Saturday, May 28, 2011


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.   -- John 14:27

The peace of Jesus is different from the way peace is established in the world.  The world's way is so dominant that the way of Jesus seems counter-intuitive.  But why?  Why does establishing peace by peaceful means seem more impossible to us than establishing peace by violent means?

Knowing how to establish peace is a necessity between any two or more people, whether because of disagreements between equals or struggles between those with power and those without.  Eventually, all parties involved tire of struggling with each other and desire peace.  So how did Jesus teach us to make peace?

Well, Jesus did not make peace by violence.  He did not arm himself and fight back against the Roman oppressors, as the Zealots did.  And Jesus did not make peace by separating himself from everyone who thought differently than him, as the Essenes did.  Jesus was engaged with those who thought differently than him.  He talked.  He listened.  He loved his enemy.  He healed them.  Even though he could have destroyed his enemy with a whisper, he chose to humble himself with quiet dignity, and even to suffer torture and die on a cross, in order to change the way of the world.

But, the way of peace that Jesus taught takes time;  it is a much slower process.  Perhaps that is one reason why people do not turn to it more often.  We want an end to the unpleasant disagreements, an end to oppression, an end to our enemy, and we want it NOW.  With great impatience, we can think of only one of two ways to make that happen quickly:  by force or by separation.

History has shown repeatedly, however, that aggression only leads to more aggression, sooner or later.  And in separating ourselves we lose contact with all that is good in the other.  The only way to establish peaceful co-existence is by peaceful engagement.  Christians are not unique in understanding this.  In fact, some Christians do not understand this at all!

Though people of faith are not the only ones who desire peace, I think of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Throughout the history of the three Abrahamic faiths, there have always been movements of this way of peace.  Within the ancient history of Judaism, there is the example of Elijah, who showed his people that to care for and feed one's enemies creates loyalty and peace.  And within Islam there is a long history of peaceful co-existence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Muhammad valued others who also desired peace.  

And yet, within Judaism and Islam and Christianity there have also been movements of aggression:  of forced agreements, and of "death to the infidel."  Christians need only remember the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Holocaust to understand that we, too, have not always followed the way of peace that Jesus taught. 

Establishing peace between people, however, takes humility.   It takes forgiveness.  It takes seeing the humanity and similarity in our enemy.  It takes trust and vulnerability.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage.  And it takes caring about the future of our children -- for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.  We have the perfect example in Jesus, who did not establish peace through omnipotent power, but through suffering and sacrifice, and patience. 

Dear Lord, you said that "wherever two or more are gathered, there I will be."  Thank you for showing us the sacrifices you are willing to make so that we would know of the sacrifices that create lasting peace.  Without you, where would we be?  Love always, Pam

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wrath or Love?

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created.    -- Gen. 6:5-7

Yesterday, I was watching the news reports on the devastating tornadoes in the Midwest.  I recalled the recent disastrous floods along the Mississippi River Valley.  And last night someone mentioned the flooding concerns from the snow melt in Montana.  There have been so many natural disasters lately, one after another.  I was thinking about how various church leaders claim that when this happens, God is punishing people.  Last year after the terrible earthquake, someone proclaimed that God was punishing the Haitians.  And this year, after the horrific tsunami, someone proclaimed that God was punishing the Japanese.  Do they also say this when disasters strike Americans?

In the passage above, we have the beginnings of a story in the Bible in which God brings a great flood in order to kill off most of humankind as punishment for their iniquities.  From this story, it seems that God does punish people for their sin in such an earth-shattering way.  But then I recall that at the end of this story, God promises to "never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.  As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Gen.8:21-22).  From this conclusion, it seems that God would find a better way to correct his wayward children in the future.

Christians sometimes think that the God of the Old Testament is the God of wrath, and the God of the New Testament is the God of love.  But, the idea of God being wrathful is found throughout the Bible.  This is not just an Old Testament phenomenon.  This characterization continues on into the New Testament in the form of hellfire and damnation in the afterlife.  The idea of God being loving and forgiving is found throughout the Bible, too.  When you read the whole Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, you find many examples of the steadfast love of God, and his continual forgiveness.  These two strands are interwoven throughout the whole Bible.

One can take passages from the Bible which show a wrathful God and use them to prove that God will destroy sin with death.  But, one can also take passages from the Bible which show a forgiving God and use them to prove that God will destroy sin with love.  These diverse messages in the Bible give evidence that men have been trying to understand the world around them and the role of God in their world for a very long time.  Christians are not alone in making this distinction.

I read today in "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross," by Mark W. Thomsen:  "Many contemporaries of Jesus saw poverty, tragedy, and disease as the judgment of God.  Many Christian's see God's wrath in every death, failure, and disease.  Much Muslim theology (and also Christian-fundamentalism) emphasizes that obedience to Allah (or God) brings success in life.  Most Buddhists believe that our present lives whether marked by happiness or horrendous pain, are the direct consequences of our own previous actions through an external law designated Karma....  Jesus rejects all these theological myths that enable the rich and powerful to deal with the poor and diseased with contempt." (pg.16)

Jesus turned this way of thinking about God completely upside down.  He showed people that God loves all his children equally -- Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, slave, freeborn, male, and female.  God is like the Father of the Prodigal Son, and is like the Shepherd seeking the lost sheep, and is like the Woman looking for the lost coin.   The sinner is sought by God with great desire and compassion, not damned to destruction.  In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus describes God as a loving Father who values humanity above all else.  The only ones who are separated from this loving God are the ones who have no compassion for their fellow human beings.  And even then, God seeks by every means possible to change their hearts.

