Pastor Kaye's Blog

A price tag for happiness?

This last week we read the parable of the rich farmer (Luke 12:13-21) who has a wonderfully abundant crop and doesn’t know what to do with it (clearly giving it away doesn’t even cross his mind). He eventually decides to and tear down his grain bins to build bigger ones so that he can sit back and relax for a few years. But God says to the farmer: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. To whom will all your accumulated wealth go?’ Jesus goes on to say, “This is the way it works with people who accumulate riches for themselves, but are not rich in God.”

It was almost as if the farmer thought there was a price tag he had just met for being happy, secure and comfortable. He’d just won the lottery. Life was good! And then… psych! All gone!

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Now, we remember that this is a parable, a story Jesus told to make a point. So, what’s the point? Clearly it isn’t that as soon as you’re too greedy with your wealth that God will take you out of the game, or we wouldn’t have so many million and billionaires around! Jesus is clear in verse 15 that we should “Avoid greed in all its forms. Yes, ALL its forms. People are not just greedy with money, but with time, love, themselves and stuff.

Why should we avoid greed? Jesus doesn’t spell it out, but here are a few things I’d suggest: an attitude of greed keeps us from ever being satisfied or happy (there is really no price tag for happiness), it keeps us from living and enjoying the moment, and it is contractive, not expansive for our souls. An attitude of greed buys into a belief in scarcity rather than abundance.

In the book, An Other Kingdom, the authors talk about believing in abundance in the face of uncertainty. But they readily admit that this thinking is a “stretch of the imagination.” We see and hear all around us of people who don’t have enough, the poor, the homeless, the folks of Louisiana who’ve lost their homes in flooding, the folks in California who’ve lost their homes in the wildfires.

Our culture and our commerce has capitalized on the fear of not having enough, the fear of scarcity. In our advertising and our TV shows, in the push to compete with the Joneses, to be the best and have the most. There are time-saving devices, ways to buy love and keep love and find love, ways to live forever, look younger, and nip and tuck until we are beautiful. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that if we don’t have more we fail, we lose. We’re told we should be afraid of running out.

But what if… WHAT IF the fear of running out is not a reality, but a perspective? I know this may be hard to grasp because it feels like a reality. But WHAT IF whether we see our lives as rich and full is a perspective? What if this “reality” of scarcity isn’t really reality, but is simply one point of view, one mindset, one perspective? And we get to choose.

There was a 92-year-old petite, well-poised and proud woman, who was fully dressed each morning by 8 a.m. with her hair fashionable coiffed and makeup perfectly applied (even though she was legally blind). Her husband of 70 years had recently passed away making it necessary for her to move to a nursing home. (Most older people I know rail against this with a huge fear of the future and a huge loss of their independence and home and life as they knew it.)

Well, the day had come and after many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, the aide provided her with a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.

“I love it!” she stated with the enthusiasm of having just been presented with a new puppy.

“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room… just wait.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged… it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it… it’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away just for this time in my life.”

Many people only see lack and loss in these situations. They see and therefore experience scarcity and the fear that comes with that. But then there are those special people who live with a different perspective and bring light, hope and joy to others.

Being rich in God means living with an attitude of abundance, not scarcity, in whatever situation you may be in. When we have that close relationship with God, a trust in the basic benevolence of the universe, and knowledge that there is so much more than meets the eye, we look at wealth, stuff, love, time and even beauty in a different way. Being “rich” means something completely different when one comes from a deep connection with the Divine.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

Who am I?

In the call story of the prophet Jeremiah, there are two amazing lines:

Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you.
Before you were born I dedicated you.
                                                         (Jeremiah 1:5)

In Jewish, Christian and other religious traditions, the essence of who we are is with the Divine long before we are born. Eternal life is not, as we have been led to believe, about life after death. Eternal life with God has always been and will always be. The very core of our beings has always been and will always be.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Yet if someone were to ask you, “Who are you?” or “Tell me about yourself?” how would you respond? Would you say, “I have been with the Divine from before I was born, I am part of the Divine now, and shall always be even after I die. I am stardust and moonbeams, dirt and ashes, water and fire. I am love and compassion. I am a piece of the whole. In the deepest part of me I am known and I know and it has always been so.”

Um, no. In describing ourselves we’re mostly likely to tell people about our roles, relationships, work, skills, hobbies, character traits, illnesses or even addictions. But we are so much more!

