Following Jesus … no turning back

Something I’ve been thinking about for myself and all of us who claim Christianity…

Jesus said “Follow me.” Not just when it’s convenient…or easy…or when everyone else agrees.

He said “Love your neighbor.” Not just when they’re easy to love…or when they’re the same background / race / religion / ethnicity / gender identity…

He said “Take up your cross…and follow me.” Sometimes I don’t want to follow him–because I know it may lead to persecution…or death. Sometimes I don’t want to follow him because I want my life to be easy. I want to get along with all the people around me.

But if I say I am a follower of Jesus…if I claim the mantle of Christianity…then I am called to challenge the status quo…to stand up for and with the marginalized…to speak out against injustice and violence…no matter what.

There’s a song in my denomination’s hymnal that goes like this:

I have decided to follow Jesus (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The story goes that it was sung by a man in India who came to know Christ and left the head hunter tradition of his tribe. He was challenged to deny his faith or face execution. He stood firm–even though his wife and children were killed in front of him before he too was killed–and left this song as his testimony.

May it also be mine.

Blessed are…

Yesterday the theme suggested for use in my faith tradition was “Light shines in the darkness.”

As I was thinking about that, it dawned on me that in order for that light to shine, those of us who follow Jesus are called to be mirror images of his life and ministry. But how?

In my journaling last night, I felt a strong sense that the answer to that question lies in the part of scripture that is commonly called “The Beatitudes”…the “blessed are…” verses.

I’ve read them before…heard them. Yes, they’re nice words. But what do they really mean? So I decided to read them in a different way. Rather than using the traditional translations, I wondered how they would read if they were being spoken today. Would they make more sense?

There are a lot of modern translations and versions. In this case, I decided to see how they read in The Message–and wow! did they pack a punch! I’m going to have to spend some more time unpacking these words–but I think they’re going to be my challenge for this year. Here’s Matthew 5:1-12:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” 

What are your goals in 2020?

I know this is the time of year when many of us decide on New Year’s resolutions. We have the best of intentions…but it doesn’t seem to take too long before we get behind…or life intervenes…or we decide they were just too difficult…or we’re too tired…or (whatever you want to add here)…and they fall by the wayside.

I think that this year, instead of resolutions, I’m setting goals. They seem to be more doable…more measurable…because they are more short-term and can then be revisited, revised, and renewed.

It’s still kind of scary to put them out here, because then I know I have to focus on them…because there are friends who will keep me accountable for them.

So what are my goals for the first three months of 2020?

  1. I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruits and I will drink at least 16 ounces of water each day.
  2. I will tidy up the house before going to bed.
  3. I will take 30 minutes each day of intentional quiet time for meditation / journaling / spiritual focus time.
  4. I will speak out regularly (whether through letter writing, posting, or blogging) on behalf of those who are being marginalized by this administration.
  5. I will enter financial expenditures on a weekly basis.
  6. My faith tradition has a prayer that I will pray each day, listening for where it leads me: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

What are your goals?

Love your neighbor…as you love yourself

Today’s title comes from a question asked of Jesus: “What is the greatest commandment?” His response: “Love God with all your being…and the second is like it. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I sometimes wonder if the last four words in the title of today’s post are at the root of many of our problems.

If we truly loved ourselves…believed that we are “good enough”…that we are somebody of worth and value…would that change how we see others?

If we truly saw ourselves as people made in the image of the Divine…in the image of Love…would that change how we see others?

Would we see them as of worth and value? Would we see the image of the Divine…of Love…in them?

But if we don’t love ourselves, we will always be measuring ourselves against someone or something else–and we will never be good enough. And we will always be trying to find ways to “prove” that we are better than someone else.

Love is the only answer. I don’t mean what often passes for love today. The love I’m referring to is identified this way in I Corinthians 13 (God’s Word translation):

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up.

If–when–we truly love ourselves, then we will find the ability to love others, even if we don’t understand or agree with them. And if we can do that, that will change the world.