Dear God, your are a mystery to us, try as we might to understand the world you have created.  But when I am in doubt, may I look to your Beloved Son, your word made flesh, and the perfect conduit of your message and will on earth, to lead me along the right path.  Love always, Pam

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Containing God

Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. ... And it was there until the time of David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?  Did not my hand make all these things?   -- from Acts 7:44-52

This morning I was wondering why some Christians think that the only place to learn about God is in the Bible.  The Bible, accordingly, is God's only representative on Earth.

But if that is true, then how did the earliest people who are written about in the Bible, such as Abraham and Moses and Samuel, learn about God?  None of these men had the Bible to refer to.  And how did anyone have the temerity to add the Psalms of David, and the Proverbs to the original books of Moses?  Paul didn't know he was writing Scripture when he wrote to the Corinthians.   And when Paul tells Timothy to "continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus," as he does in his Second Letter to Timothy (v.14-15), he wasn't including this letter as part of those sacred writings.  Clearly this letter to Timothy hadn't been written when Timothy was a child!

My point is that from the very beginning and until the Bible was canonized, and even a little after that, Scripture was a growing and evolving entity.  For thousands of years, as man's understanding of God grew, inspired writings became part of Scripture.  When did it become acceptable to think that God's inspired word could be contained in a single book?  Practically speaking, it helps to have God's word in a single, somewhat-easy-to-carry book, but speaking spiritually, there is no way to contain God in any book.  Or anything else, for that matter.

I was struck by the similarity between my thinking about the Bible and Stephen's words about the Temple in today's readings.  The Temple started out as the tent of testimony, and over time it grew and evolved into a house for God.  Once the Temple was built, and even after it was destroyed and built again, Jews looked at the Temple as the only place where God resided.  Jesus, however, taught that God would now be worshiped "in spirit and truth."  For those who believed Jesus, God would not be contained in any one place or thing.

Stephen tells the Jews that God is not contained in the Temple.  All of heaven and earth belong to God.  Why would he be confined to this man-made container, even though inspired by God in the first place?  God never asked to be contained in a house.  What house could ever contain God? 

Similarly, God is not contained in the Bible.  Why would God be confined inside this man-made container, even though inspired by God in the first place, when all of heaven and earth belong to him?  God never asked to be contained in a single book.  What book could ever contain God?

So why would anyone believe that God stopped inspiring people nearly 2000 years ago?  Is that belief promoted anywhere in the Bible itself?

Dear God, please help me convey the richness of your history with us as your children.  We have continually been inspired by you and have continually been open to your will for us in each and every age of the past and into the present day.  As you will always inspire us with each new day that comes.  Love always, Pam

Monday, May 23, 2011


But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"  But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.   -- Acts 7:55-57

I've been thinking and writing about this verse for the last two days.  Thoughts continue to pour in, so I guess I'd better put fingers to keyboard before I become completely swamped.

This verse from Acts shows the very moment when Stephen witnesses to Christ.  His extremely long-winded speech beforehand, telling the story of the Jews from the time of Abraham, showed that he knew his Scripture.  But it wasn't until he really saw Jesus for himself that he became a true "witness".

A part of me fears that something like what happened to Stephen will happen to me as I share my God "sightings."  Not being stoned to death, of course, but rejected, nevertheless.  There just aren't enough examples of this kind of thing happening regularly to people that I know in this day and age.  No one else in my extended family experiences God's active presence in their lives.  A few friends have shared their experiences, but rarely do we talk about them.  Perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy reading about Catholic saints.  They have experienced God's active presence in their lives.  Those that have put their experiences into words are a wonderful witness for me.

One of the books I found at the used bookstore the other day was "Ordinary Grace," by Kathleen A. Brehony.  Reading this book these past two days touched me deeply because it describes many examples of ordinary people being moved into compassionate action after hearing what they believe is God speaking to them.  Maria bakes bread and makes soup for homeless people in her neighborhood. She "is aware that some people might think she is a little crazy to believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to her or to devote so much of her time and energy to what appears to be such an insurmountable problem." (pg. 57)    I can empathize.

More insight came from Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation," about the nearly parallel movements throughout the civilized world of a growing awareness of our spiritual connection to God and to each other, culminating in what is called the Axial Age.  Amos and Hosea, who wrote around 700 B.C.E., are described as the first literary prophets who each preached that a more personal connection with God is necessary.  Amos felt a passionate empathy with God; he felt the anger of God in his very bones, as he shared God's message.  And Hosea felt that "people followed other gods [such as Baal] only because they did not truly know Yahweh.  Their understanding of religion was superficial.... The verb yada ("to know") implied an emotional attachment to Yahweh." (pg 105-106)  I was reminded of Clarence's comment on my last post:  (Jer 29:13 NRSV) "if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord."  According to Armstrong, the prophet of the Axial Age who best conveyed this much deeper connection was Jeremiah.