There is a Buddhist meditation called “Who am I?” that is designed to get people past all of these superficial definitions of Self and help us remember that we are more than. The gist of the meditation is to ask yourself over and over again “Who am I?” until you get past all the transitory pieces and begin to recognize our true selves which are connected to the Divine and everything else in creation. Rabbi Rami Shapiro describes it in a beautiful way when he says, “You arise from God the way sunlight arises from the sun, the way a wave arises int he ocean. The “I” that is your true Self and the true Self of all predates time and creation like an acorn predates an oak…”

James Hillman’s acorn theory suggests that just as the acorn has within it the “map” of its destiny to become the oak tree, so does each human have encoded within him/herself an identity – call it the soul – as part of the primordial instant of all creation. Hillman states that “each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” At birth we forget who we are and our life’s assignment is to remember ourselves and who we were created to be. If we will listen, our souls work to teach us and guide us through our life experiences to become who we were created to be.

Sue Monk Kidd tells a story about being a novice gardener and, not knowing any better, planting her tulip bulbs a foot deep. A gardener friend eventually informed her that a few inches would have been sufficient! Yet, they managed to push through all that dirt to grow and bloom. Kidd draws the connection between the bulb and the true Self. She says, “The Self is already within us, an imprint of our wholeness and divinity.” Seeking realization, our true Selves must push through the dark layers of our false selves to come into the light. Our false selves take many shapes including, the need to please, perfectionism, fear of commitment, emotional distance, anger, negativity, addiction, fear of risk and failure, and the need to be in the spotlight.

Our true Selves, as an emanation of the Divine, manifest as light, joy, peace, compassion, justice, non-judgment, hope and love. The world will try to make us who we aren’t, but our true Selves, the seed planted deep within us, will continue to nudge, annoy and frustrate us to be who we are. Listen!

Blessings,

Kaye

 

God, could you speak up?

It feels like the world is just getting louder and louder. So, seriously, when I want “a word from the Lord,” I want it loud and clear. The story of Elijah reminds us that what we want and what we’re going to get may very well be two different things.

(For the full audio, click here.)

In 1 Kings 19:1-15a, the people have turned to pagan idols, most of the prophets of Yahweh have been killed, Elijah has royally pissed off Queen Jezebel, and he is fleeing for his life. Next,we find Elijah hiding in a cave on Mt. Horeb (where the prophets always encounter God), and personally, I think Elijah is ready to turn in his resignation and retire. Then God tells him (my paraphrase) “Hey, Elijah, go stand on the mountain because I’m about to pass by!” And just as he’s about to step out of the cave a whirlwind hits, then an earthquake and then fire. Is God just showing off? Thankfully Elijah hadn’t made it outside yet!  Well, after all the commotion dies down, Elijah hears God whisper, “Go back the way you came.” Sigh.

The whole story is a little too far-fetched to take literally, so, what’s the metaphor? What’s the message?  And, by the way, how did Elijah know that God wasn’t in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the fire?

Here’s my take on it… perhaps the world is like the whirlwind and the earthquake and the fire. Perhaps the typical state of affairs in life is chaos and confusion, loud noise and distraction, fires to put out and crises to avoid. God doesn’t even try to compete with all of these things by being louder, and Elijah seems to know deep within what is God and what isn’t. As a prophet, I suppose, Elijah has trained his heart to know when the Divine has a message. Instead of rushing out into the chaos, Elijah waits in anticipation and listens intently for the voice God, and so the faint whisper isn’t lost to him. But how many times is it lost to us?

Many people have become very uncomfortable in silence, uncomfortable stopping and waiting and listening. Noise and bequietandlistenbusyness cover up our emotions and our fears, they distract us from ourselves and that still small voice that emanates from within. We use our own personal whirlwinds, and those of society, to drown out our honest thoughts, mask our true feelings and obscure the voice of God. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.

At times we may be worrying about situations in our lives, so we decide to spend more time in prayer. But our prayer tends to be us talking, and talking, and talking. We’re apt to only listen to those things that will confirm what we already think. We don’t want to be surprised by God.

If we really want the connection with God, if we are willing to take direction from the universe, then we need to cultivate a listening heart… one that quiets down and pays attention.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar, in her poem Messages from God, basically says there are two ways to approach this: either you believe that the universe has messages for you and guides you, or you don’t. If you don’t believe it, then we are each alone in the world without input from the Divine in any way, shape or form. The world and the universe are mute.

If you do believe the universe sends you messages, then going through life can be as exciting as a treasure hunt and we will keep our eyes and ears open for those messages, coincidences and synchronicity.

