iPhone or smartphone. Live and breathe for a day without checking messages. Declare your freedom from this new master of our minds and our time. Find the time for face-to-face conversations with people around you, without Facebook.
  4. Don’t travel. Avoid especially commercial travel and places like airports, hotel check-ins, and similar depersonalizing encounters. Stay free of situations in which people are likely to tell you to “have a nice day” (Shabbat already is a nice day, thank you).
  5. Don’t rely on commercial or canned video entertainment, including the TV as well as the computer screen. Discover what there is to do in life when you are not being entertained.

How would it feel to try some of these? Could you consider a Sabbath day once a month? Or a Sabbath hour, or half day?

BLESSINGS

One thing we rarely hear about Judaism is the role of blessing. Yet there are hundreds of traditional blessings that Jews have for every occasion. From blessing the different kinds of food they eat, to the varied things in creation, to kindnesses, good news and bad news, and everything in-between. The purpose of the blessing is awareness, to increase the conscious awareness of the Divine in our lives and our world by offering a blessing for it.

Simply put, if I bless an apple I’m saying: in this apple, I see God.

There seems to be a blessing for everything. My favorite is the bathroom blessing:

Blessed are you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe who created humans with wisdom and created within them many openings and many cavities. It is exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are you, Lord, Healer of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Rabbi Jack Riemer, in his blog, said, “with all due respect for traditional blessings, I believe we need a few new blessings, such as before we perform the sacred act of voting, and before we use our computers, to help remind us not to misuse this powerful tool to spread malicious gossip or evil speech. Here’s another one I highly recommend: a prayer to recite when facing the difficult task of emptying the contents of our parents’ home after they die.”

What would it look like to walk through life offering blessings even for the littlest things? The sun, the sky, the rain, our coffee or tea, our animals, creation, music? Could we incorporate more moments of gratitude and blessing in such a way as to remind us of God’s presence in our daily lives?

 

So, I offer these Jewish concepts of covenant, Sabbath and blessing, not only to give us insight into the Jewish understanding of, and relationship with,God, but also to offer us things to think about when it comes to our own spiritual lives.

Shalom, peace be with you,

Kaye

The Abrahamic Faiths

“One figure stands at the dawn of every subsequent endeavor. One individual holds the breadth of the past – and perhaps the dimensions of the future – in his life story. Abraham.” ~Bruce Feiler, Abraham

It was brought to my attention yesterday that, at least in a good many cases, abrahamic-faiths-2the Christian churches have been lax in letting folks know that good old Father Abraham is the forefather of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Maybe it just didn’t seem important enough to include in kid’s Sunday School lessons. Or maybe no one wanted to lend any credibility to Islam. Maybe if this fact was more well-known, we’d have less intolerance between the religions.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Here’s the skinny… Abraham had two sons, Ishmael by Hagar (his wife’s Egyptian slave) and Isaac by his wife Sarah. There is contention between Sarah and Hagar, but God blesses both boys. An angel tells Hagar that through her son, God would make her “descendants too numerous to count.” By the way, this makes Hagar the ONLY woman to receive the promise of descendants and essentially places her among the patriarchs. It is then through Isaac that God establishes “an everlasting covenant, to be his God and the God of his descendants.” (Genesis 16 and 17).

In essence, we have two half-brothers who are forced to go in different directions (Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away) and become the forefathers of two distinct nations. Ishmael becomes the father of Islam and Isaac becomes the father of Judaism. And it is off of the Judaic branch that Christianity sprouts.

There are hundreds of stories about Abraham, but only about 1% of those are in the Bible. The rest were created by the Jews, Christian and Muslims in the last 3800 years. Still, everyone agreed on one thing: Abraham believed in one God. He was the first great monotheist.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in one God – the God of Abraham. Yes, the Jews use the word Yahweh or Jehovah and the Muslims talk about Allah, but those words simply mean “God” in their own languages. It is NOT a different God.

From here we recognize that there are many similarities, but to expect it to extend into doctrine and practices isn’t realistic. Not only do all three religions believe in one and the same God, but they believe that God works within human history, interacting with humanity. They all believe in prophets, angels and divine revelation. All three stress moral responsibility and accountability. Prayer, worship, giving to charity are core practices of all three. And they all believe in the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Peace is also central to all three faiths. Many Christian churches traditionally share signs of greeting and peace during their worship. During the mass, Catholics will turn to one another, shaking hands and saying, “Peace be with you.” Muslims greet one another with the words, salaam alaikum, and Jews will greet one another with shalom aleichem which both mean “peace be unto you.”

All three religions also believe in their special covenant with God. The Jews have their covenant through Moses, the 10 Commandments and the Torah. Christians accept God’s covenant with, and revelation to, the Jews, but traditionally has seen itself as superseding Judaism with the coming of Jesus. Christianity talks about a new covenant and a New Testament (NT) through Jesus. Islam has respect for all the Biblical prophets of Judaism and Christianity, and the Quran makes frequent reference to Jesus and to the Virgin Mary (who is cited more times in the Quran than in the NT). But Muslims believe that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity – that the Quran is the final and complete word of God and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets. While Muslims recognize the “revelations” (Torah and NT), they also believe that much of what is written in the Old and New testaments is a corrupted version of the original revelation to Moses and Jesus, and that Christianity further corrupted it with the development of doctrine such as the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died to redeem the people.

In our age of globalization and with the understanding that in a few short years there will be almost as many Muslims as there are Christians in the world, there is a deep need for religious pluralism. This does not mean all becoming one great religion, nor does it mean watering down the religions to focus solely on the similarities and ignore our differences. What it means is an appreciation of the diversity of all religions, uniformity and agreement are not the goals.

Pluralism recognizes that the Divine is too huge to be encompassed by any one idea, theology, name or religion. Pluralism understands that no one has a monopoly on the truth when it comes to God. It recognizes that there is much out there that we don’t know and don’t understand, and we allow others to honor and worship God in ways that make sense to them.  Pluralism believes that other religions have validity.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Kaye

The Ache of Lament

“There is an “ache” in autumn that is also within each one of us. leavesThis ache is the deep stillness of a late September morning when mist covers the land and the sound of geese going south fills the sky. There is a wordless yearning or a longing for something in the air, and it penetrates the human spirit. It is a tender, nostalgic desire to gather our treasures and hold them close because the ache tells us that someday those treasures will need to be left behind. Autumn speaks to this pain in our own spirits, that ache which we try so hard to ignore or deny or push aside, that little persistent reminder that death is always a part of life.” ~ Joyce Rupp, Praying Our Goodbyes

Whether we can name it or not, I believe each of us feels this existential ache that is brought on by the visible dying of the world around us, the shorter, darker days and the colder temperatures. Some might wish to run from this ache as it brings up the darker feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness. But the spiritual journey necessitates that we dive head first into the ache instead of running the other way. In fact, the Psalms and other scripture draw us into lament… to passionately express or feelings of grief or sorrow.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

There is a misnomer in Christianity, perhaps in all religions, that one can skip over the darker times and the darker feelings, especially the feelings of loss and grief, if one has enough faith. This is fueled by the clichés tossed at us when we’ve lost someone we love:

  • Be happy that so-and-so is in a better place.
  • God only takes the best.
  • God needed so-and-so.
  • It’s God’s will and we must simply accept it.
  • God has a reason for this (Implying that God caused your suffering for a perfectly good reason which may be a mystery to you, but God has a bigger plan. This one in particular drives me crazy.)

In my opinion, these types of theological beliefs are spiritually abusive, and often drive people to deny or hide their feelings of pain, loss and grief. After all, what are you supposed to do with all your anger, fear and sadness, if God willed whatever happened? Clearly, you must be in the wrong for feeling it, and so people stuff it and pretend they’re fine.

In addition to that, our society and our families do a really good job of making us believe that showing our emotions is a display of weakness (unless, of course, you are shouting obscenities at a sporting event). By casual show of hands yesterday, it appeared that about two-thirds of us grew up in homes where crying was unacceptable, or where emotions simply weren’t shown. I didn’t have to be told not to cry when my mom died when I was seventeen. The stoic, be strong, don’t show your feelings model was the only one I’d ever seen. Oddly enough I couldn’t really identify that, nor did I  did even realize it how unhealthy it was until much, much later.