Perhaps the reason it is unusual to see God's presence in someone's life is because many people simply don't look that closely at their own lives, as Hosea said.  Even people who would consider themselves to be faithful to God do not do this.  I was surprised to read today in an anthology of Christian history that Billy Graham, though raised in a Christian family, baptized as a baby, and involved in his church as a youth leader, discovered at the age of 16 after participating in a revival meeting that he really did not know Jesus for himself.  Upon realizing this he opened his heart to God and committed himself to following Christ for the rest of his life (from The One Year Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, May 22).  What an amazing impact his connection to God created in his life and the lives of so many other people. 

It does happen.  God is present, still, in this day and age.  We just don't hear that enough to easily believe that we, too, can experience a much deeper life for ourselves.  But we all can.  Of this I'm sure.

Dear Lord, your message has been very persistent these last few days.  You speak to us each in different ways, telling us what we should do for you.  May my eyes and ears be always open to what you want me to know.  Love always, Pam

Friday, May 20, 2011


Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up."       -- Ex. 3:1-3

This morning as I drove the kids to school, I was asking myself, "Who am I, Lord, that you favor me with such personal guidance?"  And then when I had a quiet moment, I read the lectionary for today and heard Moses asking the same question (Ex. 3:11).

Is it just a matter of awareness?  Are you, dear Lord, as present in every person's life as you are in mine, but not everyone is aware of you?  Does it take a burning bush that is not consumed?

How can I remain blind to your presence when you always speak to my specific concerns?  I am not making great leaps of reasoning from my concerns to the message I find in my readings.  The message addresses clearly my particular concerns of that particular moment:  when I refuse to "follow" the person whose understanding is so opposite to mine, I read a story in which Jesus becomes a follower of the one whose understanding is so opposite to his; when I wonder again how people with different interpretations of Scripture can get along, I read about St. Augustine's struggles with this very same question.  There are countless examples.  These are examples from the last two days.

I no longer doubt that this is how you speak to me.  How this is possible I do not know.  I think you must find each one of us by whatever means available to you.   I read a lot of books.  So you find me in a book.  Someone else finds your message in nature when they are out taking a walk.  Someone else finds clarity in meditation, or in a dream.  There are many ways for you to speak to us.

While waiting for my car to be fixed, I wandered over to the used bookstore.  Of course I found some good books.  Today, I found book after book of ordinary people whom you have called to further your truth in the world.  Ordinary people with flaws like me.  Even a book titled, "Moses: A Life," by Jonathan Kirsch, which promises to tell the story of the flawed human being within the great leader.  I am encouraged by all these examples of regular people becoming aware of your presence.  I know I am not unique, though you do make me feel special.  Your love fills me with joy and wonder.  My cup overflows.  Love always, Pam

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Turning Back

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.  Incline your ear to me; rescue me steadily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.  You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.      -- Psalm 31:1-5

My thinking has been turned around, as it often is by God's guidance.  I always think my understanding is correct (otherwise I wouldn't think that way!), but sometimes I discover that it isn't.  Sometimes God shows me that I've made a mistake.  Since I am quite willing to listen when God's message affirms my understanding, I know that have to also listen when God's message turns my understanding on its head.  Even though this may be very humbling.

I just finished reading Deepak Chopra's "Jesus."  This is a completely fictional account of the years before Jesus began his ministry, specifically of Jesus during his twenties.  And, although I know it is fiction, I took away from it a greater understanding of one of Jesus' teachings.  Funny how a made-up story can lead one to greater truth, isn't it?

Without going into too many details, I will just say that Chopra's story illustrates a profound understanding of who our enemies are, and how we should love them.   While "enemies" and "evil" are words that seem too strong in my own experience ("opponent" might be a better descriptor), I will use them, primarily with the understanding that I often mean someone with whom I fundamentally don't agree.  I will use them because The Bible uses these words.

Ironically, most of last week was spent reflecting on how we/I ought to resist evil.  Jesus clearly says, "Love your enemies.... Turn the other cheek.... Go the extra mile..."  I had reached the conclusion that we all must listen when God calls us to resist evil, not turn a blind eye to it, but resist in a way that is loving.  "For God makes his face shine on the righteous and the unrighteous."

I should know this well.  I've struggled with this before.  With God's help, I have been loving towards my "enemies."  I have continued to "turn the other cheek" and I have gone the extra mile.  I thought I was good at this.  But just when I start to feel complacent, I find that I have tripped myself up.

This shows me yet again that if I don't keep God's wisdom ever before me, I will all too easily let the wisdom of the world creep in to my thinking.  The wisdom of the world says to not get involved: "Distance yourself from the problem.  Let it go.  Walk away.  There is no good reason to put yourself in harm's way.  You could get hurt in the process."

How can you change the heart of an enemy anyway?  Isn't this futile?  Well, you certainly cannot change their heart by turning your back on them and walking away.  Can any good come from that?  First of all, it is not a very loving action.  To turn your back on someone and walk away is to say that they are unimportant to you.  Turning away like that is an act of hatred, not love.

