I’ve always listened to the voice of James carefully, as he is brother to Jesus Christ, or half-brother, and you would think he would be wise in the truth. Finding his particular reading when I was living in the Middle East was like a bolt of lightning. We of the West say “I will do this!” “I will do that!” with never a doubt that we will, but our Islamic hosts would always start or finish “I will do this (or that)” with “InshAllah,” if God wills it.
That’s pretty much precisely what James is saying here.
Living in Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait helped me see my own religion in a new light, shed understanding on our scriptures. I treasure the expat experience having yanked me out of my cultural circle and given me a fresh perspective.
The second part of the reading has a line about held back wages; I remember that the Qur’an also has a line about not letting the sweat dry on the backs of laborers before paying them. Our books have a lot in common.
13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.15Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ 16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
5Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure*for the last days. 4Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
In one of my Baptist-oriented bible study classes, one of my classmates once said “You don’t make converts by running after people and hitting them over the head with a bible!” As People of the Book, we struggle to find ways to carry the message without bludgeoning our intended recipient with it.
Have you ever been on the receiving end? I lived for so many years in the Middle East, where my truly believing Moslem friends would tell me about the Prophet Mohammed and all the good he did, and would look at me expectantly, hoping I would have that blinding flash that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, and come over from the dark side to the one true religion. It made a believer out of me, not a Moslem, but a believer in the goodness and sincerity of all who are holy, and of the near impossibility of convincing anyone with words.
So this morning, the reading in the Lectionary from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sings to my soul:
2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many;* but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.
3Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our* hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
We carry the Spirit, and our lives are the message.
So on our way home from lunch today, at the Siam Thai, AdventureMan and I are talking about his fortune cookie. (Mine said “learn Chinese” on one side and I can’t even remember what on the other side, something so non-interesting.) AdventureMan’s fortune said “Good people learn wisdom by making mistakes,” or something like that.
Off we went. So if you are not good, can you learn from making mistakes? Do you just keep making the same mistakes? Does making the same mistakes mean that you are not a good person? Can you make a mistake and not learn wisdom? Are all wise people good? Can you be evil and be wise? Like is the devil wise? He is said to be sly, and crafty, so how do those vary from being wise? Is Satan wise? Can you be evil and wise?
Segue’ to Mother Jessica’s sermon at Christ Church Pensacola yesterday, and It’s Not About the Chocolate as she explained that giving up chocolate or coffee or meat was not what Lent was really all about as we walk the path to become better worshippers of God and followers of Jesus. At the end of the service, as we exited, they passed out little chocolates. AdventureMan still had his chocolate (which he ate in front of me) and told me he had never negotiated with God. “Never??” I asked, in a tone which really meant “I call bulls#!t” and he said, no, never; never said “Please please, if you will only do this, I will do that.”
“OK,” I continued, as I can be relentless, “what about in Vietnam, was there never a time you said ‘Please, Please, Please’ about anything?”
“Yes, but I was never bargaining,” he explained, ‘I was begging. I had nothing to bargain with.”
So is begging, with no leverage, is that still negotiating? I think it is, Mother Jessica said bargaining, and isn’t begging bargaining with no leverage? We couldn’t agree. He says that is not bargaining, and we had to agree to disagree.
And the real point is, none of us have anything to bargain with. God laughs at our pathetic attempts to bargain. He likes the honest ones, like AdventureMan, who just cower in his magnificence and power and trust in his ability, and so beg, “please! Please!” We have to trust in his mercy and his compassion.
The worst and most memorable Lent I ever observed was in Kuwait. I became aware that I had started swearing in the car as another car would nearly side-swipe me, or some arrogant idiot would park in four spaces (yes, yes, I promise you, one car CAN occupy four spaces) and I was giving people rides and really, really needed to not curse, not just to protect their ears, but also for my own soul. Calling people names is worse for me than it is for them. I devised a strategy of elaborate politeness. When someone was going to bump me out of the way, I would gesture “Tfadl!” (“YOU are to be preferred! or “after you”) with a grand gesture and a big smile like it was My idea. After a while, elaborate politeness became my mode, and I got a lot of pleasure out of it, and mostly, I stopped cursing at the idiot drivers. Actually, I got so good at it that I didn’t even say “Idiot!”, but I could not control it popping into my mind from time to time . . .
And, sadly, we have some of those same . . . umm . . . idiots . . . here in Pensacola, so perhaps I need to redo my Lenten sacrifice and work on my attitude toward inattentive and /or aggressive drivers, especially those in great big trucks with bad eyesight.
Did you know the word for ‘honey’ in Arabic is ‘asel?’ 😉
Happy New Year! Thank you for continuing to visit and read here all these years, and thank you for your comments and e-mails.