Stitch

Stitch (formerly Cherry)

Let me use getting our puppy as an example… watch and see how easily this flowed. We’d been looking online and sort of convinced ourselves that the right puppy would find us. Julie and I were out walking one night and a woman on a bike stopped and asked us what happened to our last dog (oddly enough neither of us ever remember seeing her before). We explained that Rosie had congenital kidney problems and we had to put her down, and she asked if we were looking for another dog. We said, yes, we’d been looking at rescue sites online and made a few inquiries. Then she suggested that we try Lucky Mutts and gave them a glowing review. So, we got home, checked out the dogs at Lucky Mutts and found three puppies that seemed to fit our requirements due to arrive in Milwaukee in 5 days. We filled out the application, got a call the next day for a woman to come do a home visit. She brought her daughter (who happened to know my daughter) we had a good conversation, and were approved by the next day with one of the dogs (Cherry) on hold for us.

In the meantime, we had filled out an application with another rescue and the foster mom of the puppies we had applied for called me. She said she’d seen I was a pastor and had just been on our website! She was very excited and very persuasive about the puppy, Peep, she was fostering. We decided to go see both Peep and Cherry and then make a decision.

We met Peep first, and she was very cute and sweet, albeit a bit distracted and almost disinterested in us. We told Peep’s foster mom that we just didn’t know and still had to meet the other puppy. She said, you’re a pastor, you know to let the spirit lead you and you’ll feel which one is the right fit. (Apparently I need someone to remind me of this.) Well, we left and oddly none of us really felt like Peep was “it,” though there was no specific reason why.

When we got up to Milwaukee, they brought Cherry out to us and as we sat down in the grass to meet her. She immediately jumped up on each of us and gave us hugs and puppy kisses. The choice was obvious and instantaneous. Isn’t it amazing how all of that came together! I would have loved a big bold sign pointing to the right dog – THIS ONE! But when we were all called to pay attention, and we did, we knew.

Linda Douty says, “The task is to house our own portable sanctuary in the hallowed center of who we arethat place where we become so familiar with the sound of that still small voice that we can hear it in the MIDST of the whirlwind, in the very ebb and flow of our daily lives.”

How do we know when the still, small voice is talking? Well, what moves you? What brings tears to your eyes (in a good way)? What calls you to action? What excites you? What do you have a passion for? What stops you in your tracks? What makes you lost track of time? When these things happen, it may very well be the voice of God, and it behooves us to stop and listen carefully to what is being whispered in our hearts.

Rabbi Kedar says, “The world of the spirit speaks to you in a hundred voices. Listen with the heartbeat of your soul.”

Love & Light!

Kaye

Doing Good… it’s complicated…

In Galatians, Paul says, “Never grow tired of doing good.”do good

Seems pretty cut and dried, pretty obvious, doesn’t it? There is almost no commentary to such a simple, common sense point… except that doing good appears to have become a very complicated prospect.

Why? Well, here’s the list we came up with yesterday morning in worship:

  • We don’t trust people
  • We want to do good for people who deserve it
  • We make judgments about the people we would do a good thing for
  • We don’t have the time
  • We don’t have the energy
  • We don’t think it will be appreciated
  • We don’t think it will make any difference
  • We don’t want to be taken advantage of
  • We don’t want to spend the money
  • We’re not even considering anyone else because we’re so focused on ourselves
  • We don’t want to be called a “do-gooder”
  • We worry about what people with think about us
  • We analyze the situation to death before doing anything and so sometimes manage to do nothing

I wish I could say that I’m better than this, but the reality is that I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Hey, acceptance is the first step toward recovery, right?

(For the full audio version, click here.)

One of the things that Mother Teresa was good at reminding the rest of us is that we get so caught up in judging others that we don’t try to understand. We get so caught up in our fear of others, that we forget that they are one of us.

Truly, it doesn’t take much to do good, and it may even brighten another’s day, or put a smile on someone’s face. It may even restore someone’s faith in humanity for a moment. Or it may have no visible effect… it really doesn’t matter because the real change is within ourselves. Doing good, even for a brief instant changes the way we perceive the world, the way we live, and the way we think of ourselves and the Divine.

When John Wesley first began to form societies of Methodists in 1739, those early folks decided they needed some rules (I’m not sure what they were thinking, but there you have it). Not bad rules, and not too many rules, but a few good rules.  He came up with what Bishop Reuben Job has called Three Simple Rules:

Do No Harm

Do Good

Stay in Love with God. (That’s a paraphrase by Bishop Job because no one really understands what “Attend all of the Ordinances of God” means).