But Jesus also said that if someone does not listen to you, walk away, "brush the dust off your feet".  How do I incorporate that into my thinking here?  Well, how do I know if my enemy won't listen to me if I don't listen to them, and don't even attempt to talk to them?

It seems that I must at least make the attempt.  I believe that God is asking me to do so.

Dear and Loving Father, thank you for correcting my thinking.  You are my only Redeemer.  Love always, Pam

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.   -- Jeremiah 23:4

I've been thinking lately that I have more in common with some Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, than I do with some Christians.  There are some Christians that scare the begeebers out of me.  They preach a message of fear and exclusion, and make God's love conditional.  They say that if you repeat certain words and perform certain rituals, you are saved.  If you don't, you are damned.

Now, I'm not saying that repeating those words or performing those rituals prevents one from entering God's Kingdom.  I just think they are unnecessary.  The fear and exclusion that these conditions promote may, however, prevent some from entering God's Kingdom.  That is what bothers me the most.  Where did this message of conditional love come from?

Not from Jesus that is for sure.  Jesus embraced all of the excluded ones.  He invited them in.  And it didn't matter where they were from, or what they had done or not done, or what they looked like.  All they had to do was believe that such unconditional love was possible.  God loved them already.  They just needed to understand that.  Fear and exclusion had to be countered with love and inclusion in order for their hearts to be turned to God.

Last Sunday's Gospel reading was John 10:1-10.  In this reading, Jesus says repeatedly, "I am the gate."  He protects the sheep from wolves and bandits.  So, if a shepherd wants to care for the sheep, lead them to green pastures, he can only rightly enter the sheepfold by going through Jesus. Jesus tells this parable or allegory just after he heals the man who was born blind, the man whom the Pharisees viewed as a sinner and damned.  Jesus did not view the man as a sinner at all.  He healed him because he had compassion for him.  Jesus was trying to teach his followers that what was essential in one who would be saved was simply the desire to be saved.  And the appropriate response was compassion and service. 

The parable of the gate tells me that there are different kinds of shepherds.  Some teach the same message as Jesus, which is God's message.  Some do not.  A Muslim who teaches that the Kingdom of God is found within (as Rumi did), is a true shepherd of God.  A Muslim who teaches his flock that the Kingdom of God is found by killing your enemy is not a shepherd of God.  A Lutheran pastor who teaches that God does not love sinners does not go through the gate that is Jesus.  But if he teaches that God loves us all, sinners and saints, Prodigals and Elder Brothers, then he is a true shepherd of God. These teachings of Jesus come from God.  Even if they are taught by someone who did not know Jesus, they are still God's message.  For "in my Father's house there are many dwelling places...."

Dear and Wonderful Lord, you show me the way through your Beloved Son, the Master Shepherd.  Thank you both for loving us so much.  Love always, Pam

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Communicating Love

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness....  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.  Give thanks to him, bless his name.    -- Ps. 100:1-2,4

Now may the God of peace... make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight....     --  Hebrews 13:20-21

Last night my husband and I watched the last of a series of DVDs on improving communication between couples.  We have been married 23 years, but we have yet to master the art of communication.  "The Us Factor" by Joseph Melnick, Ph.D. has opened our minds to better ways of communicating with each other:  asking real questions, asking for what we want, listening, waiting for an answer -- basically slowing down the discussion so that real communication can take place. 

Afterward, I asked my husband, who has been feeling slightly depressed lately, if he knew of anything that would help him feel happier.  He works very hard.  He makes a very good salary, but we also have a large mortgage.  So he feels the burden of not having a choice but to work very hard.  And, although he is willing for me not to work, so that I can devote more time to writing, he wants me to realize that he is making a sacrifice.  I told him that I am grateful, but clearly he doesn't feel it.

The readings above put these thoughts together.  The way I show God that I love and appreciate all the blessings he has given me is to do what he asks me to do:  to help others in need.  The way I show God that I love and appreciate him is the same way I need to show my husband that I love and appreciate him:  with acts of love.

I know my husband values acts of love (helping him, running errands for him, making special treats for him, etc.).  These are things I don't do very often.  And yet, I find time to help people at church.  I find time to help my children and run their errands.  I find time to read the books I want to read, and write in my journal.  My husband gets whatever time and energy is left, which isn't much. 

On last night's DVD, Dr. Melnick said:  "Love is a verb -- it's loving....  It takes energy....  Love is actions. Part of love is doing something for another person that you don't particularly want to do."

My husband has done this for me.  I feel most loved from quality communication.  That is why these DVDs have been so good for us as a couple.  They have helped us communicate with each other better.  My husband is the one who researched, found, and bought these DVDs for us.

Dr. Melnick said, "We think saying, 'I love you,' is magical.  As if it will fix what's ailing us."  But these words are not enough.  We need to feel loved.  Love needs to touch our hearts.