Today, reading my morning meditations, the Lectionary and my daily e-mail from Dr. Richard Rohr, I come across this paragraph in Father Rohr’s message:
|The Christian vision is that the world is a temple. If that is true, then our enemies are sacred, too. Who else created them but God? The ability to respect the outsider is probably the litmus test of true seeing. And it doesn’t stop with human beings and enemies and the least of the brothers and sisters. It moves to frogs and pansies and weeds. Everything becomes enchanting with true sight. One God, one world, one truth, one suffering, and one love. All we can do is participate. I hope you enter the New Year with this awareness and an intention to join in with all your heart, mind, and body!|
Trying to be a Christian is so hard. To learn to love the stranger, I was sent to strange countries. Many countries. Many years. Until I could see that the commonality of humanity was greater than the differences in our dogma, I was sent. It didn’t have to do with carrying a message. It had to do with keeping my eyes and ears open, and most of all, keeping my heart open, to learn what I was meant to learn.
When I finally “got” it, our years of living overseas stopped. Now I have a new challenge, living in my own culture and feeling like “the other.”
I get the part about seeing God in all humanity. It’s not like I can do it, but it is important to God that I try. Today Father Rohr has also mentioned frogs and pansies and seeds, and then he says EVERYTHING. Ummm. Everything includes cockroaches.
I have no control over my reaction to cockroaches. They are dirty, and they skitter. One time, we had one in the house that flew – and HISSED! (I disabled him with a spray of Pledge, then disposed). We have a pest control man who makes sure my visitors are far and few between, but . . . this is Florida. Florida has cockroaches. The secret is to keep them to a minimum. Unfortunately, they just give me the creeps, and I can’t rest comfortably until the world has one less cockroach.
My first thought when I read today’s message, seeing God in his infinite glory in EVERYTHING, is that I have a huge challenge. The cockroach. The slug. The mosquito. The snake. There are so many creations that give me the creeps. How am I going to practice this? Is giving them space enough?
It’s been so long since I’ve last talked with you. I’ve been off on a great adventure, and I want to tell you all about it, but I’ve been recovering from a bug I caught the last day of our trip (I was so generous; I shared it with AdventureMan). Today is the first day I could really face blogging, and I was inspired by a reading I received this morning from Richard Rohr, whose religion and spirituality seem to hit me where I live.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Just as different ways of interpreting scripture and various types of truth (e.g., literal vs. mythic) are valuable for different purposes, so scientific theories have different applications while seeming to be paradoxical and irreconcilable. For example, we have the Newtonian theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum theory. Physicists know that each of them is true, yet they don’t fit together and each is limited and partial. Newtonian mechanics can’t model or predict the behavior of massive or quickly moving objects. Relativity does this well, but doesn’t apply to very, very small things. Quantum mechanics succeeds on the micro level. But we don’t yet have an adequate theory for understanding very small, very energetic, very massive phenomenon, such as black holes. Scientists are still in search of a unified theory of the universe.
Perhaps the term “quantum entanglement” names something that we have long intuited, but science has only recently observed. Here is the principle in layperson’s terms: in the world of quantum physics, it appears that one particle of any entangled pair “knows” what is happening to another paired particle–even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which are separated by sometimes very large distances. Could this be what is happening when we “pray” for somebody?
Scientists don’t know how far this phenomenon applies beyond very rare particles, but quantum entanglement hints at a universe where everything is in relationship, in communion, and also where that communion can be resisted (“sin”). Both negative and positive entanglement in the universe matter, maybe even ultimately matter. Prayer, intercession, healing, love and hate, heaven and hell, all make sense on a whole new level. Almost all religions have long pointed to this entanglement. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (14:7) he says quite clearly “the life and death of each of us has its influence on others.” The Apostles’ Creed states that we believe in “the communion of saints.” There is apparently a positive inner connectedness that we can draw upon if we wish.
Ilia Delio says, “If reality is nonlocal, that is, if things can affect one another despite distance or space-time coordinates, then nature is not composed of material substances but deeply entangled fields of energy; the nature of the universe is undivided wholeness.”  I’ve often described this phenomenon as an experiential “force field” or the Holy Spirit. In Trinitarian theology, the Holy Spirit is foundationally described as the field of love between the Father and the Son. One stays in this positive force field whenever one loves, cares, or serves with positive energy. I know that when people stand in this place, when they rest in love as their home base, they become quite usable by God, and their lives are filled with “quantum entanglements” that result in very real healings, forgiveness, answered prayers, and new freedom for those whom they include in the force field with them. I have too many examples here to list or to even remember. Jung called these events “synchronicities”; secular folks call them coincidences; the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who taught me, called them Divine Providence.
On the other end of the spectrum there are people who carry death wherever they go, toward all those they can pull into their negative force field. (Is this hell?) I know that when I regress into any kind of intentional negativity toward anything or anybody, even in my mind, I am actually hurting and harming them. Etty Hillesum, a young imprisoned Jew in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, says straightforwardly, “Each of us moves things along in the direction of war every time we fail to love.” And if so, it would surely follow that each of us moves things along in the direction of healing each time we choose to love. Each time it is a conscious choice and a decision, at least to some degree. Grace and guilt both glide on such waves of desire and intention.
Consciousness, desire, and intentionality matter. Maybe they even create and destroy worlds. We cannot afford to harbor hate or hurt or negativity in any form. We must deliberately choose to be instruments of peace–first of all in our minds and hearts. Such daring simplicity is quantum entanglement with the life and death of all things. We largely create both heaven and hell. God is not “in” heaven nearly as much as God is the force field that allows us to create heaven through our intentions and actions. Once quantumly entangled, it seems we are entangled forever, which is why we gave such finality and urgency to our choices for life (heaven) or death (hell).
This is such a “WOW” for me; I feel I can feed and nourish myself on this meditation for a long time. Google Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation to sign up to receive his daily e-mail meditation.
One of the most painful criticisms I would hear of Americans as I lived overseas was that we were all happy, friendly people, but we didn’t really care about people. We didn’t maintain relationships. While painful, it was also, as I looked deeper, true. Our lives are fast-paced, and we move from place to place, person to person, job to job and rarely develop the deep relationships that come from building a long, deep friendship. Today’s lesson from Rick Warren talks about how we can do better in our relationships:
“All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” (1 Peter 3:8 NIV)
You’re never going to live in harmony with your wife, your husband, your friends, or anybody else without empathy. You can’t have a team without being aware of what’s happening in each other’s lives. That’s why when people work together in an office, they may do work together, but they’re not a team unless they know what’s going on in each other’s lives.
Empathy is so important because it meets two of our deepest needs: the fundamental need to be understood and a deep need to have our feelings validated.
If you’re going to build a team of friends or at work or in your small group, you have to build empathy into the structure. So how do you become an empathetic person?
Slow down. Because our culture teaches us to move fast, we end up relationally skimming. That means you’re hitting the high points and missing all kinds of details in the lives of people you care about most. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT, second edition).
Ask questions. Proverbs 20:5 says, “A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out” (GNT). Most people hold their emotions pretty close, and they don’t automatically share how they’re doing. “I’m fine” is the standard answer, but that doesn’t really tell you how they feel. If you ask, “””How are you doing?” and the other person says, “I’m fine,” here’s how you draw out a more telling response: Learn to ask the question twice. That’s how you develop empathy. Pause and say, “No. How are you really doing?” The other thing you do is learn to linger. That means don’t be afraid of silence. Just be in the moment, ask the question, and don’t be afraid to sit there and wait. Don’t immediately go into your agenda. Just listen and learn.
Show emotions. The Bible says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (NASB). Empathy is more than saying, “I’m sorry you hurt.” It’s saying, “I hurt with you.” You’re willing to cry with them, and you’re willing to rejoice with them. There’s only one way you’re going to be that empathetic — stay filled up with God. If your tank gets low on God, you’re not going to be empathetic at all. You’ve got to stay filled up with God.
“All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude” (1 Peter 3:8 NIV).
We have guests in town from another country who are living with Americans and visiting many others.
One of them asked her host “Do all Americans worship idols?” and the host was flummoxed.
We have been in private houses of the most religious Muslims, and their houses look very different from ours. They have nothing on the walls, except perhaps a picture of the Kaaba in Mecca, or a beautiful calligraphy in Arabic with one of the Surahs. To us, the houses look very plain, but they are being careful to observe carefully the word of the Lord.
We don’t consider the objects in our homes idols because we don’t worship them. When I read today’s Lectionary reading from Deuteronomy, I have to rethink what God might thing idols are.
15 Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16 so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure—the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.
21 The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he vowed that I should not cross the Jordan and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving for your possession. 22 For I am going to die in this land without crossing over the Jordan, but you are going to cross over to take possession of that good land. 23 So be careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you, and not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.
A week after the wedding, I am talking with the mother-of-the-groom, my old friend and telling her she has inspired AdventureMan and I. A friend has contacted us, someone we like, but also someone from another culture. We’ve been friends for a while, but we don’t know him well.
He asked if he and his 10 year old son can come stay with us.
AdventureMan and I looked at each other. This is a man we like and admire, but the cultural differences are profound. We agreed that it is the right thing to do, and the thing we want to do.
