Recently, a friend mentioned that we were NOT necessarily living in unprecedented times, because every generation believed its times were without comparison: WWI, The Great Depression, WWII, the Vietnam era, etc. He said that this meant our period of history is just like any other of past generations. I concede that this may be true for past generations, but for this current generation, the times we are living are unparalleled! Which brings me to my point: You really need to give yourself a Break!
We are often our own worse critics and if there is one thing we have learned over these past 6 months, it is that the way we live our lives now should be a marathon and NOT a sprint. Nevertheless, we are often highly self-critical for the things we are not doing or being instead of honoring and loving who we are as we are. I mean, that is how Jesus loves us. So, instead of criticizing ourselves for not physically feeling in tip-top shape, not wanting to be with the family this evening, not wanting to make dinner, or help with homework, or whatever else you might not want to do—stop beating yourself up about it.
Give yourself the Grace of God to either DO it or DON’T do, because the choice is yours. You have the freedom to choose what is for your highest good; yes, you do. Self-criticism is definitely not for your highest good. If GOD does not criticize you, why do you criticize yourself? Are you somehow bigger and know more about yourself than GOD? Read Psalm 139. It might be an eye-opener. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself a break!
Let’s face it. We are ALL in the midst of grieving and mourning life as we have known or lived it these so many years. For those who are grieving personal losses, the loss of so much weight is even harder to bear. We have lost nearly 200,000 fellow American citizens from COVID 19 to date and this alone is cause for the blanket of sorrow that covers us as a nation. Recall the theory of six degrees of separation? We are all in this thing together so whatever affects one affects all. It is okay for you to feel sad or down sometimes; it is even okay to search diligently for that one ray of HOPE somewhere.
Give yourself a break and stop pretending that we have experienced this life we are living before; that you can just shake it off and move on. No one expects you to. Each one of us is feeling our way into a new way of be-ing.
During this huge paradigm shift, it is okay to JUST BREATHE. Sign up for a new breathing session with my colleague, Maria Cristina+ and learn how to love yourself…down to every inhalation and exhalation of your being. Remember we are in a marathon and not a relay. Slowing down and breathing deeply reconnects us with the ebb and flow of the rest of Creation. It is a wonderful way to give yourself a break.
Finally, “where are you GOD in all of this?” Where is your HIGHER POWER? Stop beating yourself up, get quiet, and listen. Speak gently to yourself, love yourself, do what gives you joy, be grateful, and then you will know Peace. You are not being selfish because you are allowing GOD to love on you through you. Ask God for the grace to receive the Love being poured out every minute. Do enough of these things and you might discover a delightful surprise. Emmanuel!!!
Holding you in LIGHT & LOVE,
Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day? Bill Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who is dispatched every year to Punxsutawney, PA, to cover the festivities of February 2, when Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, is awakened from his slumbers and studied to discover if he will see his shadow. If he does, the story goes, we will have another six weeks of winter—which we usually do. There are costumed locals, high school bands, a sometimes rather fierce “rodent” as Phil calls him, and all of us are expected to play along with the silliness. Phil the weatherman thinks it is beneath him.
At 6 a.m. in his bed and breakfast, Phil’s alarm wakes him with the song “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. He goes through a series of experiences as the day unfolds—an old classmate tries to sell him insurance, he steps in an icy puddle, he does a stand-up routine in front of the groundhog—and lobs a running patter of insults at his crew and TV viewers. Phil holds everyone in contempt it seems, including himself, and all he wants to do is get out of town. He almost does, but then the clock goes off at the same time, with the same song, and Phil repeats his miserable day—again and again and again. It slowly dawns on Phil that his day will be the same unless he changes.
Three times this week someone has told me they feel like they are stuck in the same script. Without the usual mileposts of time away from work, or a shift in activities or church services, or going back to school buildings instead of just lining up your pencils at the dining room table, it can feel like every day is the same. “I am thankful for my health,” said one old friend, “but I really don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Sunday, and I feel lost. How do you remember where you are and what’s important?” he asked me.
We talked about getting unstuck in Bible Study yesterday and the ritual work of remembering. “The oldest religious act is to remember,” I offered. A remnant of people have returned to Jerusalem after the Exile, in the book Nehemiah. With a strong, truth-telling leader, who doesn’t mince words about the challenges they face, who helps the people discover resources they didn’t know they had, who empathizes with their pain and inspires them to common purpose, together they repair their city and themselves. The physical work is just the beginning, however. As the construction vehicles back out beeping, the people gather to tell the story of their country’s founding, to remember who they are as they begin again, to measure its success and hold themselves accountable for its sorrow. Imagine their courage: they do the hard, essential work of recalling their whole history—not only the glorious deeds, soaring rhetoric, and inspired laws that changed the course of human civilization, but also the ways they have missed the mark, most searingly the times when a privileged few hoarded power and wealth to themselves, at the expense of the many. Remembering in this way is sacred work, I believe, because it roots us in the world as it is and in how it should be, a world we can rebuild with God’s help.
Imagine communities in our country doing the same work today, every year circling up in a kind of prayer to remember our whole American story—glorious deeds, soaring rhetoric, inspiring laws along with our transgressions and violence, when we did not live up to the vision to be one people, alike in dignity and equal before the law. Maybe we can begin the tradition this November, on the Sunday before election day, weaving the fabric of our service out of the many American voices, to tell the story of how we’ve come to be, to confess how far we still have to go, to remember our hope. Send me an email, if you want to take part.
In the movie, Phil finally has the courage to look at who he really is, to discover that he cares about someone, and to act in a way to deserve her love. He is still Phil—“not a different Phil, but a better Phil” (Roger Ebert)—still a mixed bag of strength and struggle, but maybe that’s the point. He escapes Groundhog Day by being the best person he knows how to be.
The Spirit’s voice of truth is healing and courageous, always drawing us to remember who we are even during this wretched pandemic, calling us to be the people that our country and our city and our families need us to be.
“The glory of God is the human person, fully alive.” This quote is from St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a second century theologian, born in Asia Minor. Among other things, Irenaeus went on to be the bishop of Lyons, in Gaul. Christianity was still spreading and defining itself at the time: What did it mean to be Christian? What beliefs fell under the umbrella of Christianity? Which ideas were considered orthodox and which were not?
Some of the competing ideas that Irenaeus encountered were from different Gnostic sects, whose dualistic understanding of matter and spirit challenged Christian understandings of the incarnation and creation. In the Gnostic imagination, the material world (creation) and the divine world (God) did not interact. Because the material world was corrupt, the two were separate. In his writings against these ideas, Irenaeus affirmed that the God of creation is also the God of salvation: that God touches both matter and spirit, and that there is nothing inherently corrupt in creation. It is through the distortion of sin that humanity is separated from God, and it is through obedience to Christ that we are ultimately redeemed.
I say all of this because I think that Irenaeus’ declaration that “the glory of God is the human person, fully alive” is still pretty revolutionary. When we live our full lives, when we are known and loved as our full selves, we give glory to God. (Living into the fullness of life is different than achieving some kind of perfection. Sometimes, and maybe you’ve experienced this, too, I spend more time trying to get things just right than I do living them out; I get stuck in the boundaries I’ve constructed in my mind. It makes sense: our world and culture compel us to be and act in certain ways. When we don’t fill the world’s expectations, we can feel shame. Irenaeus’s words are a reminder that what God wants for us is to be fully alive, not to live perfectly or into the world’s expectations.)
And God wants that fullness of life for all people. This weekend, I attended a Black Lives Matter rally at the corner of N. Charles and Northern Parkway, just down the block from Redeemer. We lined the corners and held signs as cars drove past. In affirming that Black lives matter, we were upholding some of the essence of what Irenaeus thought: we were affirming that Black lives are worthy of being fully lived, that they reveal the glory of God. They are, and they do. And it is part of our baptismal call to ensure that all people – especially people whom society and the world reject, like the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed – are able to live full lives.
Addressing racism in myself and in the world around me is one way I strive to live out my baptismal covenant. When we are baptized we are asked to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, to break bread and pray; to resist evil and repent when we fall into it; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being, all with God’s help. (Which is good – because we can’t do this alone and we won’t always get it right.) When we are baptized, we join God’s family, with these responsibilities to and expectations of our shared life in Christ.
For me, living out the responsibilities and expectations that are placed on me by my faith, rather than the world, is part of how I am fully alive. And my life, and its fullness, is bound up with everyone else’s. May we each seek to be fully alive, in all that we do, and may we seek that fullness of life for the whole world.
P.S. Sometime, when I see you in person, I’ll try and sing the song I learned for this Irenaeus quote! It’s fun.
As a child, my family and I used to spend a week every summer at Bethany Beach in Delaware. When the day came for us to leave, I would linger on the back patio and stare at the ocean and beach, trying to absorb every last drop of sight and sound to take back with me. I hated leaving.
This past month for almost 2 weeks, David, Grace, Ben and I returned to Southport, ME, where for the last two summers, I’ve been invited to serve as a guest preacher for All-Saints-by-the-Sea. Unlike last summer, our trip this go-round included the four of us getting our COVID swab tests at a nearby community clinic and self-isolating until we were cleared; wearing our facemasks wherever we went; and preaching to a video camera, instead of the summer congregation, to be included in the worship video.