Thanksgiving and praise are great, but only if they are followed with actions, otherwise they are merely words.  God wants us to show our love for him by loving our neighbor as he loves us.  Loving and worshiping God is loving our neighbor as God loves us -- and vice versa.  "Faith by itself, without works, is dead," as James wrote in his letter.   My gratitude and love for my husband, just as much as my gratitude and love for God, needs to be shown so that both know the depth of my feelings.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for helping me see what I can do.  Please help me keep my husband's heart in my hands.  Please sustain me with the energy I need to show all love that I feel.  Love always, Pam

Saturday, May 14, 2011

God of the Living

The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob...    -- Ex. 3:16

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff --
they comfort me.                                        -- Ps. 23:4

Both of these verses seem to be saying similar things.  "He is God of the living," as Jesus says after quoting this phrase from Exodus, according to the Gospel of Matthew (22:32) 

When Abraham died, God became known as the God of Isaac; when Isaac died, God became known as the God of Jacob.  Since after Jacob God was God of the twelve tribes of Israel, not just one patriarch, this three-generation tag line became a shorthand representation of the living God.  God not only walked with Abraham, he walked with all the generations that followed after Abraham.  As he walks with this one.

In this section of Exodus, God is walking with Moses.  He is calling Moses, a middle-aged sheepherder who had been hiding in Midian for decades after having murdered an Egyptian, to not only to return to Egypt, but to defy the Pharaoh, and lead his people out of slavery.  I doubt Moses would have done anything one-tenth as daring, if he had not known that God would stay with him throughout the whole ordeal.

I was thinking recently that without God's prodding and pushing, and support, I would be in a very different place mentally and spiritually than I am now.  Only with God's help was I able to stand in front of my congregation and argue for Christian unity, as we began to divide ourselves over the issue of homosexual partnerships.  Although our church divided anyway, I am still amazed that I found the courage to speak out so publicly.  Also, only with God's help and prodding, was I able to confront my husband about his bad temper.  This was very difficult for both of us, but my husband listened, and for that I am grateful.  Now, only by trusting in God's guidance, am I able to share my personal reflections so publicly.

Dear Lord, I cannot live without your guiding presence in my life.  My life would be a shadow of what it is now without you in my life.  Love always, Pam


I just read Elie Wiesel's "Night."  Wiesel was caught in "the darkest valley" as a fifteen-year-old Jewish boy living in Hungary in 1942.  In love with studying his faith, yearning to know God more and more, he and every Jewish person he knew were sent to the German concentration camp of Auschwitz.  The horror he describes is almost unbelievable.  His faith was so shattered by the evil he witnessed, that he could not help but wonder, "Where was the God of mercy who could allow this to happen?"

I do not believe God simply allows evil to happen.  God calls people to defy evil.  But, two things have to happen in order for the weak to be rescued.  First, the person whom God calls has to listen, has to follow God's will, even though he or she is afraid.  And second, the people whom God wants to rescue must trust God's messenger; they too must listen, whether they understand it to be God's word or not. 

Many people in Wiesel's village turned a blind eye to the evil around them.  I wonder if any of them had felt God calling them to help their neighbor.  Others tried to give warning, but these messengers weren't believed.  Who could believe such evil was possible?

In 1986, when Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this book, he said in his acceptance speech:  "...I have faith.  Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation.  Without it no action would be possible.  And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.  ...Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.  ...while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs" (Hill and Wang, pg.120)

Dear God, you are with each one of us, this I know.  May thy rod and thy staff, which are thy will and thy strength, lead us and comfort us as we walk in the darkest valleys and beside the still waters.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Imperishable Seeds

You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.  For, 'all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.'  That word is the good news that was announced to you.     -- 1 Peter 1:23-25

A famous mathematician once said that he was only able to make such profound discoveries because he had stood on the shoulders of giants.  I can't make that same claim.  On this spiritual journey, I can't say that I am discovering anything new.  It is new to me, but I am finding that many other people have discovered the same truth before me.

I have felt a strong kinship with Peter in his weakness and his strength.  I have struggled right along with Paul as he fought to unify his churches into one body of Christ.  When I began to appreciate the complete mystery of God, I found my thoughts echoed in the writings of Thomas Moore.  There have been times when I thought I must be channeling Thomas Merton.  I have even found plenty to nod my head about while reading St. Augustine's Confessions.  Not everything between me and these giants of religion is exactly the same.   But I take great comfort in the similarities, and am fruitfully challenged by the differences.

On Saturday, listening to an interfaith book discussion on the television, I heard an Islamic leader quote Rumi, a medieval Sufi mystic.  I can't remember the entire quote, but it was something like this:  "I went to Jerusalem looking for God, but I did not find him there.  Then I went to the Ka'bah looking for God, but I did not find him there....When I returned home, I discovered that God was in my heart."  This is an imperishable seed.  This is a truth I have also discovered on my own journey.

Occasionally, I wonder if the path is similar for everyone, no matter what their faith.  But then I come across someone whose journey is so very different from mine.   There are some people I am more in awe of, than akin to:  Mother Teresa and St. Francis, just to name two.  These saints inspire me, but their lives are so different than my own.

Maybe the imperishable truths of God are ones that have to be discovered for ourselves.  We can share the journey with other people, other mentors, but we have to walk the walk ourselves.  Spiritual truths are unlike mathematical truths in that way.  I can use the Pythagorean Theorem without having to discover it on my own.  But I cannot become compassionate by watching someone else be compassionate.  I have to learn how to be compassionate the hard way.

Truth is fortunately not dependent on one's religion.  A Christian mystic, a Sufi Muslim, and a Kabbalist Jew may share many of the same imperishable seeds, even though they found these seeds along different paths.  But one's religion must be dependent on truth.  If religion did not contain truth, it would not survive.  Experiencing the truth of our own faith, is what keeps it alive.

Faith is a journey, for us all.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint), I am not writing these reflections from the vantage point of hindsight, as St. Augustine did in "The Confessions."  So I cannot pretend to have a grand overall view, or a catalog of imperishable truths with which to guide other people.  I write at each step along the way, at each new vantage point I come to.  I am sure, as a result, that I will not always see things correctly, or notice the most important things.  That is why it helps to have spiritual companions along the way.  And that is why I share my own reflections.  I hope that someone else will nod their head in kinship, or even be challenged by the differences, and share their understanding, too. 

I know also that no matter how long I journey along this path, or how far I travel, I will never see everything there is to see.  However, I am confident that I will see glimmers of truth here and there.  And this is enough to feed my soul for a lifetime.

Dear and Glorious God, thank you for all the companions that you have given me along the way.  I pray that you continue feeding me with your imperishable word as long as I live.  Love always, Pam

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Removing the Shroud

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food... And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth... let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.     -- Isaiah 25:6-10

This image is found in the middle of Isaiah 25.  It comes after the ruthless have been brought low, the cities have been ruined, and before the Moabites are trodden into the mud.  The Moabites were clearly enemies of the Israelites.  How do I make sense of this passage!  Dear Lord.

Perhaps I can think of the Moabites as representing all the ruthless oppressors around the world.  So, living in a world without the fear of terrorism, or war, or local crime even, would certainly destroy "the shroud of death that is cast over all peoples."  But what force would do that?

Only the force of God.  But God does not use force.  If Jesus is God incarnate, if Jesus is God's Messiah, then we must understand God as we understand Jesus.  God like Jesus does not defeat evil with evil.  God through Jesus has shown us how to respond to evil.  We respond to evil in others as we respond to evil in ourselves:  with the truth.  Only by removing the log from our eyes, can there be a chance of redemption, and peace.   

As I have been writing recently, the proud must be humbled if they desire true life.  The truth about ourselves, our leaders, our history, the good and the bad, must be faced honestly if we are ever to stop the cycle of mistakes that cause our death and the death of our neighbor (either physically or spiritually).  Only the truth will set us free.  Only the truth will take us to a place where we can help those in greatest need.  Only the truth will make the world a better place, where "all peoples" can rejoice.

It takes a certain kind of person/leader/nation who can face their mistakes and learn from them.  It takes courage and integrity and knowing that God will be with us, wiping our tears away.  Like he did for Peter, and Paul, and St. Augustine, and countless others.  Unfortunately, though it does happen, it is rare -- especially among world leaders and nations.  Rather, self-promotion is the norm.  Just put a spin on your mistakes and continue doing what you are doing.   Unfortunately, this leads only to wallowing in our own mire, both physically and spiritually.  There is only one way to remove the shroud of death.  It is a personally painful way.  But it is the only way that leads to life.

Dear God, your message lately has been a difficult one.  I would rather have not written so publicly about issues that cross the line into politics.  But your word and my faith are so completely wrapped up in life that it cannot help but be political at times, I suppose.  To live in the world but not be of the world is a challenge to us all.  May thy will be done on earth as in heaven.  Love always, Pam

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pride Goes by the Wayside

Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.  Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."    -- 1 Peter 1:14-16

A long time ago, I remember having a discussion in a Bible Study about what it means to be "holy."  If you think about Jesus' ministry on earth, what was it about him that made other people see him as holy?  He had many powers, many gifts, and was wise beyond measure.  These might have made him holy, yet other men did the same.  Jesus was different.  As it says in John's Gospel, though he knew he came from God and was going to God, he became a servant as an example to others.  (see John 13)  This is what distinguished Jesus.  This is what made people follow him.

Last Wednesday, as we read another passage from Peter's First Letter, I was surprised to hear Peter described as someone who could easily have been a bully.  I wondered why.  Peter was large in stature, a strong fisherman, and clearly favored by Jesus.  At times he thought he knew better than Jesus.  It is not a stretch to see him full of pride, and very bossy as the "rock" on which Jesus' church was built, especially after he received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentacost. 

In order for pride not to have become a factor in his life, Peter must have had some humbling experiences.  I think his most humbling experience must have been when he denied knowing Jesus.  I can imagine how terrible Peter felt after that betrayal.  He had denied knowing his Master, whom he loved, out of self-protection.  Three times he denied him after he had just vowed to follow Jesus to the death.  How much self-loathing would Peter have experienced at that moment?