So I’m telling my friend, whose home has been a revolving door informal hotel as long as I have known her. She knocks herself out helping people. Lives have changed because she and her husband “welcome the stranger.”
“We want to do it,” I told her, “but we know it is going to be painful.”
“It’s going to be painful!” she enthusiastically agreed. We laughed. This is the basis of our friendship, the ability to tell each other the worst things in our lives and to laugh about it. She knows I am an introvert, and love my peaceful quiet.
“It’s also going to be worth it.” She added, and I believe her.
We just finished our year in EfM, Education for Ministry, and the overall theme was a multi-cultural world, where we confront our own assumptions and prejudices. It has been a grand journey.
We have friends, friends whose son is our son’s best friend for lo, these many years, and they know how to be good neighbors. They are the soul of hospitality. They take in immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat, and teach them how to survive, help them find furniture, apartments, and a living. They welcome visitors, and care for them and their children. They are helpful. They do all this because it is the right thing to do, and they do it tirelessly. I am in awe of these friends; they are the essence of the Good Samaritan.
THURSDAY, May 21 (from Forward Day by Day)
Luke 10:29 And who is my neighbor?
This beloved parable is about more than being kind to our neighbor. It’s about the grace that is shared and the miracle that is manifested each time we help each other, and each time we allow ourselves to be helped. Both of the main characters in this story, the man who is beaten and left for dead and the man who rescues him and has him cared for, had to humble themselves in order to be in relationship.
Mutual distrust and mutual prejudice could have cost the injured man his life, either by the Samaritan refusing to stop, or in the injured man refusing help from such a suspicious source. Jesus asks us to look past the natural lines of religious creed, racial and ethnic identities, socioeconomic status, and all the other words we use to separate “us” from “them,” and to see his face in the man in the ditch. Jesus is asking us to look up and see his face in the man who is saving someone who cannot save himself.
We are invited to see the face of Jesus on each of these men—to realize that when we reach out in love or when we are being helped, Jesus is always present. Are you willing to be humbled in that way? Who or what can you help, today? Who or what can help you?
PRAY for the Diocese of North West Australia (Western Australia, Australia)
Ps 105:1-22 * 105:23-45; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-32; Hebrews 7:18-28; Luke 10:25-37
When I think of the Good Samaritan, I think too of a very pregnant friend, pregnant with triplets, a Jewish woman working in Qatar, whose car broke down. In this day of cell phones, she called her husband for help, but in the time she waited for him to arrive with help, many many Qatari men and families stopped to offer assistance, insisted on giving her bottles of cold water, stopped and waited with her until her husband came and she was safe. They saw a stranger in distress, and they didn’t hesitate, they stopped. Good neighbors 🙂
We are up before sunrise (having our bodies still on Central Time has its advantages) and head for Red Rock Upper Drive, where we wait for the first rays of the sun in utter privacy, except for a family of hikers, with their hiking sticks, who shout ‘good morning!’ as they hike past our viewpoint and head on up the hill.
And here it is! Our first Sedona sunrise! (We didn’t get up for any of the others, LOL)
The early light hits the red stone opposite:
And every morning, there were balloons over Sedona while it was still cool in the mornings.
It is still chilly in the early morning, but Spring has begun. By noon, it will be in the 70’s (F).
This was one of my favorite formations, in Boynton Canyon, near the hiking trails. It reminds me of Petra, and our camel treks into the lands of Lawrence of Arabia.
Lots of hiking trails here:
This totally cracked us up. We know primitive roads. We went over a road in Tunisia that Montgomery used when he flanked Rommel’s forces. THAT was primitive. I was outside the car, guiding AdventureMan over ruts as deep as our Volkswagon Bus. These roads are not paved, but they are passable. Primitive is in the eye of the beholder.
This is the only purple cactus I ever saw. Clearly it is related to the prickly pear, if it is not a prickly pear. I wonder if it is like hydrangeas; that you can change the color of the prickly pear by adding iron or something else to the soil? This was at an entrance to a new housing development that is just beginning; the houses will have pretty spectacular views.
Sedona is beautiful. Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful to see. Of all the beautiful places, Crystal Creek park was my favorite. It had all the elements – red rock formations, a rippling creek, and a hungry heron. It also reaches a powerful vortex, at the base of Cathedral Rock, and we hiked the trail, took photos, enjoyed a lot of positive energy, but I don’t think we were sensitive to the vortex.
Red Rock State Park is another of those wonderful parks created and maintained with public funding, and manned by happy volunteers. We met several here, this wonderful guide, who gave us a first rate explanation of all the geological formations, and volunteers who ran the gift shop and museum/gallery.
Sedona has stolen our hearts 🙂