When life doesn’t make sense…

What do you do when life doesn’t make sense?  When a young (read under 60) person dies suddenly. When a youth goes from being an A student to being in jail. When good, hard-working people can’t find a job and end up homeless. When a teenager commits suicide. When people end up alone and lonely in nursing homes. I’ve heard all of these personal stories, and more, in just the last few days. It’s disheartening.

People look to me for hope and answers. We all wonder, where is God when life doesn’t make sense? Even all the things I believe to be true feel inadequate in the face of such senselessness sometimes.  I believe that God doesn’t cause “bad” things to happen.  I believe that God is constantly working to bring each of us to a higher awareness of self, spirit, and life.  I believe that we are never alone, but are surrounded by the loving energy of God which often manifests in people, music, animals,”coincidences”, and so many other things. I believe that God loves us, no matter what, and that God will help us get through – one agonizing step at a time.

I have had months (in the not-too-distant past) where I cried every day. Days where I yelled at God using multiple expletives. Weeks where I couldn’t believe that anything good could come of my life and wondered if it was worth it. I wasn’t perfect, but I’d tried to be a good person and everything ended up all messed up… it made no sense.

Only in hindsight can I see how intricately God was working in my life. From the people placed in my path, to the books I read, to the music that sustained me, to the new life that gradually unfolded before me. Every choice I made, some of them better than others, became part of the formula for who I could become. Nothing was wasted, no experience, no joy, no mistake, no hurt, no relationship… all of it is woven into the fabric of who I am today. I am under no illusions that I’m done, a finished product. No way! I humbly understand that life will always be filled with challenges, that I will always choose how to face them, and that God will take whatever I give her and help me to move forward, to learn and to grow. I just wish like the dickens that it wasn’t so painful sometimes.

All of that to say that when life doesn’t make sense, God is still there weaving the complicated stories of our lives into beautiful patterns that can sometimes only be appreciated from a distance.  We just need to have hope, to keep going, to keep loving, and to give God the best we can to work with. There will be better tomorrows.


There are days…

There are days when I feel wholly inadequate. Like today. So, I’m drinking yet another Diet Coke and eating an inordinate amount of chocolate in the hopes that this somewhat unconventional communion food might bolster my wavering faith in myself. What do I really know anyway?

It’s times like this when I think that maybe, just maybe, it would be easier to be a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. They’ve at least convinced themselves that they’ve got all the answers.  How comforting that must be to have it all figured out. An answer for everything and for everything an answer. Now, if those answers just didn’t require that I suspend reason and rational thought, accept contradictions, behave hypocritically, and ignore scientific findings and post-modern cultural changes, I’d be all set.

So, I’m back to all my questions. Topping today’s list is: What do I really know about racism? How do we address issues of social justice as a faith community? How do we encourage self-transformation when people really dislike (I don’t like the word “hate”) change? And if we aren’t willing to look at ourselves and change, how can we expect to change the world?

I start down that road and the questions just tend to snowball… What do I do with Lent when I don’t really think people need 7 weeks of a “penitential” season? What do I do with Easter when I don’t believe in glorifying the cross? What does worship as a “theologically progressive” community look like? What does anyone really know about Jesus? When you come across people whose lives resemble Job, what do you say? How on earth do I lead a spiritual community and preach when I have so many unanswered questions?

When I was in seminary, I found that my entire understanding of God, church and religion was completely deconstructed. I found more questions than answers.  It took me about 10 or more years to reconstruct my thoughts into something I was fairly clear about.  Now with all the changes in the last two years, and the freedom to help mold a new spiritual community, I suddenly find that my understandings of God, church and religion are being deconstructed again… this time by me. What do I really know about what I think I know?? It is a thoroughly uncomfortable feeling.

Thankfully there is one thing that never changes – love. The undeterred, unconditional love of God has always been the basis of my faith and that has not changed. “God” and “love” are interchangeable.  If it is of “God” it is of “love”. All the rest, the ancient rabbis would say, is commentary.  So, I will start here to answer all the questions in my head. I will do what I have always done, live into the questions until I come to understanding. And, as always, I will pray to be enough for whatever is placed on my path.

Christmas as a subversive parable

(Here’s the Reader’s Digest Version of my sermon yesterday.)

Did you know that only two of the four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ birth?  And did you know that they are vastly different stories? The Gospel of Matthew suggests that Jesus was born at home in Bethlehem, the angel comes only to Joseph, there is a star, magi from the east, an evil plot by King Herod to kill all the baby boys under two, and then Mary, Joseph and Jesus escape to Egypt. In the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, traveled to Bethlehem for the census where they had Jesus. The angel visited Mary and Zechariah, there are shepherds and an angel choir, but no star, no magi and no evil plot.  After Jesus is born, they have him circumcised on the 8th day in the synagogue, present him to Godat the Temple in Jerusalem at the appropriate time, and then return home to Nazareth.  Interesting, huh?