In fact, John Wesley’s most famous quote is, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can.  At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

So, I invite you to try this challenge for a week… try to live the injunction to “never grow tired of doing good.” Watch for the opportunities, don’t shoot them down in your head, pay attention to when you make judgments or excuses that keep you from doing good, and then let yourself do good without expectation. Remember it isn’t about others, it’s about us.

Shalom,

Kaye

 

 

 

Liminal Space

We returned from Italy late Thursday night, and as you can imagine we visited a LOT of churches. It was also very crowded. Often we were with a local guide, walked the towns, got the history lecture as we went, spent 5-10 minutes inside a church to look around and take pictures that could never do justice to the enormity and beauty of these sanctuaries. This is the way it goes on a study tour in the height of tourist season. Now, it’s possible that I’m just weird, but I could’ve spent an hour or more in each place, not necessarily looking at statues and relics and paintings, but soaking in the spiritual energy accumulated over centuries of people worshiping and praying there.IMG_5416

(For the full audio version, click here.)

We had one exception to this rule… St. Paul’s Basilica, the second largest church in Italy, built on the site where his remains were buried. Perhaps because it was outside the city walls explained why it wasn’t very crowded at all – maybe two dozen people. And we actually were given 40 minutes in the church without having to be attached to an ear piece with someone explaining the history and art in the place! I wandered briefly and then just sat down, overwhelmed, and finally able to take the time to think, to absorb, to feel, to question, and to connect with the Divine.

I sat downIMG_5424 in the last row of chairs in front of the main altar, and tried to simply be and to process and understand all the conflicting thoughts and feelings that flooded into me. Basically, I’m not a fan of spending tons of money on church buildings when people are hungry, homeless and struggling on the outside of the walls. And, I think Paul, Peter, Jesus and Mary would be appalled at the riches poured into these buildings when worship wasn’t at all close to their main message. However, as I opened myself up to the energy of the space, I could understand why places like this were so important to the people. I felt like I’d entered another world. The “real” world of worries, work, family, struggle, taxes, politics and fear felt so far away.

This space was a liminal space, a thin space (as the Celtics would say) between the ordinary and the Divine. It is a threshold where you are no longer in the place you were, but are not in the place you are going either. It is a place of transformation, transcendence, and change. The experience brought me back around to my center, and I’ve been holding it close ever since.

Paul and I seem to be getting very close, which is a bit unnerving because I still disagree with a whole bunch of his theology. But he seems to sum up my struggle with his line from Galatians 6:15:

“It means nothing whether one bothers with the externals of religion or not. All that matters is that one is created anew.”

A church space, wherever it is, is meant to be a liminal space, a boundary where the ordinary and the holy meet. A place where people can be transformed, given hope, given perspective as they touch something more. But instead of being asked to focus on this feeling, this light, thIMG_5422is internal change and connection, people have been ingrained with the obligation to go to church, to behave certain ways and believe certain things.

Coming into this space should constantly remind us that we are not alone, that we are loved, that the core of our beings is light and love… and so is everyone else. We’ve just forgotten. And when we leave this space, we should carry just a bit of that with us so that we change the way we respond in the world and so slowly change the world.

When we make snap judgments against others, our liminal experience should help us to take a step back and say, “hang on, they are just like us deep inside… they can’t help the color of their skin, the religion they grew up with, their sexual orientation. What would it be like to be in their shoes with their experiences?”

When we jump to a place of frustration and impatience, remembering again the feeling, energy, and peace of the liminal sanctuary space can draw us back to a place of objectivity. The “real” world is not all there is.

When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, the liminal experience can give us courage to take the risks leading toward healing and wholeness.

When we beat ourselves up with guilt, regret and shame, this in-between place reminds us that we are MORE than that. It can help us to face our pasts, our brokenness and our baggage.

When we get caught up in complaining and negativity, remembering the feelings of the liminal space draws us back toward the positive, back toward hope, back toward loving oneself and others.

When we see injustice, the power of the liminal experience gives us the strength to stand up for others, to work for positive change.

The key to the liminal experience is that it helps create us anew. I know it is slow. I know we don’t necessarily trust it once we’re back in the “real” world… it feels too far away and maybe too magical to be true. But what if that liminal experience is more real and more true than what we think we perceive in our everyday lives? What if?

So, when you enter those liminal spaces, open your hands and feel the energy. Hug one another and feel the love. Let loose of your tight hold on the hurt that you think defines you and feel healing. Open your mouths in song and feel the oneness of voices blended in music and harmony. Expand your love to those around you and feel compassion expand your heart.

