Still


 

Psalm 131:1-2

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
My eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
Or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child with its mother,
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

from Letters from the Desert, by Carlo Carretto

Joy or sadness, war or peace, love or hate, purity or impurity, charity or greed, all are tremendous realities which are the hinges of our interior life. Everyday things, relationships with other people, daily work, love of our family — all these may breed saints.
Jesus at Nazareth taught us to live every hour of the day as saints. Every hour of the day is useful and may lead to divine inspiration, the will of the Father the prayer of contemplation — holiness. Every hour of the day is holy. What matters is to live it as Jesus taught us.
And for this one does not have to shut oneself in a monastery or fix strange and inhumane regimes for one’s life. It is enough to accept the realities of life. Work is one of these realities; motherhood, the rearing of children, family life with all it’s obligations are others.


Dust


I’ve been reading about the act of “shaking the dust off one’s feet” the past couple of days. It’s confusing. We’re told countless times to not be judgmental, to be loving and kind, but then there is this instruction to “shake the dust off your feet” when leaving someone or someplace which rejects and ridicules you. Ritually, shaking off dust is a sign of derision, an indication that one will not have anything to do with someone again. How is this act not judgmental?

The best I can reason so far is that there is a handing off of responsibility. There is the responsibility we have to care for others, the responsibility we have for our actions and choices, and the responsibility between people to respect the decisions of others, even when we think they are wrong.

So, I have a duty to treat others with kindness, and part of this is teaching about faith, ethics, etc. This teaching from one person to another is necessary so that the student can then incorporate these lessons into his own life and thereby take responsibility for living according to the faith, ethics, and so on.

Now, this duty to teach (by word and deed) ends as soon as it bumps into the boundaries of another person’s freedom to chose how to live. I cannot and should not force my morality or faith onto anyone else. If someone looks at me and says, “that’s nuts, no way do I agree with you,” then I need to accept that and let it go.

The examples in the book of Acts are more, shall we say, emphatic than this. Paul was a fairly feisty character and it seems that he couldn’t do much without a show. Admittedly, he was being driven violently out of towns, so maybe that fed his fire. ¬†He shook his clothes out and exclaimed that his responsibility to these people ended when they threw him out.

Maybe the finality of the dust-shaking has more to do with the persecution and less to do with the disagreement? Maybe it means that when someone forcefully rejects me, it is then okay to let that person go. I don’t need to allow myself to be beaten up. Maybe this dust-shaking is a way to preserve ourselves from being sacrificial, since the sacrifices have already been made on our behalf.

 

For reference: Acts 13:51, 18:6, Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5, 10:14


Breaking (administrative) News!


This is a breaking news update —

It sounds so thrilling on the newscasts when I hear this phrase, but maybe it’s the graphics working their mojo on me.

 

This blog has a tiny footprint in the blog-sphere. It floats mostly under the radar, and that’s pretty nice. It has the kind of conversational intimacy between people sitting next to each other on an airplane or train. I started it a year and a half or two years ago with no clear purpose – well, okay I had a fuzzy purpose, or purposes. due to increasing clarity, I’ve decided to make a few changes. Rather than continue to have one blog which is a potpourri of everything, I am going to make it more subject-specific. This blog, the original Mermaids Singing, will focus more on philosophy, culture, theology – a topography of the soul. However, because I don’t only think about lofty things, I’m going to move my 1) literary theory, book reviews, writing nonsense to literaryzooey.wordpress.com; my 2) baseball as myth and metaphor rants to notfiggerfilbert.wordpress.com and my other 3) music, knitting, cooking, gaming, gardening, audiophile, folksy amateur homemaker stuff to a third (fourth) address.

It’s good policy to respect your audience. Hopefully these admin changes will be helpful in following what you’re interested in and ignoring the rest.

Be kind, read well and prosper, Gentle Reader. And, thanks.


Context and Jusitification; or Get off that high horse!


Overall, I like the book of James. It’s very specific and action-oriented. It appears to be pretty straightforward in instruction. However, as with all study of Scripture, it is prudent to read closely and to remember what the rest of the Word says and use it as context.

Today’s selection from The Guide to Prayer is most of the first chapter of James.
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV

I have a hard time swallowing this chapter. It sounds like the speeches I used to hear repeatedly from several different people, some of them in positions of leadership in the church and many of them relatives, to 1) belittle someone’s pain or sorrow and 2) justify to themselves why they were Right and others were Wrong.

The passage is not meant to be used for that purpose. When we read it alongside the other selections from recent days, it becomes clear that we aren’t meant to be so simple about it. Yet, as we all experience, people have a tendency to take pieces from the Bible out of context and twist them to mean something very different.

For example, I do not think that when the author says in verse two we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials,” he means we ought to throw a huge bock party. I think that the intention is more along the lines of “eventually, you can learn from this.” But, again, as we’ve seen, we often hear this quoted from someone saying, “See, you’re in pain because you’re such a Good Christian. Just keep on keeping on just as you are, and you’ll build treasure in Heaven.”