So, how do we dive in when grief and loss are such uncomfortable places to be? Why would we even want to dive in when we feel empty, weepy, abandoned, exhausted, tied up in knots, scared, lonely, and more? And why doesn’t God just jump in and fix everything?

In case you hadn’t noticed, God isn’t in the habit of changing events for us. At some point we need to realize that we have responsibility over own lives and our own healing. God’s role is to give us strength and help us grow through our experiences.

There is a Japanese poet, Kenji Miyazawa, who gave us a very good image of dealing with pain when he said that we must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. He said embracing pain was like picking up a bundle of sticks for a fireplace. We necessarily embrace these sticks as we carry them, then we thrust them into the fire, getting rid of them, letting them go, but finally we are warmed and delighted by their gift to us in the form of flames and warmth and energy.

Imagine picking up your suffering and embracing it like that pile of sticks. Maybe it feels rough, heavy, awkward, and uncomfortable. It may even poke into you or scrape you up. But you are determined to carry that difficult load to the fireplace where it will serve you. The walk across the room is the journey with your pain. It is time to feel and time to be. You journey by crying, lamenting, going through old pictures, telling stories, lighting candles, listening to music, going out in the woods and screaming your anger out to the Divine. Each person’s process with their pain is different, but the goal is the same – to let it go.

Finally, we finish the journey, we have embraced the pain long enough to process it and we are ready to release it in a deliberate manner. Just as the sticks are thrust into the fireplace and transformed, so our pain is transformed into compassion, understanding of others, a renewed passion for life and living, and a deeper connection with Spirit. We are beginning to heal.

Madisyn Taylor reminds us, “It is when we get stuck in our pain that it becomes detrimental to our well-being and development. If you notice that you feel closed-off, resentful, heavy-hearted, or that you try very hard to avoid being hurt again, there may be a part of you that is still stuck in pain. Perhaps we began thinking that staying closed and unwilling to try new things would keep us safe from heartbreak, safe from rejection, and safe from failure. We may have even gotten so used to being in pain that the thought of being without it scares us. But, if we continue to hold onto it longer than necessary, we are expending a lot of energy that could instead be channeled into making our life experiences more positive.”

And Matthew Fox, in Original Blessing says, “Liberation begins at the point where pain is acknowledged and allowed to be pain. From there pain becomes shareable. And, where possible, resolvable.”

This is the perfect time of year to utter our true pain from the depths of our souls, that it might not fester, but find full expression and carry us down the path toward healing.

Love & Light,

Kaye

Hospitality

We all know how much it means to be made to feel welcome in a new place… or not. hospitalityIn fact, the one thing almost always keeps first time visitors to a church from ever returning is that “no one said anything” to them. We feel unwanted, invisible, awkward, out-of-place. And this one little example is just the tip of the proverbial we-talk-a-good-game-about-hospitality-but-don’t-really-practice-it iceberg.

Over and over again, in our churches, our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities and our country, people are discriminated against, shunned, bullied, profiled, targeted, avoided, slandered and kicked out, for being different.

And yet, hospitality is a Biblical imperative. Do people not understand this? HOSPITALITY IS A BIBLICAL IMPERATIVE!

These are the scripture passages I used yesterday:

1 Peter 4:9 “Be mutually hospitable without complaining.”

Leviticus 19:33 “Do not mistreat the foreigners who reside in your land.”

But then there are so many others:

  • Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Love your enemy.
  • I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.
  • Lot welcoming the two strangers.
  • Rahab protecting the Israelite spies.
  • Martha (and Mary, sort of) feeding the disciples.

I could go on and on. Plus, one author I read said there are at least thirty-six warnings to the Israelites in the Old Testament to remember their obligation to the alien, the widows and the orphans.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

So, what is it that keeps us from offering hospitality to others? This is the question I asked the congregation yesterday, and these are some of the answers:

  • Fear of others who look different, talk different, act different
  • Fear of being scammed
  • Inconvenient
  • We need to take care of ourselves first
  • We don’t want to create dependency
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Too busy
  • Scarcity – I don’t have enough to share
  • Greed – I don’t want to share
  • Drill it into our kids not to talk to strangers
  • Don’t know what to do, don’t have enough opportunities
  • Out of our comfort zone

The way of our world these days and all of these issues made me ponder whether hospitality is just impractical these days? Is it just a worn out and outdated concept? Or maybe people of every age have struggled with this, which doesn’t make it impractical, just challenging.