Peter's journey from strength and pride to utter humility, and then back up to beloved leader of the early church is pretty amazing.   And, it is amazing that Jesus saw in Peter the qualities that were necessary to bring about this turnaround.  For not everyone would react this way to personal defeat.  Some people would place the blame on someone else.  Or, once forgiven, they would return to their previous behavior and not learn anything more.
I read today in the Selected Works of Bernard of Clairvoux:  "Our Lord shows us both the difficulty of the way and the reward of the labor.  "I am the way, the truth and the life."  The way, he says, is humility, which leads to truth....  But, you ask, how do I know that he is speaking of humility when he says only, "I am the way"?  Listen to this clearer statement, "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" ... If you imitate him you will not walk in darkness; you will have the light of light.  What is the light of life but truth ... the fruit of the knowledge of truth is humility." (pg. 102-103).

I think of my own journey.  As I began to understand God's will better, I began to see my own sins more clearly.  This was very disconcerting to me.  I seemed to be worse off knowing God's will than I was when I was ignorant!  But, now, I am beginning to see that in recognizing who I am, honestly, warts and all, I am being made more and more humble, by necessity.  For my humility, in turn, is leading me to a deeper understanding and love of my neighbor.  For we can only truly love our neighbor when we can see ourselves in them.  I cannot love my neighbor and want to judge my neighbor at the same time.

The Way of Jesus leads to Truth -- inward truth.  And recognizing the truth in ourselves leads to Life, to love, to joy.

Dear God, Wonderful Teacher, there is much to be learned in the valleys.  Not just about the mistakes we have made, but also about the person we are at heart, and the person you give us the strength to become.  Blessed be thy name.  Love always, Pam

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ruthless

When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.    -- Isaiah 25:4b-5

The passages in Isaiah 25, in the light of recent events, made me think of Osama bin Laden.  I am having a hard time seeing analogous connections through the whole chapter, but I felt compelled to try to put my thoughts down anyway.  Perhaps the purpose of me noticing this connection was simply to get me to reflect more deeply on those who want to harm us.

Last night in Bible Study, we somehow got into a discussion on the death of bin Laden.  The question was raised:  Was killing Osama bin Laden a Christian response?

Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also...."  And when the authorities came to take Jesus, and Peter cuts off the ear of the soldier, Jesus said, "Put away your weapons, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword."  (Matt. 5:38-39, and Matt. 26:52)  These are the teachings which come to mind as I ponder this question.

I know these teachings.  I believe that evil thinking can only be overcome with love.  Yet, I also believe that evil deeds must be stopped, evil people must be stopped.   By the least violent means possible.  But nonetheless, stopped.

"Love your enemies,"  Jesus said.  Osama bin Laden was our enemy.  He claimed responsibility for the attacks on 9/11 killing thousands of innocent people.  I recall that when we were first attacked, we received sympathy from around of the world.  Though we were in shock, and feeling vulnerable, we had the world with us.  Then we answered violence with violence, and began to find ourselves in as many difficulties as our enemies.  

This situation rings a bell much closer to home.  My oldest son has been the victim of bullying, both physical and mental bullying, at school.  We changed environments completely after elementary school because of bullying there.  His current school is much more proactive with regards to bullying:  repeatedly teaching the students about  the harm it does.  And the adults are quick to stop the offending behavior when it comes to their attention.  Yet try as they might, they cannot prevent every instance of bullying.   

I have told my son that when he is being picked on, he must immediately tell one of the adults.  He must not respond with like behavior.   For then he would get into just as much trouble as the other kid.  The adults are the ones in charge of stopping the offender and protecting the children from more harm.

I wonder if perhaps the United States should have responded to the attacks on 9/11 the same way we teach our children to respond to bullies.  Not with like aggression, but turning to the world's leaders to help us stop the offenders, using our words instead of violence, so that the citizens of all nations are protected from more harm.  This certainly would have been consistent with what we are supposed to teach our children. 

As I drove to school this afternoon, I turned on the CD player to listen again to the commentary on St. Augustine's Confessions.  The first words I heard, believe it or not, were:  "We can learn as much from our enemies as from our friends.  It is important to take what our enemies say, see if there is any truth there and use it for our own good." (The Teaching Company, Prof. Cook and Prof. Herzman, Lecture 18, 2004) 

Although my son does not deserve any kind of abuse, I do remember a couple of times when he did not use the best judgment and provoked the other child's anger.  Unfortunately, the other child did not know how to respond calmly and with his words.  Likewise, although we certainly did not deserve to have any of our citizens killed so terribly, I wonder if our government did not use its best judgment in particular situations and provoked the anger of this man and his followers.

What good can we learn from these, our enemies? 

Dear Lord, it has been a struggle to hear your words today.  I am not sure if I have done justice to your message.  I know I need to spend more time with this.  But for now, thank you for allowing me to make connections between your word, events in the world, and my greatest concerns at the moment.  That always feels like a blessing to me.  Love always, Pam

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nearer to Heaven

And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour?  I die every day!  ...If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it?  If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."      -- 1 Corinthians 15:30-32

This is another one of Paul's theses that I find difficult:  if there is no life after death, no eternal reward of living in Heaven to look forward to, why work so hard?  As he says in verse 17, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."  