Be changed. Be made more whole. Be more loving, forgiving and compassionate. Be more joyful, hopeful and peaceful. Be who you were created to be… the beautiful, unique you. That’s what matters.

Kaye

Freedom in Christ

Today is Independence Day, the Fourth of July, a day when freedom is celebrated freedom-in-christ1from sea to shining sea. It’s a different kind of freedom than the Apostle Paul talks about. Paul’s wasn’t talking about the freedom to own guns, or marry someone of the same sex, or get an abortion, or vote, or drive without a seat belt… it was about the freedom of our hearts and souls.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

My guess is that this understanding of freedom was as foreign to people in Paul’s time as it is to people today.

You see, Paul found a surprising thing happened to him after his mystical encounter with Jesus. All the laws he had upheld all those years as a devout Jew didn’t mean much of anything to him anymore. In Jesus, Paul found a unique expression of the Divine, and through that encounter with light and love he experienced healing, wholeness, and a transcendence of the loneliness, separation and emptiness our souls feel when we are disconnected from our Source. Paul had no idea life in the Spirit of God could be like this. He felt free.

Paul completely changed his tune. Now instead of enforcing the 613 laws of Judaism, he taught that life in the law leads to death. Not physical death, but the death of our souls and separation from God. When we focus too much then on trying to do all the right things and believe all the right things that we actually lose sight of God.

Richard Rohr calls this the “performance principle” and says, “Almost all of us start with a performance principle of some kind: “I’m good because I obey this commandment, because I do this kind of work, or because I belong to this group.” That’s the calculus the ego understands… but that game has to fall apart. It has to, or it will kill you.”

Sadly Paul’s assertion that the law leads to death has had little, if any, impact on Christianity. Most Christians today are enslaved by the laws created over the centuries by the churches… not by Jesus! We have lost the message of freedom in God that Jesus preached.

Some Christians will agreed that “good works” won’t get you into heaven. But then they’ll tell you that what gets you in is “faith.” Um, hello, that’s just another condition. I suppose it is easy to see how Paul could have led them to that conclusion. Paul emphasized over and over again that people just needed to have faith in Jesus to experience freedom. But for Paul that faith was an abolition of requirements because it involved a radically new way of seeing and being. It involved seeing all things as one with God, and being an expression of God’s love for all.

For Paul, freedom in Christ meant that people were free from having to measure up, freedom from trying to earn God’s love. And in turn we are free to love others without conditions, with judgments, without unhealthy attachments. And they were free from beating themselves up with guilt and shame. We seem to have forgotten this… or maybe never got it in the first place.

There is a Hasidic story, told by Megan McKenna in her book Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, of Rabbi Naftali…

It was the rabbi’s custom every evening after the sun went down to go walking through the town and then into the outskirts. It provided him with time to reflect and kept him up on anything that was happening, the comings and goings of his own neighbors. It was also the custom of the wealthy landowners to hire watchmen to watch the perimeters of their property at night, whether they were home or not, as a security measure. One evening after dark, the rabbi met one of these watchers and asked him whom he worked for and was given an answer… And the watcher assumed that the rabbi too was working for someone and asked him who his employer was.

The rabbi stopped in his tracks, for the question hit him squarely in his heart. Whom did he work for? Was it obvious that he served the Master of the Universe? He wasn’t sure, and so he didn’t answer right away. Instead he walked along with the man as he watched and walked the grounds of the rich man’s estate. Then the rabbi spoke: “I’m not sure that I really work for anyone, I’m sorry to say. I am a rabbi in this town.” After a long, silent walk, the rabbi asked the watcher, “Will you come and work for me?”

“Of course, I’d be delighted to, Rabbi,” the man responded. “What would my duties entail?”

“Oh, there would just be one thing you would always do,” the rabbi answered. “Remind me whom I work for, whose employ I’m in, and why I’m here – that’s all. Remind me!”

Perhaps that is why we form spiritual communities, to remind each other who God is in our lives and what freedom that gives us. Freedom to love and work for justice. Freedom to share peace and hope and joy. A freedom that is life-giving, because it is dependent upon no one else, nor on what people might do and say in our lives.

Happy Independence Day!

Kaye

 

 

Soil of the Soul

You know, Jesus was pretty savvy with his parables, but we too often take them at face value or dismiss them as cute little stories. And unfortunately, sometimes scripture decides to explain the parables for us, so we don’t think too deeply about it. Take the parable of the good soil, for example (Luke 8:4-15), it is an amazing metaphor explaining the state of our souls and what it takes to respond to the Divine in our lives and to grow spiritually.