The worth of all persons…

One of the Enduring Principles of my faith tradition is expressed this way: Worth of All Persons. These points help expand on its meaning…

  • God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.
  • God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
  • We seek to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community, challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth.
  • We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.

That sounds easy, doesn’t it? Easy to say…but maybe not as easy to live out.

If I truly believe that all persons are of worth, that includes

  • People I disagree with politically.
  • People who are of a different culture or religion.
  • People who have hurt me.
  • People I am afraid of.
  • People of a different color.
  • People I love.

It means ALL.

That also means

  • I cannot support separating children from their parents with no plans on how to reunite them–simply because their families are seeking a safe place and a hopeful future.
  • The homeless person I see on the corner is deserving of my willingness to make eye contact with them…and to put aside my judgmental attitude.
  • I need to support help and shelter for the mentally ill and those unable to take care of themselves.
  • I am called to uphold in prayer even those I have major disagreements with.
  • When I see injustice, I need to call people and policies to accountability–even if that is uncomfortable or unpopular.
  • I need to learn more about other cultures, countries’ histories, and faith traditions in order to understand today’s world.

If I truly believe that, it will change how I interact with others…with how I live…with policies I support. And I have to decide to make that a priority in my life.

But if I am truly going to follow the One whose name I claim, I cannot do anything else.

Hope is the thing with feathers…

This is one of my favorite of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sometimes recently it’s been difficult to have hope. I turn on the news…and hear yet more lies…more insults and name-calling…more negating the humanity of those who are “other”…and it is deadening to the soul.

I find myself wondering what I can do. I am only one person–a not very significant person in the political world–and so what power do I have? But then I am reminded of the comment attributed to Margaret Mead that a small group of committed citizens is the only thing that can change the world…and I know there are others out there who feel the same way I do. We just need to find each other and work together…

In her poem, Dickinson didn’t say that hope would just be around when the going was easy. It sings sweetest in the storms–and I believe we are in the middle of tremendous storms in the world right now.

So hope keeps showing up.

It shows up when I am reminded of Anne Frank’s belief in the innate goodness of people…a belief that in some ways seems naïve, given what happened to Anne and her family. But it’s the only way to keep going.

It shows up when I am reminded of comments like this from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”

It shows up when I remember Mother Teresa saying “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”…and a saying attributed to her: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

And most of all, hope shows up to remind me of what Jesus said in Matthew 25…that when we give a cup of water…visit the sick and prisoner…clothe the naked…welcome the stranger…we are doing it to him.

So…I am one person. But I will continue to do what I can…and bring hope to those who wonder if there is any reason for hope.

Yes, we are in a storm–but the bird of hope still sings as long as there are those of us who are listening to our souls.

Being prophetic is hard!

I’ve been thinking about the biblical prophets recently…and am discovering I have a lot of sympathy for them!

They were rarely liked–or believed–while they were alive, although we now tend to honor them (mostly…although I’m not sure how often we really read them).

Just think about what they did…

They challenged those who were in power…telling hard and inconvenient truths that those folks didn’t want to hear.

They called people to repent for behaviors they liked doing…and had to put up with people saying things like “Who do you think you are, telling me what to do??”

They sometimes spent days (or even years) in the same smelly clothes…definitely not wearing what the “in” crowd wore!

Although their main focus was not on foretelling the future, they warned people of problems that would be coming if they didn’t change their ways.

No, it wasn’t any fun being prophetic.

It still isn’t.

In my faith tradition, we believe that God continues to speak to us as a body through our leader. Among the things that we have accepted as scripture are these, given to the church in 2007:

God is calling for a prophetic community to emerge, drawn from the nations of the world, that is characterized by uncommon devotion to the compassion and peace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Among other challenges in that same scripture are these statements:

…Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God….

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.

These are not comfortable statements…but they are prophetic. And…like the biblical  be prophets, if we choose to really live them, we will find ourselves uncomfortable in the world around us. We will not be liked…we will not fit in…but we will be doing our part to plant the seeds of a better world.