I can understand Paul's words here better when I think of the hard life Paul had as a follower of Christ.  His life was full of sacrifice, physical hardship, trials, and prison.  He clearly looked forward to an afterlife that was free of all of these things.  And, to be fair, in the later letters of Paul, he shares more of his sense of the blessings that are found in this life.  In Philippians especially, he is not sure which is more bountiful, this life or the afterlife:  For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.  (1:21-22)

So, perhaps I should just overlook Paul's depressing sentiments regarding this life on earth which are found in the readings for today.  I am not an expert on Paul.  Perhaps if I studied his writings more thoroughly I would have a more complete understanding of his theology.  However, I will explore this idea more because I think many Christians today echo Paul's sentiments in 1 Corinthians, Ch. 15.  They disregard life on earth.  They live for the afterlife.  As if we are in a holding pattern here on earth, and our true lives will be lived only after we die.

But then if that is true, why did Jesus teach us so much about how to live our lives on earth? Why are we taught to live more deeply attuned to the needs of others?  Are we taught these things so that we will be rewarded in the afterlife?  If this is the case, if that is why we follow Jesus, then I would say that our motives are suspect.

Christ helped people, healed people, and taught people, because he had compassion for them.  His motivation was love, pure and simple -- not gain.  He did not die for us in order to be raised from the dead.  He died for us because he loved us.  But first, he lived abundantly, because he loved us.

We, too, are to grow in love and compassion for others so that we might attain the same love that Christ had.  That in itself is our reward.  The peace and joy which come from this kind of selfless love is our reward for following the way Jesus taught.  This is abundant life, because it is life lived with and in and through Jesus Christ, who lived with and in and through God.  "You know him, for he dwells in you, and will be in you...."; "Abide in me and I in you."; "And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."  (John 14:17, 15:4, 17:3).

This all reminds me of the story I read to my children last night:  James Thurbers' "Many Moons."  The King's daughter wishes for the moon -- it will help her feel better.  The King, not knowing how to get the moon for his daughter, asks his Chief Advisor to get it.  The Chief Advisor knows it is impossible to get the moon because the moon is too big and too far away.  So, the King asks the Wizard to get it.  The Wizard knows it is impossible to get the moon because it is even bigger and further away than the Advisor thought.  Then the King asks the  Mathematician.  The Mathematician knows it is impossible to get the moon because it is even bigger and further away than the Wizard thought.  Only the Jester thinks to ask the King's daughter how big and far away the moon is.  It turns out that the moon gets caught in the branches of the tree outside her window every night, is about as big as her thumb, and is made of gold.  It turns out that it is possible to have the moon, and to wear it around your neck, even.

Eternal life is not something far away in Heaven, unattainable until after we die.  Eternal life is within reach and attainable in this life.  All we need do is desire to love God as God loves us.

Dear Heavenly Father, fill me with an everlasting desire for you.  And help me to grow in love and compassion for all.  Love always, Pam

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beyond a Doubt

...if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile....       --  1 Corinthians 15:14,17

I don't understand these words of Paul.  I don't understand how if this one fact becomes untrue, my faith is nothing.  So, in the tradition of Thomas, I will voice my doubt and hope to understand eventually.

I can see, from Paul's perspective, why he would think this.  His primary, life-changing, life-motivating, experience was of the voice of Jesus saying, "Why do you persecute me?"  And, of course, all of the experiences that followed.  He believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead because of these experiences.  They went hand-in-hand.  He could not believe in one without the other.  So, I can understand why Paul felt that his faith would be in vain if Christ had not been raised from the dead.  This was his defining experience of God.

My faith in God, however, does not rest entirely on whether Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.  My faith rests primarily on my own experiences of God.  Whenever I have a momentary feeling of doubt that God exists, I immediately remember experiences that have happened to me that I can explain in no other way but that God has intervened in my life.  Just as Moses reminded the Israelites of all the miracles God had performed in their sight in order to give them strength in the wilderness, I rely on my miracles to keep me going.

Now, would I know Jesus if he had not been raised from the dead?  That is an interesting question.

I wonder how the first disciples of Jesus would have continued if they had not experienced the risen Christ.  Possibly, they would have dispersed, lacking the necessary conviction and courage to do what Jesus had asked them to do.  Even after all the miracles they had witnessed, and all the truth they had discovered in Jesus' teachings, the fact that Jesus was crucified like a common criminal had shaken them to their core.  They were in hiding, fearful of the authorities.  They needed a sign from God that told them Jesus had spoken the truth.  They needed a powerful God-experience to give them the courage to trust what they heard.

There is another story in today's readings of someone needing a sign -- actually, two signs!  In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon cannot believe what he hears God telling him to do.  God wants the weakest member of the weakest tribe (him) to lead an army!?  Say that again?  Before Gideon can trust what he is hearing, he needs to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is present in his life. 

We doubters need signs.  Some people can believe wholeheartedly simply because of another person's conviction.  As John wrote at the end of his Gospel, "these things were written so that all my believe."  And as Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed."  But, I wonder how strong my faith would be if I had not ever had any signs.  I think it would not have stood the test and trials of life, nor would I have been able to do even half of what God has asked me to do.

Dear God, I am grateful for the many signs of your loving presence which you have blessed me with.  They give me the strength and courage I need.  Please keep me ever mindful of all that you do.  Love always, Pam