Side note: Jesus seminar scholars believe that, while the actual parable was probably authentic to Jesus, the explanation most likely was not because “Such a distinction between “us” and “them” contravenes much of Jesus’ fundamental teaching.”(The Five Gospels, by Funk, Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, p. 307)

This familiar parable goes something like this… A sower went out to sow some seed, and as he sowed some of the seeds fell on the footpath, some in the rocks, some in the thorns and some in the good soil.

Clearly, the sower is God. The seed can be interpreted as many things such as the word of God, the nudgings of the Divine, our potential, and the love of God.

The seeds lands in four different places which represent the soil, or receptivity, of our souls to the Divine. Depending on our life circumstances, the people we associate, what we’ve experienced and whether we are part of a nurturing spiritual community, our soil may be many different compositions of the four types.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

FOOTPATH – If our soul resembles a footpath we imagine hard-packed, well-traveled ground. If the seeds of our potential, or the nudgings of the Divine, or the pull toward spiritual growth, all fall on the hardened surface of our souls, what does that mean? Maybe we’re too stuck in our ways, or too likely to listen to what others have always told us to be open to something new. Maybe we prefer to follow the path more traveled because it is the path of least resistance, we don’t want to question or risk trying a different way. Perhaps we’re creatures of habit, unwilling to divert from our usual path… just like we take the same route to the grocery store ever time.

ROCKS – If our souls resemble rocky ground the seed of God will have a difficult time taking root. And if it does, the roots are liable to be shallow and the plants will be at the mercy of the elements. Tough times come along and those fragile plants wither in the sun, are washed away in big rains or are uprooted easily in the wind. Rocks that keep us from having depth, substance and self-awareness may be things like bitterness, anger, hurt, shame, guilt, selfishness, ego, fear, or even very little desire for personal growth.

THORNS – The nudgings of the Divine can grow up in the thorns of our souls, but will most likely be choked out before they get too big. There is no room for them to grow, nor is it a priority to help them grow. Thorns may be the multitude of worries and concerns we have. We would prefer to let our minds dwell on these things than on things of the spirit. Thorns may look like excessive business… we claim we have no time for the Divine (except maybe for Sunday mornings). Thorns may be the ego wanting its own way, its own agenda or may be co-dependence on others and unhealthy attachments to things, ideas, needs.

GOOD SOIL – If you are a serious gardener, you know that to grow healthy plants you need to good soil 1prepare good soil to put them in. Typically this means tilling the soil, adding nutrients and fertilizers, rotating crops, having the right pH balance and the right mixture of sand clay, silt and organic material for what you’re planting. It’s a lot of work to make good soil! Metaphorically, I believe this means first and foremost that our spiritual growth is a priority in our lives. We need to cultivate within ourselves the ability to be open-minded, flexible, and curious. We need to truly listen to and process the wisdom those in our lives we consider our spiritual mentors. A variety of spiritual practices may be important, plus new ideas, new experiences and new places to expand our minds and our understandings of life. And we need to attend to the rocks and thorns in our lives!

Think about it: How would you describe the ‘soil’ of your heart and soul at this time in your life?

I think, by and large, we expect the seeds of God to grow in whatever soil we give to God without any thought of preparing our souls to be receptive. Our society and our culture moves so fast these days that we haven’t cultivated what it takes to plant outside gardens and care for them, much less worry about how fertile the ground of our own beings are. It is a commitment, yes. But to reap the benefits – a harvest of peace, joy, perseverance, patience, kindness, generosity – we have to give the seeds a good place to grow.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

Speaking from the heart

One of the things I’ve learned about preaching is that I have to follow the energy. If I have no energy for a subject, if my heart isn’t in it, it just won’t work. It’s like squeezing water from a rock. Because of all the things that happened last week, I just couldn’t find the energy for the topic I had planned to preach on Sunday. The best I could do was speak from my heart about a few matters.

Last week was a week of sadness, grief and struggle. First, there was the horrible massacre in an Orlando gay bar.  peaceIt was near impossible to escape from the pain of that event with the media and social media full of stories and responses to the Orlando shooting all week. And at the same time our puppy Rosie started taking a turn for the worse. Last Thursday we had to make a decision to either let her go, or put her through days of treatment in the ICU without any guaKaye and Rosierantee of the outcome. At only 15 months old, we just couldn’t bear to let her go without a fighting chance, but after days of treatment, we learned her kidneys had never developed properly (renal dysplasia) and there was nothing we could do but let her go Sunday afternoon.