I know many people who have used this sentiment to justify their behavior, claiming that the fact that they aren’t getting what they want is proof of how righteous they are — when really they aren’t getting what they want because they are – how to put this delicately? – wrong. They are getting pushed back against because someone else is trying to show them that their expectations are not – how to be delicate? – reasonable/kind/good. I’ve seen a lot of bullies claim righteousness with this passage, when their “suffering” was self-induced by selfishness, greed, indifference, or a slew of other common misdirections.

So, behooves us all to examine carefully what our part in trouble might be. Often, we find ourselves in circumstances we didn’t necessarily create – but we still choose how we respond. The wrong response can make things worse, but the right can resolve trouble.

We need to avoid rushing to judgment, avoid assuming that we are right.

The next verses discuss perseverance, a topic we looked at a little a few days ago.
http://wp.me/s262AS-fruits

I need to acknowledge the human limit of carpal tunnel pain and request that you, Gentle Reader, just, uh, click on it. Sorry ’bout that. Gotta stop for today — but don’t let that stop you from reading, commenting, and most importantly praying.

You know, it’s often easiest to pray in nature, away from people. We go to church to find people; we go to nature to find God.


Peaceable Sword


Before I get started today, I wanted to add the link to the book I use for my Biblical study again:

http://bookstore.upperroom.org/cart/upperroom/p-17105.htm

A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants

I’m one of the “other servants” – not a minister. ūüėČ

The book is organized according to the liturgical calendar used by Episcopalians and Catholics. This year, 2014, is year A and we’re in Week 17.

The passage today is Matthew 10:16-42. It’s too much to absorb in one day, well, for me anyway, so I’m going to highlight only a couple of verses.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+10:16-42

We’ve been discussing the attributes of a follower of Christ these past few weeks. Lots of love. Lots and lots of it. With side dishes of compassion and kindness. Heaps of Hallmark goodness. The kinds of stuff that lead some to think that we shouldn’t criticize anything, that we should accept and embrace everyone. After all, if I’m in no position to judge another person (and we’ve established that I’m not), then who am I to criticize someone’s choices? And, if we’re all supposed to be brimming with loving sweetness, shouldn’t that naturally mean that we should all just get along?

No. It doesn’t. Not at all. In fact, Matthew 10 cautions us on what to expect if we decide to live as best we can as Christ did. We are advised to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In other words, be loving and kind, but don’t be stupid or naive. Be sure that our reactions and decisions in life reflect our God, but also be sure to not pretend that everyone in this world shares the same values or moral inhibitions. Understand the difference between the world we want to live in and are trying to build, and the world we really live in. It’s also recommended that we not foolishly endanger ourselves. “If you are persecuted in one town, flee.” We don’t have to be martyrs. Christ already died for us. We don’t need to do it ourselves.

Christ also says something shocking in verse 34.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to this world. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

A sword? But what about loving-kindness and all that tolerance stuff?

Christ here does not say it is okay for us to incite trouble, division, or pain (we are to be peacemakers, after all) or to be judgmental on His behalf; he tells us what to expect from the world’s reaction. People will be divided over whether or not Christ is the Messiah, whether or not there is a God, whether or not everything is permissible or whether there are moral rights and wrongs. And even if we can agree on the existence of right and wrong action, we won’t necessarily agree on what those things are. If we do, we still won’t agree on how to respond. Hence, the sword.

These instructions should be read alongside a passage we read a few days ago. (See Costs¬†http://wp.me/s262AS-costs.) We should understand what to expect if we try to ¬†represent Christ. We should not expect miraculous ease, wealth, and simplicity. We should not expect everyone who learns of our attachment to Christ to be happy about it. There are no magical guarantees for this life. It is hard to live a good life, harder to live a devout life. We need to understand that the challenges (referred to as “suffering” in the text) are just the way it is.

We do not chose to follow Christ to make this life easy. We chose to follow because we believe this life is but a dim preview of the life that can be. Because a hard life lived for the Truth is better than an easy life lived for nothing.

One final note: in verses 24 and 25, we are reminded that anything that Christ does, we should be willing to do ourselves. See yesterday’s post for more thoughts on this instruction. (http://wp.me/p262AS-vA)


Last Instructions


Before Jesus is arrested, after the Last Supper, he washes his disciples’ feet. (John 13: 1-20) It’s strange enough to think of feet washing in our day, but as a kid I always chalked that up to one of those weird anachronisms of the time, and nodded, “yep, drank wine and eat bread, now feet, then betrayal and arrest, yep, that’s the sequence.”¬†It’s what Jesus says to his disciples afterwards that stands out today.

Once again, he says to them, “No servant is above his master. Now that I have set this example for you – I want you to do it as well.”

