Brainwashed

We don’t like to think of ourselves as brainwashed, but the more I work with my Quest teenage girls (my version of confirmation class) and my college classes, the more I realize that we are all brainwashed at a very young age. I suppose we could use a nicer term, like “taught” or “molded,” but that just doesn’t quite capture the “stuckness” I see in some of these young people.

For example, no one in my college class of 18-20 year olds had never heard the concept of the feminine Divine or using “She” to describe God. And because they’ve never been exposed to this concept, most just can’t wrap their heads around a different image for the Divine even though the book of Genesis says men and women were created in the image of the Divine. I showed them a bumper sticker that read “Trust in God, She will provide” and one girl said her initial reaction was to wonder what God it referred to. Logic, at this point, doesn’t seem to work too well in introducing new perspectives and understandings, they have been effectively brainwashed to believe that God is male.

Stuckness goes far beyond one’s God-image when it comes to religion. The programming includes who we understand God to be, why Jesus died on the cross, what we think of other religions, Adam and Eve and the fall of humankind, heaven and hell, sin and redemption, Jesus as human and/or divine, the role of women and so much more. The Catholic Church has been known to say, “Give me a child until they are seven and I’ll give you a Catholic for life.” They know how crucial those early formative years are for a person’s identity and way of thinking… it’s almost scary.

So, I believe this leaves us at a place of developing a healthy self-awareness. Why do we believe what we believe? Are there other perspectives to consider? Which concepts lead us in the way of love, compassion, equality, justice, peace and understanding? Which hold us in fear, inequity, sin and judgment? Which path is open and expansive? Which path is closed-minded, constricting and limiting?

Moving forward in a healthy way may mean unlearning things that we were taught by that great authority, the church. It can almost feel like we’re disobeying God to think differently. But the church isn’t always right. It doesn’t have a hot line to God. It is susceptible to error as much as any other human institution. Trust your heart and trust the way of love. Live the expansive path of spiritual growth. Explore new ways and new understandings. These things will lead you to a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with the Divine.

Peace,

Kaye

 

The lost and even more lost

Yesterday we talked about the familiar parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10). While I’ve heard these a hundred times, the “living” word proved itself once again this time around. You know, Jesus was so good that these parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin contained messages for his audience of tax collectors and sinners (the lost) as well as the Pharisees (the even more lost, though they didn’t know it) lurking on the sidelines.

(For the full audio podcast, click here.)

The message for those gathered immediately around him was that every single person matters to God in the same way that every single sheep and every single coin matters.

Here is an interesting aside about who gets to play God in these parables. In the parable of the lost sheep, clearly the Shepherd represents God. While shepherding in Old Testament times was a respected vocation and was the basis of the economy in Palestine, by the first century rabbis were listing shepherds right up there with other despised trades like camel drivers, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors. Jesus responds to the criticism over his acceptance of the despised tax collectors and “sinners” by telling a story that casts God in the role of the despised shepherd! It’s beautiful, really.

And then in the story of the lost coin, who plays God? The woman! Another equally oppressed person by the male Jewish patriarchy. Don’t tell me Jesus didn’t have a sense of humor.

Here’s the deal, couched in these stories Jesus tells this group of unwanted people who have screwed up, or been outcast, that God cares about each person who loses their way. Everyone has value. The shepherd and woman are desperate to find what they’ve lost and God feels just as strongly. Jesus says, “I know there are people who will write you off, not eat with you, not touch or talk with you, shun you, hurt you, judge you and cut you down, but God isn’t like that. God wants to help find you, bring you back to yourself and into a relationship with the Divine and celebrate. God wants you to stop walking the path that takes you away from fullness of life and turn around!” The word we translate as “repent” really meant to turn around.

As for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus lets them know that they are even more lost because they have forgotten to love. They have forgotten compassion and are stuck in the law and so draw further and further away from God. Jesus essentially says to them, “God is not writing these people off like you are. God is not judging them and shunning them, ignoring them, refusing to eat with them or be seen with them. God loves them… now what the heck is your problem?”

Here is a wonderful little parable I found in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary that seems to apply so well to the Pharisees who would rather hold people in their “lostness” instead of lifting them up and celebrating when they are found and back on the right track.

A Jewish story tells of the good fortune of a hardworking farmer. The Lord appeared to this farmer and granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbor. The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received a hundred cattle, and he was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred acres of land. Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbor had received more than he. Finally, he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye. And God wept. (NIB, Luke, p. 298)

Why do we want to have more than others? Be better than others? Why don’t we recognize the inherent value in every person? Why are we so quick to judge? And, why do we prefer to then hold people in that judgment? Why don’t we care when some get lost over and over again? Who are we as a faith community and as individuals who follow the teachings of Jesus? And what is our purpose? It seems like these are all really good questions for today.

Peace, Kaye

Pick Up Your Cross

Luke 14:27 says, “Anyone who doesn’t take up the cross and follow me can’t be my disciple.”

Somehow, in some warped theological way, this line has been turned into the concept that following Jesus requires bearing our personal burdens as a sign of our dedication and devotion to our faith. We should humbly accept our suffering because, well, Jesus suffered first and suffered so much more that we should be honored to stand in suffering solidarity with him. Twisted theology says that our illnesses, our messed up relationships, our brokenness, hurts, pains, struggles should simply be another way that we glorify God and we should be willing to gratefully and joyfully take up that “cross” and follow.

 (To hear the audio version of this sermon, click here.)

