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Religious symbols

Yesterday, two friends and I discussed the word “religion.” The three of us have been working on “personal creeds” as an exercise in spiritual practice. After all, what do we believe? Is there more for us beyond the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed? Does it matter? And, is this creed-building an aspect of religion?

Librarian that I am, I looked up the definition. Webster’s has a few choices: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith; and, for interest’s sake, an archaic meaning: scrupulous conformity or “conscientiousness.” A thoughtful addition to all of these definitions comes from Wikipedia, “The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief system or sometimes set of duties; however, in the words of Émile Durkheim, religion differs from private belief in that it is “something eminently social.” That resonates with me.

Religion has gotten a rather bad “rap” these days, primarily because of people who are using it to practice exclusivity. On one hand, they claim that everyone is welcome into their club, but that welcome only lasts as long as one follows the doctrine, the rules, the agreed upon credo. And yes, it is a social interaction. For many years, I learned to use the right language, to ignore the anti-whatever of the day, and to pretend I didn’t watch adult movies or read the Harry Potter series.

I remember attending churches where the word “religion” was used dismissively, as though, their worship ways were higher or “spirit-led” and therefore unbounded by the rigidity of religion. And yet, over time, these free spirits ended up with an “order of worship” and a belief statement and lines drawn in the sand. Often, the Bible, as a whole, is used as a standard, calling on the inerrancy of scripture as the foundation for everything. But, isn’t that religion?

I remember attending a church unlike my charismatic beginnings for about three years. Liturgical and systematic, every week’s service was codified and several passages from the book of prayer were repeated each week. This form of worship is often derided as “dead.” But, in the end, it was not the liturgy that drove us away, it was the people who said, in more ways than one, “we don’t do that here.”

Religion is an overarching term that encapsulates the way we choose to worship and what we believe. Just within the “Christian” religion, there are 6 major mega-blocs (according to http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm and The World Christian Encyclopedia [WCE], people who identify themselves as Independents, Protestants, Marginals, Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglicans.) Within those blocs, the WCE has identified 33,000 denominations. Each one slightly different in practice. Is there any wonder that people fall away? We’ve managed to make it all so very complicated.

Judaism has managed to keep the number around six or seven while Islam appears to have only two. I’m sure there are other minor differences there too of which I am unaware, but honestly, the comparison is noteworthy.

Religion, in and of itself, is not a bad word. In fact, it’s a very broad term, much like a forest. The trees and plants that make up that forest are varied and beautiful, useful and ornamental. But they are all part of the forest. And it’s the forest that helps keep us alive.

What do you believe?

 

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Truth or a Lie?

Decades ago, I was challenged by a fellow student in acting school to read the New Testament. It was a kind of “double-dog-dare;” he said any great actress should have a working knowledge of this text. He laid one proviso before me: read it the way we were instructed to read play scripts with this preamble: “if this were true” and make no judgments before reaching the end.

And so it was on December 24, 1973, after much gift giving and good cheer at my brother’s townhouse, that I read the last words of the Book of Revelation, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” [I quote the King James Version as that was the translation I had at hand, a Gideon Bible, snatched from a hotel room by my roommate at the time.]

What was my answer? Was this text the truth or a lie? Certainly, I didn’t agree with every word. I had been living a cavalier life, like so many of us at that time in New York (drugs, sex and alcohol). But, was the essence, the core of what I read, true? Even Paul, in the 9th chapter of Romans caught me with plain speaking, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost–”

I surrendered to this core truth; I trusted that the stuff I didn’t understand would be made clear in the future. But for that moment, I put my faith in Christ and promised to follow Jesus and his words, and as best I could, his example. When I told my mother of my decision the next morning, Christmas morning, she laughed and said, “this too will pass.” But it didn’t. I am still here, in the arms of Christ.

I share this story again because our country is at an impasse. We are living in a time of hyperbole (extravagant exaggeration) and name calling. People use terms for concepts they barely understand and make accusations based on inference and media commentary. Both sides of our political sphere claim to speak the truth while the other side lies. How is this possible? I have personally been lambasted for my opinions or, at best, implicated as a dupe. And, honestly, I am equally guilty of doing the same.

With a palpable fear, I project a picture of our nation’s fate in November and December. If we continue on this path, no matter who wins the 2020 presidential election, there will be civil unrest and undoubtedly, much violence and innocent deaths. We will make the stories of the McCoys and Hatfields or the families of Romeo and Juliet, merely charming. Is this what we, as a people, really want?

So must we, call a truce

Christmas Truce 1914

“On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.” [https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/christmas-truce-of-1914] This cease-fire was done by the troops on the front lines, not the generals or politicians.

If we want to survive, we must, as Americans all, call for a truce and cross no-man’s land with a dove. What do we share in common? How are we alike? Love can still win, but we must choose to engage civilly, to remember that we are on the front lines and it is we who will suffer the most if this war of words continues to escalate beyond reason.

Most of us know how we will vote by now. Let us use our time and energy to pray for one another, not to accuse or badger. Choose your understanding of truth, but remember, the “devil is in the details.”

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Scripture is clear:
“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.”—Jeremiah 17:14

And yet, there’s no magic here. In fact, it’s a process just like everything else. What have I learned in the last eight and a half weeks?

  1. The pain is real. And honestly, I’m not even talking about the initial breaks. I’m talking about this healing process. Most people ask, is it getting better? I guess. I can do a little more, move more, and it only hurts part of the time, not all of the time. That’s progress. I’ll not mention the ice pick jabs that stop me in my tracks.
  2. It’s slow. I mean painfully slow. After eight weeks, I only have to wear my brace at night but now I’m supposed to voluntarily move my hand and wrist. Each effort is a test: does it still hurt? See point one.
  3. The healing is not observable. In fact, I think my wrist looks like something leftover from a Frankensteinian procedure. There’s some weird things going on inside my skin: the tendons are tormented, the nerves are shaken, the bone is unyielding. The outer skin is poor camouflage to what is happening inside.
  4. Limitations are numerous. I suppose there is improvement here, after all, I can wash my own hair, put on deodorant, and snap my bra. Breakthroughs. But not for many weeks on the front end and the last thing I wanted to do was ask for help. But I see the truth of it. The initial pain is simply too much to bear alone. I had to confess to my restrictions, my body imposed prohibitions.
  5. Inertia prevailed. Exercise? Forget it. Productivity? No chance. Typing? Be still my hands. Field trips or escapades? Not hardly. The bed drew me mostly. I wasn’t just tired in my body, I was tired in my mind. I didn’t want to think about my injury. I still don’t, not really.

So where is the good news? The list is the same as always: patience, trust, gentleness with oneself, and a sense of humor. This is tortoise territory (as in the tortoise and the hare); slow and steady wins the race.

But the last thing I want to share is that these lessons are the same for the heart. If anyone has experienced a broken heart, the symptoms are probably the same, as well as the “solution.”

Time heals, God heals. That’s a promise. But it’s still up to each one of us to walk it.

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Since I retired in December, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. I felt a rare freedom to go and do as I wanted. I have been to Zambia, to California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Denver, Estonia, and even back home to Indianapolis for a 50th high school reunion. Gods timeEach place has a story and now a memory. But it’s time to take a breath. A real breath. It’s time to examine “here.”

In some ways, I sound a bit like my 91 year old mother, just months before she died, she wondered aloud, “What should I do for the rest of my life?” She still felt she had something to give and something to do. But for her, it was a dis-ease with her present.

I want to change that pattern. Before I venture into too many tomorrows, I want a better assessment of today.

I don’t want my next day to come out of a place of dissatisfaction, as though this moment is wanting. I desire this day to be full of the awareness of God and a confidence in the Holy Spirit within to enrich my inner being.

This week, I have been chewing on Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation : Following the Movements of the Spirit. As he says, it is time to convert chronological time into “kairos” or God’s time, where “past, present, and future merge in the present moment. . . The spiritual life, therefore, is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.”

Jesus was able to “be” in any setting with every person because He could “see” beyond the surface of what he/she presented to the world. Just as the doctor can hear the beating heart through a stethoscope, Jesus could hear and see the fluttering soul.

Where is just another Here.

Well, that sounds a little bit like my old favorite show, Kung Fu, and me speaking like an Eastern mystic. That makes me laugh, Grasshopper.

But seriously, some pieces are falling into place and I am experiencing a type of contentment that I have not known before. From here, I will find my way.

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You’re lying. And so am I.

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” [Psalm 50:1-3]

That’s right. God is never really silent. God is speaking through every atom of every living thing in Earth. God is speaking within each and every one of us. This is not a speaking problem, this is a listening problem.

Me and the Silence by
Stefano Bonazzi

I have been silent for some months. I have not written because of an inner vacuum, not an experience of peace and harmony, but a hollowness of spirit. I have gone through a lot of the motions; I have read the Word and I have pondered; I have attended worship services and I have sung the songs. I have engaged a spiritual director. I have hit a singing bowl and followed its vibrations. I have listened to music. But my mind remains a maelstrom.

The mere chaos of our age is a clanging cymbal. The incessant drone of news and tweets from the White House, always a shock that fuels dismay, chills my heart. The cry of sorrow as the rains engulf our Texas cities is loud and persistent. The anger and violence of Charlottesville clamors like a great cloud of bees, buzzing in swarms and demanding attention. The petty annoyances of broken things and the drama of relationships twang and clunk and slam.

And yet, God is speaking too. God is Present. It is not an either/or proposition. Cannot be.

God is in the terror as much as God is in the peace. Can I live in that paradox long enough to trust and learn and discern? God does not change but is the constant to which I am invited to cling. When Mike died, this was clear to me and I was able to stand. But this external chaos has proved to be my master, a master I must shed. For there is only One, whose love and strength and assurance is is promised and waiting.

With whom will I engage this day? In which river will I suspend my heart? The waters can be

gentle but obstacles will always remain.

I must choose to acknowledge God. In the moment. Discipline is a choice. Awareness is a choice. And somewhere along the way, they can become a habit, a norm.

Right now, I hear God in the dripping of the soft rain outside my window. I feel God in the fur of my fat cat. I hear God in the contented sigh of my sleeping dog. And because the view from my chair in my bedroom snags my shoulda gene (wash my clothes, wipe the mirror, make the bed etc.), I close my eyes and look there, in the wonder of my imagination (that great gift of God) where I can see anything I choose to see.

 

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murphyThat’s me. I’m a bit sheepish to say I started acting like one of the disciples yesterday. And why? Because nothing went the way I thought it would or should. As others might say, Murphy was busy. (If there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard of the adage, Murphy’s Law, it goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy was not a believer, for sure.) Wikipedia says this attitude has to do with a belief in the perversity of the Universe.

And although it may be true that a fallen world may be a challenge, my response to my circumstances is supposed to be different. I should have learned by now. I could have been grateful and expectant; I could have been trusting and at peace in the now. I could have pulled out this scripture:

rejoice“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  [Philippians 4:4-7, NIV]

But I didn’t. Oh, maybe I tried for a little while. The first several hours, I put up a pretty good face, but by Midnight, the perverse universe scored.

So, what did the universe hand me that was so dreadful? Nothing serious, more like a constant buzzing bee. At 9:30 am, I started out on a much needed vacation to a long awaited destination (Alaska). I was driving to the airport and realized I did not have my phonephone. For those who know me, the missing phone is one of my beleaguering habits. My mantra: “Have you seen my phone?” I had to go back home to get it and I lost 30 minutes of a 1.5 hour trip to the airport. It would be close.

I was traveling on a buddy pass. It’s also called “non-rev” by the airline industry (meaning non-revenue), which a dear friend gave me. We would meet halfway and go the rest of the way together to Anchorage. But the hour was not enough. The Philly economy parking lot was maxed out and the bus picked me up at “A” and traveled the entire alphabet. At ticketing, I was shuttled from one line to the other to get someone to print my “quasi-boarding-pass” also known as a seat request for standby. Too late. Too late. I missed the plane.

I could still make it if I could get on the next flight, a couple of hours later. Listed, waited, but missed a seat by one, a captain needed the hop.

The next plane to Minneapolis was scheduled for 6 hours later, there was some hope I could pick up the last flight to Anchorage, or try another connection. My friend suggested I switch to Salt Lake City and then go to Anchorage from there.

Then the weather hit. Somewhere. Not in Philadelphia, but somewhere and as a result, every flight was delayed by one to two hours. Not one flight could connect me in time to Anchorage. Which way to go? Back to the Minneapolis plan or stay with Salt Lake plan?

minneapolis airportAfter several phone calls, we opted for me to head to Minneapolis. I could possibly stay with a friend, not so bad, and just accept the loss of the day. So, I changed and got hit with the fee for re-booking. Then that flight was delayed further. By the time I got to Minneapolis, it was after midnight. And my friend, it turned out, was vacationing in, of all places, Maryland.

Should I stay on the airport floor (they offer mattresses and blankets in plastic, like one might find in an emergency shelter) or bite the bullet and pay to stay in a hotel/motel (are there any motels anymore?) But of course, as one would expect, all nearby hotels were booked. I ended up in a town 15 miles away. Whatever money I saved on my buddy pass was consumed by a night’s stay and a $50 cab ride.

My friend made it to Anchorage fine. And off they have gone to their first moose adventure today. Or whatever it is that people do for fun there.

Rejoice in all things.

I’m at the airport now, waiting for the next flight, the next day and 36 hours after leaving home. Will I make it on the flight? Who knows? Does it matter? In the bigger scheme of things? Not so much. As my pastor says, a lot of my anxiety is caused by FORO (Fear of Running Out . . . of money).

letting goRejoice. Trust. Breathe. It’s all out of my hands. Pretty much, all of it was and is. Except for the phone. That doggone device has got us all hopping doesn’t it? I wonder now, could I have lived without it? If I had gone forward instead of back, could I have done vacation without being “connected?” Was that the real lesson? I think maybe it is so.

That is a lesson that will probably come around again.

 

 

 

 

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Devotional writing is a state of mind, heart, and soul. It’s not something that can be drummed up out of a dry hole. And so it has been with me. Like Hezekiah, I cry out to God, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” [Isaiah 38:3, NIV], But what was before is not enough. Devotion to God is daily and present. Like mindfulness, it is in the now.

god-is-nature

Oh my soul, sing again in the place of praise to God alone.

Today is not the kind of day I’d expect a rekindled desire to be with God to overwhelm me. My day ahead is a busy day, a hot steamy day, with a pile of responsibilities. And yet, God broke through the mind clutter. Come to me.

My prayer, a simple one. Keep me in the light of your Presence oh God. Speak into my inmost being, Christ Jesus. Fill me with endurance and promise, Holiest Spirit. Breathe on me and in me.

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