There are many examples out there – in churches, families, and communities – of hospitality. Many have had to fight against opposition, but have done so because they believed in the interconnectedness of all people. They believed in God’s love of everyone and the transformative power of reaching out to help another or be kind to another.

There are many examples of beautiful hospitality inside and outside of the church. People giving of themselves, their time, their resources. People risking, daring to care, getting out of their comfort zones, challenging the doubters and the critics, doing what feels right and good in their hearts. These people and programs inspire me and challenge me to question myself, my own behavior, my own fears. It challenges me to watch for opportunities to step out.

Will we risk showing up? Will we show hospitality without complaining? Will we give of our gifts generously? Will we see ourselves in the foreigners? Will we practice the spiritual discipline of hospitality wherever we are? These are the questions we each have to answer.

Peace,

Kaye

Awe

Awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things, is a sacred experience which connects us to the Divine and to one another. It is aawen important piece of the spiritual puzzle, or at the very least it could be a tool or path to deeper awareness of the Divine.

Writer and theologian Michael Yaconelli has said that, “Tameness is not an option. Take surprise out of faith and all that is left is dry and dead religion.” I believe that awe, wonder and mystery are some of the surprises that bring vitality and aliveness to faith and spirituality.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

While Christians are apt to talk about an “awesome” God, I’ve found that usually correlates to the power, greatness and majesty attributed to God.  And while many people have tried to equate fear and awe, that is a relatively new phenomenon. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for awesome is nora, and the Hebrew word for fear is yira. They were not the same thing. When the psalmist said,  “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10) or “serve God with fear and trembling” (Psalm 2:11) they really meant that one should be afraid of God, with an implicit “or else” tied in there. Certainly there are enough OT passages where destruction and doom awaited those who didn’t obey, that fearing God was more than appropriate.

Over the centuries there has been a shift in our understanding of God, and so many have reinterpreted these passages. Rabbi Heschel translates this as “the awe of God is the beginning of wisdom” and the Inclusive Bible says “the reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

Psalm 65 is one of the few places where the Bible emphasizes experiencing awe in God’s creation. Job also has a wonderful passage that does the same thing (Job 37:24). But there is very little scripturally that leads us farther than that to what Wayne Dyer talks about in his book Your Sacred Self. He suggests that by walking an intentional spiritual journey and heightening our awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we will develop a greater sense of appreciation and awe.

Dacher Keltner, professor and head of the University of California Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, has been studying awe for the last few years. Their studies have shown that awe is very accessible in what we might call the ordinary miracles of our days – the generosity of a person, the veins in a leaf, the birth of a child, a sunrise, the beauty in art or music or architecture.

In addition, Keltner’s research shows that experiences of awe transform the mind. After an experience of awe, a person is less concerned with self-interest and more attuned to collective interest; one moves from an isolated sense of self to a more integrated sense of self. And moments of awe begin to break down the “us” vs. “them” mentality.

Keltner said that awe seems to be the antidote to the ills of the world today: self-focus, greed, materialism, purposelessness, stress, narrow-mindedness and under-performing health. Experiences of awe produce: expanded sense of self, generosity, purpose (brings focus to our purpose in the world), perspective, creativity, robust health (good for the nervous system).

Studies show that people experience awe on an average of average 2.5 times a week. But perhaps, as people on an intentional spiritual journey, we could strive to cultivate experiences of awe, to practice wonder, to recognize everyday miracles EVERY DAY. Because those experiences are the bridges to the experience and feeling of connectedness with the universe, with the Divine. The goosebumps, feeling humble, curious, positive, love, joy, peace and concern for others… those are the effects of momentary connections with Something More.

So, how do we cultivate experiences of awe? Take a walk with the deliberate intention of being amazed and awed by something in creation. Or if you can’t get outside, watch a nature show or a travel show. Pause during the day to wonder at your life, the synchronicities, the beautiful relationships, your pets, your children or grandchildren, the very breath you take that give you life. Listen to fabulous music and be in awe of the musicians who create it. Go out and look at the stars or the lake and feel the enormity of the universe or the power of water. Read a beautiful piece of poetry or be amazed at the skill of an artist. There are so many things we can be in awe of instead of passing right over them. Let yourself be moved and filled.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

Our Stories

There is a great deal about “religion” that is about believing the right thing and our-storiesdoing the right thing. But there is a great deal about “spirituality” that has to do with self-awareness and understanding ourselves, because only in this way can we begin to see the masks and barriers we have put up to protect or hide our true selves – the self that is one with the Divine.  This is why some authors claim that the religion of the future will be more psycho-therapeutic.

Yesterday, I ventured outside of our canonical scriptures to explore a wonderful nugget found in one of the Gnostic gospels, The Dialogue of the Savior. Jesus is speaking and says:

“Do you not understand that what you see is what you will become? Therefore seek the Self within yourself, because this is who you really are.”

This does not mean that if you look at an eggplant you will become an eggplant. Rather, I think it means that what we see and believe about ourselves becomes our reality.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Don Miguel Ruiz and others remind us that we are the authors of our own stories. From the time we are young our interactions with others (parents, teachers, friends, strangers, lovers) create our experiences which we then write into stories. Some are positive stories and some are negative stories. These stories repeated countless times to ourselves and to others shapes how we live and move in the world.

In The Voice of Knowledge, Ruiz states:

“You are the author of an ongoing story you tell yourself. In your story, everything is about you, and it has to be that way because you are the center of your perception. The story is told from your point of view…Without awareness, we give our personal power to the story, and the story writes itself. With awareness, we recover the control of our story. We see that we are the authors, and if we don’t like our story, we change it.

Have you ever thought about the stories that we tell (ourselves or others) about our lives? What do we believe about ourselves and about life?

  • You can be anything you want to be
  • Boys are better than girls
  • Roles of boys and girls
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m fat, slow, stupid, untalented
  • I’m smart, pretty, better than others, entitled
  • Don’t cry, don’t show weakness, don’t be vulnerable
  • Prejudice, bigotry
  • Political party
  • Religious understanding of God
  • I was dealt a bad hand
  • It’s not my fault

In seminary at the age of 26, one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (aka chaplaincy) was required. So, I spent 16 weeks at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee visiting patients and then analyzing, in a group setting, my behaviors and responses.  I was young and still learning that my interaction with people had a great deal to do with the stories I told myself.  For example, there were certain patients who had longer stays at the hospital that I developed a relationship with and then hated to see go. I ached inside to lose touch with. Why? Or I’d be visiting with a patient and the Catholic priest would come in to offer communion and I’d feel put out. Why?

I had to learn that I had “hooks,” as our supervisor called them. Feeling abandoned was one of my hooks. The story I unconsciously repeated to myself was that my mom died… I was “abandoned” by my mom. My dad started seeing another woman a month after mom died and paid little attention to us kids after that… I was “abandoned” by my dad.  A few months later I graduated from high school and my friend group split up and went to different schools… I felt “alone” in the world… “abandoned.” Once this came to my awareness, I was able to better identify when I was getting hooked into someone and not allow my story to have power over my behavior.

My other hook had to do with another story I told myself: “girls are just as good as boys (if not better) and I can prove it.” So, when that Catholic priest walked in, I was ready to try to prove it. I didn’t quite have the self-esteem to step out-of-the-way and accept whatever, or whoever, a person needed for their spiritual needs. I have since worked on re-writing my personal story in such a way as to understand that there are some people who need something different from I can provide spiritually, and that is okay.

I believe the words of the Gnostic gospel are true, that what we “see,” our perspective, our story, becomes our reality. If we are unaware of this process, our stories write themselves and we feel we have no control over them… we give our personal power to the story and believe we don’t have the power to change it. With awareness we see that we do have control over what we tell ourselves and what we believe about ourselves. We do have control over our stories, and if we don’t like them we can change them.

Ruiz offers two suggestions:

  1. Don’t believe yourself – keep your mind and heart open, listen to yourself and your story. Really ask yourself if it is truth or lies. Respect your story, learn to see your story with clarity and then change it if you don’t like it. But if your story is healthy, offers brilliant ideas and possibilities, then go with it. But especially don’t believe your story when the stories are against you and encourage anger, fear, loneliness, jealousy, conflict, separation
  2. Don’t believe others – keep your mind and heart open and listen, but remember that what they are saying is their story, their perception. When their story is told with integrity, you will recognize it and can acknowledge it. We can listen objectively and respectfully, without judging, but we don’t have to take it on and believe it. We can understand that they believe it and then perhaps we come to understand them better and can communicate better, but we don’t have to take on their story.