In my humble opinion, this interpretation is just plain wrong… on so many levels. First, it suggests that a loving, compassionate God both gives us suffering and wants us to suffer. Second, this theology has been used as a manipulative tool to keep people in abusive or negative situations. Third, it is not anywhere close to what the original passage intended.

So, let me try to unpack this a bit.

Putting the passage in context, Luke was writing to an audience in the early years of Christianity, probably 40-50 years after the death of Jesus. Persecution of Christians was a very real situation. So, Luke, in his gospel, makes it clear, through his story of Jesus talking to the first disciples, that following Jesus should be carefully considered before jumping in.

At this point in the gospel, Jesus has been provoking the powers that be – Jewish and Roman – and the danger to his life is imminent. If anyone was going to follow him it wasn’t going to be a joy ride. They were literally risking their lives and they needed to understand that. To make this clear, Luke uses an image – “take up the cross” – that foreshadows Jesus carrying his own cross through Jerusalem on his way to his own crucifixion. The meaning is not lost on early Christian audiences… one must be ready to suffer the same fate that Jesus would suffer. It made perfect sense that the Jewish leaders and Roman government would not stop simply at putting Jesus to death, they would be perfectly happy to put his closest followers to death as well and ensure the death of the movement. Jesus was a pretty cool guy, but he was messing with the wrong people. One could not lightly jump on the bandwagon.

I DO NOT ANYWHERE see this as a REQUIREMENT to suffer, but as a potential consequence of the choice to follow. I repudiate any scholars that urge us to believe that suffering is a requirement of discipleship.

In middle-class America we are in the fortunate position to not have to risk our lives to follow the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps another way to look at this passage would be to say that Jesus’ disciples were “all in.” What would it look like for our spiritual lives if we were “all in”? How would we spend our time? How would we treat all other people? What role would prayer, study, meditation, and volunteering have in our lives? How would we spend our money? How would we take care of the Earth?

I think it bears contemplation. How far “in” are you?

Love & Light,

Kaye

 

The Seventh Generation

Most of us have forgotten. We’ve forgotten that we are connected to all things and that what happens to one, happens to all. Sure, sometimes we remember, but then we forget again. We’ve been urbanized and civilized. We’ve come to rely on convenience and instantaneous gratification. We want the easy path… and so we’ve forgotten.

(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

Saturday a group of twenty of us went to the Eco Justice Center of Racine. It was created by a group of nuns who wanted to live sustainably and in harmony with the land and then they wanted to teach others how to do the same. Their dream was born out of a deep sense of the spiritual connection with all of creation. It was in the little things that we did that I was reminded of how much I’ve forgotten. When the turtle aquarium was emptied for cleaning, the water (rich in turtle dung, I’m sure) was used to water and fertilize potted plants. The dandelion leaves that we pulled out of the rose beds weren’t just thrown on the compost heap, but were fed to the rabbits. The straw and droppings from the goat shed were put on the compost heap to speed up the process of decomposition. Everywhere I looked – from the honey house, to the alpacas , to the chicken coop – something was being reused or recycled.

Thousands of years ago the prophet Jeremiah cried out in the name of God, “I brought you into a land of plenty to eat its fruits and other good things. But once you entered my land you defiled it and made my heritage an abomination” (Jer. 2:7). It seems that this is still true… a result of having forgotten.

It is time to wake up again. It is time to think about how our actions environmentally affect our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the seventh generation. The Iroquois have a saying: “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” You see, it isn’t always easy to change our behaviors, to put sustainability above profit, to reduce, reuse and recycle. But when we don’t, we hurt that which is truly a part of ourselves, and therefore hurt ourselves.

In the words of Chief Seattle:

This we know. The Earth does not belong to us; we belong
to the Earth. Humankind did not weave the web of life, we
are merely a strand in it. Whatever humankind does to the
web, we do to ourselves. All things are connected like the
blood which unites one family. All things are connected.”

Peace,

Kaye

Hope on the Edge of Despair

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope?
You yourself must change it.–
What would it feel like to know
your country was changing?
You yourself must change it.–
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?
      “Dreams Before Waking”  By Adrienne Rich

Sunday we were blessed to have Rev. Judith Christopher as our guest preacher. She spoke eloquently, and through story, about Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:4-10), and our call to be prophets in this world. (For the full audio sermon, click here.)

All of the great prophets of the Bible – Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah – had excuses as to why they shouldn’t be chosen to be a prophet of God. Excuses are a great cover-up for fear. But God met them right where they were, didn’t take “no” for an answer, gave them strength for their task and promised to be with them. These people were asked by God to bring hope to the edge of despair. They were to help the people to change – themselves and their world. There are stories after stories of people who felt called to step out of their safe every day lives to bring an ounce of hope to others. They are wonderful examples of how one can overcome fear and obstacles to follow the Spirit of God, bringing wings of hope to the edge of despair. My guess is that there are many more untold stories of people who let their fears overwhelm them, who hid behind their excuses, and didn’t heed the call.

One of the stories that Judith lifted up was that of our own Sacred Journeys community. I’m truly grateful for that, because we don’t often get to see ourselves through another’s eyes. Judith reminded us that each of us has followed the call to (in the words of Gandhi) “be the change” we want to see in the church. Every one of us has stepped out of the relatively safe confines of the traditional church to put our time, money and energy into this crazy upstart of a community. We have dared to fly in the face of what is expected and, dare I say, “normal” to embrace something new and hope-filled.

And it is true that, just like Jeremiah, we don’t always know where we are going or where the Spirit will lead us in this adventure, but we are learning to trust. God is with us on the journey, of that I am certain.

Peace ~Kaye