(For the full audio, click here.)

The personal issue of our puppy was one thing, I expected support from all the animal lovers out there. I did not expect personal responses about the Orlando shooting.  I think that’s what finally pushed me over the edge. Julie and I received a note from a member of our spiritual community to offer her sympathies about the shooting and the continued instances of hatred and bigotry in this country, to commiserate over that loss and so many other tragedies, and to say she mourned with us. And then our next door neighbor, who is a more conservative Christian who admittedly struggles with understanding homosexuality, walked over on Friday not only to ask about Rosie, but to extend sympathies after the Orlando shooting and ask for a hug.

Wow.

I found myself just about in tears – overwhelmed at everything. I’m SO tired of the violence and the hatred. I’m so tired of talk of “us” and “them,” of pastors and politicians and people inciting rage, of drawing lines (or building walls) to divide people – whoever they are.

In my opinion, Paul had a lot wrong in his theology. But he had a few really important things right. Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” The boundaries are gone.

Something clearly over-the-top amazing happened to Paul. He had an experience of Jesus that changed him into a completely new person. He went from constantly drawing lines between people – clean and unclean, male and female, Jew and everyone else, those who followed the law and those who didn’t – to gathering everyone together in love.

That is huge.

Paul finally realized, at a deep spiritual level, that everything that divided us was shallow, illusion, surface only. Paul knew (as in experienced in the very  core of his being) that once you had really experienced what Jesus offered – the abiding presence and love of God – that you became a new creation. You had died to your old life and your old self. You realized that spiritually all are one in God. Paul believed that faith would enable you to see this oneness.

As Dr. Patrick Cheng says in his book, “Radical Love” God’s love is a radical love that dissolves all boundaries. He goes on to say that “For the earliest Christians, coming together as a community was an act of subversion. It was the creation of a radically new “family” or “body” that transcended biological relationships and the established social order.” (p. 106)

And if we are a true community of God, we, too will work at dissolving all the boundaries that exist between people in this world.

I know it is easier to get caught up in the “us vs. them” mentality. There were plenty of people ready to thank God for the destruction of a bunch of perverts.  Now, I know I have an “intolerance for intolerance.” I want to fight back with words and an occasionally holy 2×4… but the best way to fight back is to extend love again and again and again, and to live fearlessly.

In Romans 13:10, Paul says “Love never wrongs anyone…”  Yet, we WANT to “wrong” someone back when they’ve wronged us, or someone we love. But when we do that we have separated ourselves from the Love that we are called to be.

These were my questions to myself last week: How will I see the world? How will I treat the world? How will I respond to hatred and anger?

First of all, I will not respond to the hatred and anger by hiding. I have read stories of lesbians who feel they have to look around before showing affection to their wife, who almost panic when their kids call them both out as moms in public. And I’ve heard of a gay man who left the club just before the murders who said he wasn’t going to go into hiding, but was going to live larger without apology. He was going to dance and celebrate and be who he was without fear.

Amen.

None of us should have to hide who we are or be ashamed of our race, ethnicity, ability or disability, health, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.  I am who I am, I am in love and married to a wonderful woman. I will not hide that or be ashamed of that.

Second of all, I am sad and I am grieving, but I know that God is present in the midst of the pain. And I remember that there is good in the world. I remind myself of all of the prayer vigils around the country – by Christians, Muslims and non-believers alike. I remind myself of the folks who have reached out with gestures of sympathy, condolence and blessing. I remind myself that even people who struggle with different sexual orientations are reaching out in love.

We cannot be silent anymore when faced with those who seek to malign certain people. We are all the same inside. We all want to be safe, to be loved, to provide for our families, to be respected. Why does anyone find it OK to denigrate any group of people?? It is time for us to stand up for those who are maligned and oppressed. It is time for us to put our voices and our votes to work.  It is time to work for the healing of the nation through love.

Namaste,

Kaye

 

More Christs

Recently I heard someone say, “We need fewer Christians in this world and more Christs.” Amen!

Our churches seem to want to define a Christian by whether they believe what the church tells them to believe and whether they do what the church tells them to do. But, as James C. Howell says in Yours are the Hands of Christ, “Jesus didn’t dole out pithy formulas, scale metaphysical heights, or outline dogmas. Instead he talked incessantly about how to live our lives, how to spend our money, how to treat others. More importantly, he lived a unique life, had no money, and touched others in exemplary ways.”

(For the full audio version, click here.)