Then the harder task is to go deeper than all of this to our true selves which are beyond all of these stories. It seems to me that our authentic selves are the part of us that can observe and name these stories we tell about ourselves without judgment. We are the life force behind the stories. That life force is who we really are.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

Prophets Anonymous

Jesus came to visit our service yesterday morning. Well, sort of. Every once in a while I’ve preached “in character.” I’ve been Mary Magdalene, the Gossip of Nazareth, the Holy Spirit and a few others, but never dared to be Jesus, until yesterday.

As is probably true of all of us right now, the elections hover at the edge of everything we do, casting a pall of jesusfrustration and agitation and worry over everything. I’ve been really good at not mixing faith and politics, and I’ve never told anyone who to vote for, nor will I. But, it actually feels weird not being able to say anything about it… like there is this huge elephant in the room. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that everything Jesus said and did was political, which is what got him killed.

So, in an attempt to talk about religion and politics, while keeping things somewhat light, I played the part of Jesus attending a Prophets Anonymous meeting. In my monologue, we find out that his disciples had asked him to stop talking about anything political before it got him killed. But as he talks more, we find out that even those things that didn’t sound political were.

Here’s an excerpt from Jesus’ monologue (for the full audio version, click here):

I’m a good Jew, just like the rest of you, but one day a while back I was in the synagogue on the Sabbath and you know how they take turns reading Torah from the scrolls? Well, it was my turn and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to me and I started to read where they’d left off. Guess where it started… yep…

“The Spirit of our God is upon me;
Because the Most High has anointed me
To bring Good News to those who are poor.
God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive,
Recovery of sight to those who are blind,
And release to those in prison – the proclaim the year of our God’s favor” (Is. 61)

And I knew in that moment that those words were exactly what God was calling me to do, so I said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled.” Here I thought my hometown would be supportive of me. Not everyone gets a call from Yahweh. But they were so angry, or perhaps scared, that they literally dragged me out-of-town and were going to toss me over the side of that hill out there… yea, you know the one, with the rocks all down the back side. Thankfully I was able to get away. But I couldn’t get away from the call.

So, I’ve spent the better part of the last two years doing exactly what was in that Isaiah passage.  I really feel like I’m making a difference to people, giving them hope, connecting them to God who loves them no matter what, whether they follow the 613 laws of Judaism or not. And I’ve had some amazing messages, thanks to that Spirit flowing through me.

I was sitting on the Sea of Galilee with this whole crowd of people, mostly poor and working class folks, up on the hillside and suddenly I felt these wonderful words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful… and the pure in heart… and the peacemakers… and those who are persecuted…

I was on a real roll! That one was so popular they now call it the Beatitudes and they call the place the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Who knew that was political? Suddenly I had the Roman government watching my every move thinking I’m going to start a rebellion. I told the crowds to pay their taxes… give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s… but give unto God what is God’s – their hearts, and minds and souls. “Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

That one got me in trouble, too. Especially after I told them a parable I made up about a Good Samaritan. You know how well the Jews and Samaritans get along… I hear there is even talk about building a wall between the two. So, now that I’ve pointed out that, in God’s eyes, our neighbors are everyone, the leaders of the synagogue are out to get me, too.  Do people really think that God doesn’t want all of humanity to live in peace and harmony and to love one another?

 I know that is why God sent me out into the world, to bring God’s unconditional love.

I tell you, I get so tired of the judgment and the lack of compassion for the poor, the widow, the outcast, the strangers. I try to tell them to “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” No matter what I say, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. They think God is on their side only… just like the sling shot competition in Nazareth between the Bethany Bandits and the Nazareth Knights.  Both teams prayed beforehand that God would let them win, and then when the Bandits won they claimed it was because God was on their side and caused them to play so well.

Seriously? God may be a sling shot fan, but do they really think God takes sides??

Perhaps we should all try being on God’s side for a while… the side of ALL. Of neighborliness. Of ONE. Of the common good.

Yesterday was what really scared my friends into confronting me. We had just arrived here into Jerusalem and I wanted to go up to the temple to pray. But when I got there it was like entering a marketplace, not a holy place of worship. I saw clearly what I hadn’t seen before, that worship had become a business transaction, an exchange of money, a slaughter of animals… it had nothing to do with the heart being aligned with the love of God. I got so angry I just exploded (still not sure where that came from, I’m a pretty peaceable guy). But I went ballistic… turned over the tables of the money changers and the people selling doves. Then I actually yelled at them, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations‘? But you have made it a den of robbers!”

Of course, now word is on the street that the leaders of the synagogue (who, as you know, are in cahoots with the Roman government) are plotting to kill me.

What am I supposed to do? It seems like everything I say, whether I want it to be or not, is too political for someone, offends someone. All I really want to do is help people to see God’s vision for God’s Kingdom on earth; a place of equality, peace, harmony, non-violence, compassion and most of all love. Who knew that love could be so political??

My friends think I can just go greet people at the kosher store down the street and teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Stay out of trouble. But then I feel like I’d be selling out. This is who I am and who God has called me to be. It is what I feel deeply in my heart that I try to live and share. 

I can’t do it. I can’t sell out. Come what may, I have to be true to myself and to God. I will continue to preach love, to share love. I guess they can do what they will to me. But I’m on God’s side.

Gee… thanks for all your help! I really appreciate it… I’m going back to work!

Love & Light!

Kaye

Neighborliness

Right now a group of us are studying the book An Other Kingdom by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight. Basically, this book lifts up the differences between a consumer/market culture and a culture of neighborliness, and concludes that the consumer/market culture isn’t working to make our world better or healthier. It is time to bring back the values and practices of neighborliness for the common good, and the health and wholeness of the people… not to mention that these are the values and practices that are lifted up in our Hebrew and New Testament Scriptures.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

First, let’s flesh out what defines and characterizes the two cultures:neighbors

Consumer/Market Culture

  • Profit driven
  • Competitive
  • Employee is expendable
  • Privatization
  • Scarcity
  • Institutions
  • Progress
  • Contracts
  • Get what we want when we want it
  • Individualism
  • Faster is better
  • Autonomy
  • Marketplace is God
  • Environment is for profit
  • Isolation

Neighborly Culture

  • Buy local
  • We have enough and enough to share
  • Employees are assets
  • Employee/employer loyalty
  • Relationships are important
  • Covenants – your word and a handshake
  • Common good
  • Trust
  • A place for God and Mystery
  • Values the environment as part of our ecosystem
  • Good stewardship of our resources
  • Subsistence farming and eating
  • Be kind to your neighbor! Leviticus 19: don’t steal, cheat, oppress, insult, judge or be unfair
  • Know and talk to our neighbors

We live in what we like to call a Christian nation (this may be arguable)… but the values that Jesus would support are not the values that are important out there today. It feels like people have compartmentalized Jesus into the church box, and conveniently leave him (and his values) there after worship on Sunday morning. I am frustrated that our faith and our lives outside of the churches do not intersect.

We have become a culture obsessed with money, with having more, with being the best and brightest and to hell with everyone else. Everything is about personal gain or making the most profit. Most could care less about the common good. Most could care less if what we do to the environment will affect our great-great-great grandchildren.

But there is a rising tide of people who have a deep sense that there is a different way to live. A way that values all people, a way that respects and cares for others and the environment, a way that builds relationships and connections, a way of neighborliness. We’ll have to step out into the wilderness of the counter-culture to experience it, but for those who do the result is aliveness and vitality, love and compassion, life in abundance.

It feels idealistic, I know, to think we could start to shift the culture. Yet I think it is already starting to shift in many, many small ways and even a few big ways. We can’t change the world, but we can change our little corner of it. It is about asking ourselves the question of how we apply these pieces of neighborliness to our lives, how we raise our children, how we interact with our neighbors, where we buy our food and clothes, how we treat the earth, what we teach and how we act as a community of faith.

Perhaps we could keep asking ourselves and those we work, live and associate with, the question the authors pose:

What would a system look like that built neighborliness and covenantal relationships?

Peace,

Kaye