He wants me to wash people’s feet????

Not quite. He instructs us (again) on humility and compassionate service to others. At this point in the Gospel, he’s beating us over the head with the idea. If we forget everything else he tells us, we need to remember that if he can tend to others’ basic physical and emotional needs, then clearly so must we. We must never think ourselves above any task of compassion and hospitality – because we are no better than he. If he can do it, we must do it too.

We can sense the urgency in his teaching here, and he takes this last evening together to repeat the most essential message:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 3:34)

 

 


Fruits


I was pretty young when I realized that a lot of people who say they preach the gospel of Christ and know The Truth don’t practice – don’t even make a real effort to practice – what they preach.

I wasn’t much older when I realized that the only honest reply I had for friends and others who criticized my faith by pointing out the greed, hypocrisy, bigotry, and cruelty of these “preachers” was “You’re right. They are behaving viciously.” What can one say, really, when there are hatemongers like the Westboro Church or Jeremiah Wright or many others who use their pulpits to shame, ridicule and incite people to despise others? Explaining that the ideologies espoused by these institutions is not at all what is actually in the Bible doesn’t go far enough. So, I’m going to (try to) avoid my soapbox about the effects of bad examples and instead refer to what is written down.

Today’s reading comes from 2 Peter 1:5-8.

… Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; ¬†and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

There are many passages in the New Testament describing how a person who follows the teachings of Jesus should treat others, and they all come down to one thing: love. We are also told that “by their fruits you will know them.”

We can and should spend a lot of time looking at each of these nouns and discussing what they mean. Despite the brevity of the passage, there’s a ton of content. “Increasing measure” is the phrase used to prioritize this list – which is really interesting because not only does it put “love” on top but “faith” ends up last. It isn’t enough for me to say “I believe” and then go around willy nilly bashing in the heads of those who disagree with me. I shouldn’t act hatefully if I have faith.

If I approach *everyone* lovingly, I am far more likely to treat people with kindness, respect, and compassion than if I simply used a checklist of good vs bad to determine to whom I should be nice.

Going deeper into the list, I see the word “knowledge” – and it too is not qualified. It’s not limited to one specific kind of knowledge, not just “knowledge of the Scripture” or “knowledge of good cooking” or “knowledge of limericks.” It’s all kinds of knowledge. I ought to be a student of the world. A student learns, respectfully, about whatever he or she can. So I am to learn about other ways of seeing the world – including other religions, philosophies, sciences and arts, the whole thing – and respond lovingly.

“Lovingly” is not synonymous with “approval” or “acquiescence.” I think we’ve lost sight of the distinction. My being tolerant of a different point of view is not the same thing as condoning it. Whatever my opinion is, my instructions are clear: I am supposed to be loving.¬†This fulcrum at the center of my personal ethics and the ethics of others is where we find kindness. How can someone stand on a bully pulpit and condemn anyone? How can that possibly be seen as loving? How can protests at funerals or carrying signs of vitriol and bigotry ever be thought of as kind?

I trip over the kindness instruction every day. ¬†I’m full of disdain for all kinds of things – pop culture, politics, bad television, bad beer, bad books. I suspect that I am, in fact, a snob. This judgement is not only directed outwards; I’m full of self- flagellation too. It’s just so easy to be spiteful.

When I consider that I am taught to treat others as Christ would, and more importantly, that He loves everyone – even me, though I’m not always so loving to myself – it’s like releasing the clutch too quickly when changing gears. Everything grinds to a full stop. I realize that I don’t have the position to criticize others when I’m falling so short myself. This is where we find self-control.

If I can’t feel lovey-dovey towards others, the first thing I ought to make sure of is that I do no harm. I need to stop saying unkind things. I need to watch how I behave. Maybe I can’t be kind right out of the gate, but I can start with trying not to be rude. The simple act of prevention requires enormous self-control. Doing it again and again requires perseverance.

As for godliness, I think that the best instruction on how to be godly is found in others. The obvious example is Jesus. The Son of Man is also the Son of God, the symbiosis of both God and man. It can be hard to look at Christ directly. We can look at others, including people who do not identify with Christianity at all. We can look at Gandhi, for example, but I think the best place to look is in our own neighborhoods.

People of all creeds perform acts of love and kindness everyday. In their reflection, I can see the Divine. God isn’t confined to one box, one identity. He can be found all over the place. If people prove impossible, we can look at nature. Dogs, for example, are striking examples of affection, forgiveness, and loyalty. Dolphins. Elephants. Wolves. Birds in Spring. It’s everywhere we look, if we try to see.

Sometimes, we are given negative examples instead of positive. Sometimes, the best way to determine what something is is by looking at what it is not. We need to determine for ourselves what is good and what is not, and we need to avoid taking the words of others at their simple value. Our words never mean as much as our actions. I urge us all to look critically – but lovingly – at what we do.

 


%d bloggers like this: