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Posts Tagged ‘human’

I looked it up, the word, beatitude. It actually comes from the Latin word, beātitūdō, which means perfect happiness. I was already suspect with the idea of “perfect,” not to mention the leap to my struggle with perfectionism. Add the expectation of happiness, a most elusive beast [it’s right up there with joy], and I feel like the entire premise is a prescription for failure.

Matthew 5:1-3a
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Blessed are . . .

Of course, it gets worse before it gets better. Most people have the general understanding of the beatitudes. They know it’s a list of blessings based on a series of paradoxical statements. In other words, be perfectly happy when you are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, and pure in heart while peacemaking and being persecuted. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to jump up and follow Jesus, what will?

I’m only kidding, of course. But really, the beatitudes feel like the high end of understanding and following Jesus. Despite professing the Christ for over thirty years, I break out in a sweat when I have to revisit the beatitudes. They seem to uncover me or reveal me in a way that nothing else in scripture does. I feel like I need to go to a meeting, stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Irmgarde, and I’m not living out the beatitudes.”

You know, the implication is that this was the summary teaching, the preview of everything that came later. Jesus ultimately walked out these seven verses [Matthew 4:3-10] in the next three years of his ministry. And all the while, he’s saying, this is the way despite what you may think or see. Here is the real freedom. Here is answer to what it means to be fully human.

Let’s all pause and think about that today.

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Icon: John the Baptist

To wash ceremonially in ancient Jewish times was to participate in a mikveh (or mikvah). For rituals, particularly washing from impurity, required “living” or flowing water such as a river or mikvot (the mikveh place) fed by a natural spring. It constituted the washing away of the old impurities and to mark the beginning of the new.

Matthew 3:1-2,
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” . . .  “I baptize you with [or in] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with [or in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist treated sin as the greatest impurity of all and called everyone who wanted a new start to celebrate a mikveh with him, right there in the desert, in the river Jordan. While priests, via the regulations in the Torah and other rabbinical writings, performed the mikveh for a variety of circumstances (after sexual relations for men, a menstrual cycle for women, after the birth of a child, upon declaring someone healed of a skin disease or leprosy, prior to Yom Kippur, and so forth), this may have been the first time that a mikveh was performed without a traditional priest.

John’s message was clear: prepare the way (prepare yourselves) for the coming Messiah. Release the old and make room for the new.

The water submersion was a ritual meant to mark a moment in time. And yet, John promised another moment, a time that would be marked by something more permanent than water: the Holy Spirit and Fire.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’s resurrection, the gift was given (and promised) to all believers — the in-dwelling of God [Acts 2]. This in-dwelling changed everything and everyone. We tend to minimize this deeply motivating presence today.

There is so much “Jesus Junk” (Tchotchkes) and pat phrases like “Jesus loves you brother.” But it’s more than that. It’s not just that Jesus loves you; it’s that Jesus is you [Philippians 1:21]. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. And once Jesus has been invited to occupy us, then the process of true sanctification begins, fusing me and the Christ. And with sanctification, unnecessary elements must, like chaff, be cast away and in some cases, burned away through experience, pain, persistence of motion, and repetition. We are all intended to “get it.”

The occupy movement from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., has nothing on the potential power and change that comes from the occupation of a human being by the Holy Spirit. This is the most authentic change of all.

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We live in a society of relativism. And this relativism gives permission for a wide range of beliefs and behaviors. On the other hand, there are groups of people who believe they have Truth and find nothing ironic in those truths colliding, creating wars, prejudice, and hate. Where is Truth in that?

Isaiah 45:19
I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right.

God’s truth is constantly being manipulated by Human. The Bible, in all of its truth, has been written by human beings, interpreted, and applied conveniently. And really, so have all of the sacred texts, from Qur’an to the Bhagavad Gita. We can all claim divine inspiration, God speaking through the hands that wrote the words down, but, in the end, truth may still elude us.

“God is Spirit and his worshipers must worship God in spirit and in truth.” [John 4:24]

All faiths, in the end, must do the same for this Spirit.

To seek God is to seek Truth and it’s bigger than a single belief, a single banner, a single slogan. It is broad and it is narrow. Truth is the ultimate paradox, encompassing all and nothing. Truth exists with or without me because God is.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” [I Corinthians 13:12]

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Of course, not all brothers love each other (or sisters either for that matter), but there is something indelible there. The Amplified translates this phrase: “loving [each other] as brethren [of one household].” The root of believers — operating as a family.

I Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.

For some people, the idea of family is riddled with issues, either because of brutal or emotionally handicapped parents or destructive behaviors by individual siblings. These are not people who will gravitate readily to the idea of a “church family.”

Others have close family relationships and they have a different problem: they know the wonder of strong familial ties and often find a group of believers can rarely engender that kind of closeness or trust.

I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, but probably leaning to the first example. My mother was mentally unstable and I never knew from one day to the next what I would awake to. My father died when I was child and I only had one sibling, five years my senior who left the family home for college and never returned in any kind of meaningful way. It was not until we were adults that we developed a truly mutual relationship. So, I confess, I’m not quick to embrace people with whom I am thrown together because we are affiliated with the same church body. It’s a trust issue, I know. I know.

Here’s what should happen anyway (in theory . . . in my mind): believers are bound to one another by their faith in God. This is actually a blood bond because of the nature of the Christ. It does not flow through our veins, but through our Spirit selves.

According to Peter, spiritually-based relationships should have harmony, sympathy (empathy), compassion, and humility. In general, this means deference to the other, concern for the other, sensitivity to the other, and willingness to compromise.

Wait a minute. We could be doing this all the time, church or no church; family or no family; believer or no believer.

These are the basics of “human.” These are the essential ingredients to relationships of all types: with strangers, lovers, or even casual acquaintances. Basics. Love of the first order. Love without strings. Love without labels.

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Faith as a Verb

Faith has become static and no longer has the teeth that it should. They say, “growing old is not for sissies,” and I say an out-growing faith is not a cakewalk either. At least it shouldn’t be.

James 2:17-18
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Faith has become as boring as the verb “to be.” And although it may be trendy these days to spout clever phrases like, “I am not a human doing, I’m a human being” as a way of slowing our culture down, we are missing the boat in the faith department.

Faith is not only about meditation and contemplation, it must also be an expression of God within so that others can see God. Faith is not only about waving our hands and singing the songs in church, it must also be about touching others in such a way that they can feel God’s presence.

Faith is probably a circle and I can’t just plant myself on one spot in that circle. Sometimes I have to get from God and sometimes I have to give; sometimes I have to rest in God and sometimes I have to run.

My God faith creates the courage I need to have faith in myself and to have faith in you.

I faith God who faiths me for you.

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Photo by Victoria Potter

Anger is not a disease, it’s a choice that eventually builds into a habit. I should know, I’m really good at it. I’m getting better at the outside version of anger but it’s a cover up for what’s happening inside.

James 1:19b-20
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s [and woman’s] anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

I think of anger as a bus because it’s always taking me somewhere, and rarely if ever, does it take me where I want to go or where I should be. It’s not always a bus; I also ride the anger subway, the anger jet and the anger canoe. Each one goes a different speed, but the results are the same.

And most of those trips leave a wake or trail of damage that takes much longer to repair than it does to destroy.

When I lived in New York, I took the subway a lot. At first, it was confusing and I’d have to watch the map and keep checking the walls for the name of the stop. But pretty soon, I got so accustomed to the subway that I knew where I was just by the look of the station.

Just because anger is familiar doesn’t make it a good thing. I know that intellectually.

I know that “anger management” talks about transforming feelings of anger into healthy expressions, like assertiveness or redirecting it into some kind of constructive behavior, or intentionally and rationally calming oneself down. I’m sure these are all good mechanisms and I should look into them.

But I would like to get better at catching the moment BEFORE I get on the bus. What is it that makes me want to jump. One of my previous pastors said it was “fear” and I can certainly agree with that in many cases: fear of loss, self-esteem, worth, value, control, etc. I think there are other moments too that are driven by something else than fear. Maybe it’s disappointment.

I have written and talked about the power of disappointment before, particularly in women. It’s wrapped up in expectations and hopes and dreams and when that disappointment comes, particularly repetitive disappointment, I think it mutates into anger: displaced, misplaced, and often illogical in appearance.

No easy solution, but certainly, the advice from James is sound: be slow to speak. Maybe, just maybe, if I could slow the process down, just a little, I could recognize my triggers.

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Nope. Not interested in enduring hardship. Sorry. Feels too much like self-flagellation. Suffer! Suffer! It’s good for you! I don’t want it. But doesn’t hardship come with life as much as joy? It is the human story.

Hebrews 12:7
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Perhaps it’s the coupling of the word “discipline” with hardship that sticks in my craw. I want to roll my eyes and say, “don’t do me any favors.”

I suppose, then, whether I like it or not, I need to examine my knee jerk reaction to discipline. I always think of discipline in terms of mistakes and wrongdoing. I get disciplined because I screwed up. Yuck.

But there is an aspect of discipline that I rarely consider and that’s regimen or training. My son recently finished Navy boot camp and he pretty much hated it. The constant demand for detail, for accuracy, for precision, and of course, long hours and hard work, were more than he thought he could handle. But he made it. He completed the challenge and once it was done, he knew he was better for it. It was rigorous and unpleasant at times, but he learned many lessons from the process.

There is a type of training that comes with becoming truly human. Not the human that is self-absorbed and striving for personal achievement and power, but the human who discovers the paradox of living like Christ. That human is different. And those hardships have to do with letting go.

These are the true hardships and once those are endured, the other perceived hardships like sickness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, loss of jobs, hunger, whatever . . . they are more easily lived through.

How can I keep this in my mind today? Discipline.

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