We tend to merge these stories in our heads, and in our songs and Christmas cards, but they are very distinct from one another. Because these two stories are so vastly different from each other, because they were written so long after Jesus died (around 80-90 CE), and because the earliest Christian writings of the Gospel of Mark and the letters of Paul say nothing about the birth of Jesus, most scholars and theologians agree that the birth narratives are not factually true.  So, if they weren’t true, then why write them?  Because they have a much deeper, more significant message, or “truth”, than can be superficially seen. If we remember that they were written at a specific time, in a specific place, for a specific people we can begin to unpack the depth of their meaning then, as well as the depth of their meaning for us today.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, in their book “The First Christmas” encourage looking at the birth narratives as parable rather than historical fact.  In this way the truth of the story is not found in fact, but in the meaning.  And just like many of Jesus’ parables, “the birth stories are subversive… They subverted conventional ways of seeing life and God.  They undermined a ‘world,’ meaning a taken-for-granted way of seeing ‘the way things are.'”

The dominant worldview in the first century was that the Roman Empire was essentially the kingdom of God.  It has military, economic, political and ideological power. They ruled by might, seeking peace through oppression and violent control (in fact, there were uprisings against Rome all around Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth). And the Emperor was see as God.  Caesar Augustus was given the presumptuous titles of Son of God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World.  And King Herod was called the King of the Jews.  Any of those titles sound familiar? Yes, those were the same titles ascribed to Jesus.  Seems a little risky, don’t you think? In addition, Jesus’ message and example were about peace through justice – liberation, equality and freedom.

As for the story of the magi (which we read yesterday to celebrate Epiphany), there is great significance in the symbolism in that part of the story alone.  From ancient times, the star has symbolized the presence of God as well as illumination and guidance. The magi were more than just astrologers, they were wise, learned people (it doesn’t say they were all men, so in my mind at least one was a woman), who had religious significance.  They were thought to have a special, mystical connection with God and to have “secret wisdom” not known to ordinary people. Plus the magi came from the east, so we know they are not Jews or Romans, they are Gentiles. Herod attempts to extinguish the light that threatens his “kingliness”, but he is thwarted by the wise magi who refuse to comply with his request to report the location of the child born “King of the Jews.”

Put all of that together and we see that Matthew is making a spiritual and political statement and seeking to shift the dominant worldview.  Jesus (not the Emperor) was the light coming into a world ruled by darkness and violence.  He heralded the true kingdom of God (not Rome), one which brought peace to all people through justice, not victory.  And Jesus came for all people, not just the Jews, for even wise magi from other nations recognized his light, and stand in solidarity with Jesus against the powers of darkness. This is the “truth” embedded deeply within the parable of the magi. And it still has power for us today.

The light of Jesus still shines in the darkness, but there are Herods out there who would do anything to extinguish it to maintain their power and control. The question for us is: who are we in this parable? Are we the magi, illumined by the light, and refusing to aid in its suppression?  Or are we like Herod, fearful of change, defensive of our status and power? Are we supporters of those who rule with indimidation, fear and violence, or supporters of those who rule with compassion, love and justice? The choice is ours.



Looking forward, not back

Well, ok, I admit it, I can be a sentimental sap.  I have a really hard time throwing out my kid’s old Christmas ornaments even though I never knew what they were in the first place, and some are now so dilapidated that I can’t pick them up without them simply falling to pieces! I’m the one that likes to recount the goofy stories of high school past. And, I’ve kept all my journals since I was in grade school, even though they really should be ceremonially burnt.

The turn of the New Year is the traditional time to wallow in sentimentalism, to look back and see the changes in our lives, recount the good times and give thanks that the challenging times are over.  We like to sing Auld Lang Syne, because part of us yearns for what we believe were the “good old days” when life was simpler. So, I hope we’ve all gotten it out of our systems, because now it is time to let go of the sentimental mush and look forward, not back. About the only thing that comes from looking back for any length of time is that you’ll trip over yourself or run into something. Nope, the past is the past, can’t change it, can’t edit it, can’t erase it, just have to let it be and move on.

I’m excited about looking ahead to a year of new possibilities for Sacred Journeys.  We are beginning to establish ourselves in the greater community as a unique place to know God. Now we are only limited by looking back, therefore not seeing the path that the Spirit is laying before us. I still picture the Spirit as an unpredictable, courageous, creative woman in red heels and a boa.  And if we follow her leading, I trust we will be taken to places we couldn’t dream of going alone. “I alone know my purpose for you, says YHWH, my purpose for your prosperity and my purpose not to harm you, my purpose to give you hope with a future in it.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Happy New Year! ~ Kaye