And, just what does Christ mean, anyway? You know it wasn’t his last name (and, yes, some people really believe that). It was a title. Christ is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anointed” and refers to one commissioned by God for a special task.

I suppose people could argue about what Jesus’ special task was, but he was pretty clear about it. He came to be light for the world, and bread for the wilderness of our souls. He came to be a voice for the silenced, to let people know that God loved everyone equally and unconditionally, to break down the walls of oppression, to help people to stand strong, to bring comfort, peace, forgiveness, hope and healing. Jesus came to show us how everyone can be one with the Divine as he was one with the Divine.

While Jesus may have called people to “follow” at the beginning of his ministry in order to teach them, to help them mature spiritually and to develop a deeper understanding and connection with the Divine. In the end, he didn’t say keep following, he said “Go! For the love of Pete,  go out and BE for the world. Be who God created you to be – people of warmth, light, compassion, hope. I’ve been trying to show you this all along. We are all anointed ones given a special task in the world to make it a better place. Go!”

There was once a New Yorker cartoon that had a clergyman standing at a crossroads where he is clearly struggling with which signpost to follow. One has an arrow that points to “Heaven.” The other has an arrow that points to a “Discussion about Heaven.”

This is true about so many spiritual things, I’m afraid. We’d rather talk about prayer than pray. We’d rather talk about being compassionate than sit and eat food with the homeless. We’d rather give money for a mission trip than sleep in bunk beds and get dirty every day. We’d rather talk about social justice than get out and march for a cause. We’d rather talk about Christ than be like Christ. It’s easier. But it isn’t the spiritual path.

I don’t care if you never believe a thing the church tells you. But I tell you, you have been anointed. You are sacred and blessed and you have a special task for this time and place. Open your hearts and your minds to that possibility. Consider every day what it means to be Christ to the world… but don’t just think about it, DO it. BE it.

Namaste (the light of Christ in me sees the light of Christ in you),

Kaye

 

A Voice for the Silenced

Yesterday we talked about the story in Luke 7 where Jesus raises a widow’s only son from the dead.

voiceAs you probably know, widows were at the bottom of the social ladder in the ancient world. But at least this woman from Nain had an adult son. Without a male to be attached to, society didn’t know what to do with widows, and so ignored them, silenced them. Jesus not only saved the life of the young man, he saves the life of the mother by restoring her dignity and place in society.

The importance of this story is not whether it really happened or not. The importance is what it is trying to convey to us about Jesus and the God that he served and shared. As we have come to expect from Jesus, it shows not only his compassion, but his understanding and concern for people’s feelings and situations. It especially shows his interest and concern in those who were at the bottom of the social ladder, those who had been silenced because of their situation. Jesus was consistently a voice for the silenced.

There are many, many people who are still silenced in this world because they are too young, too old, too new, or too fat. They have no voice or power because they are different – differently abled, different sexual orientation, different color, different religion or different language.

What if Jesus had seen the funeral procession coming and simply crossed to the side of the road with no compassion for the grieving mother? What if he had done nothing when he could have done something, said something? What if he had been silent instead of being a voice for the silenced? I asked this question yesterday, and the answer was, “But he wouldn’t do that!” It’s true, we can’t even comprehend Jesus doing that. Perhaps we need to pay closer attention to the example he is setting.

All around the country and the world, there are people who are being a voice for the silenced… and others who would prefer to silence the voice that stands for the oppressed and marginalized.

Yesterday, I spoke of a few of these situations, including the Black Lives Matter campaign, Muslim Americans, and LGBTQ folks. Please listen to the full audio if you’re interested in those stories.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

We need to learn to care, to have concern, and to take interest in others. We need to learn to get past our fears, to see others as part of ourselves and to be a voice for the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, the stranger, the orphans, the captives.

Amnesty International is bringing together Europeans and refugees to stare at each other. Yes, stare. Studies show that it takes four minutes of looking into the eyes of another to fall in love. Not ga-ga in love, but to a place of feeling love and compassion for the other. I imagine it must be unnerving at first… to be that vulnerable with a stranger. I think we know intuitively, that our eyes are truly the window to our souls. If we look close enough, and if the other opens up a little bit, we can see into the depths there, to see the pain, the suffering, the fear, the worry, the love, the pride, the strength.

To follow the way of Jesus is to look into the eyes of another and to see oneself, to see God. To follow the way of Jesus is to cross the road to the side of the widow, the refugee, the person of a different color or orientation, the differently abled, the children… cross the road and offer a word of hope and healing, a smile, support, courage. We are called to be a voice for the silenced.

Blessings,

Kaye