Once strange and foreign concepts — nasal swab testing?! facemasks?! preaching to a video camera?! — these have now become all too familiar in our COVID world. Yet amidst this ongoing strangeness, there was the familiar rising and falling of the tide, the sound of seagulls flying overhead, the smell of saltwater in the air. And when the day came for the four of us to leave, I found my eyes lingering on the ocean once again, just as in my childhood, not wanting to leave … the waves … that sound … that air …
I wonder, what it is about being by the ocean, that is so life-giving and healing? I’d love to hear from you, your own thoughts, if you find this to be true, for yourself. For me, it has something to do with touching timelessness. Something to do with the saltwater that runs in my own blood — a certain kinship, if you will. Something to do with the same feeling I get when I look up into the night sky and am able to see the stars. Time by the ocean gives me sense that — whatever is going on in my life and in our world, today — there is something More … something greater, wiser and bigger, that has Seen it All … lived through it and despite it, All … that holds us All …
May the God who created earth, wind and waters; sun, moon and stars; who breathes us into being each and every day of our lives; and to whom our last breath will return … May this same God remind us and inspire us that whatever hardships or challenges face us today, we are not alone. May we be open to the ways in which God works Her healing power in and through us, every day, and be encouraged to make the most of the precious time here on earth that we have been given.
Even as I write this, I am aware of the destruction and fear that ocean and wind can wreak, as well, and ask for your prayers for all those whose lives are being impacted by the latest hurricane to hit our country’s shores.
How does a collection of houses and the intersection of a few streets become a neighborhood?
Around the corner from our house, on Lombard Street, a number of homemade signs have appeared on two front doors. At first they spoke vaguely about clean sidewalks and parking: “Please use the city approved garbage cans. Pickup is on Tuesday—please don’t put out garbage on other days. Use the alley instead of the street to keep the sidewalk clear.” I didn’t think much about them until I learned that the signs were placed by a disgruntled “neighbor” on someone else’s house. Really?! Now that person has put up her own signs: “We are in a pandemic! Please use your time and energy on something productive. Instead of complaining, take up a hobby.” And then this: “You don’t care about trash. You care about race. Black lives matter.” It’s messy and personal and honest and strangely hopeful at once—hard to read it on posters that everyone can see, but reflective of the big issues and nitty gritty behaviors that build community or tear it down. Other people on the street are reaching out to see how they might help, and I hear folks wondering about long-term pain and common values and how to be a neighbor. “Both houses are hurting,” is how one person described it at a neighborhood meeting.
A young lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and true to form, the Teacher has the interlocutor answer his own question. “What is written in the law,” Jesus asks him, “How do you read it?” And the fellow says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “You’ve got it right,” Jesus says. “Do this, and you will live.” But because the narrator has framed their conversation as a “test,” the lawyer usually gets a bad rap—he is more interested in receiving a favorable judgment for himself and his case than knowing the truth, readers argue, or he wants to expose Jesus in some way or trip him up, others suggest. I don’t think so. Their criticism of the man is grounded in the next line of the story: He asks who is my neighbor “in order to justify himself.” Readers of the English translation stumble at his seeming desire for a way out, a workaround that lets him quibble with the definition of “neighbor”—after all, the naughty schoolboy or corporate executive seeks to “justify” his actions when he knows he has done something that doesn’t measure up. But the primary definition of the Greek word is about how to be made righteous, not how to appear good or be considered righteous by someone else. The lawyer actually asks, “So that I can become the person I ought to be, who is my neighbor?”
Jesus’s parable calls us to show mercy to the man “in the ditch” on the road to Jericho, which seems like an obvious point until one realizes who helps whom in the story. The religious leaders hurry by, so caught up in their systems of righteousness that they neglect to do the right thing. (The young lawyer inside each of us is starting to squirm now.) The man who does stop to help the injured fellow is a Samaritan, part of a tribe of people who have been marginalized and made to feel less than. (Now the reader is shocked. “I don’t want a ‘Samaritan’ to offer me assistance! Maybe I can stretch to help ‘those people,’ but how in the world could someone like that help me?”) Who is your neighbor?
Is it any accident that it is a wounded person sees the other person’s wounds, and responds in Jesus’s vision? Both houses are hurting, right? And of course the folks who walk by in the story without helping are hurting, too, but something keeps them from acknowledging long-term pain and common cause. The picture the parable paints is this: the practice of vulnerability is what gives rise to mercy. The ways we are wounded is our access to compassion.
And the story calls us to not settle for systems that perpetuate some folks spending their lives in the ditch or being beset by one kind of robber or another. Fifty years ago Martin Luther King asked us not to settle for offering mercy, but to reimagine and rebuild the Jericho road itself. In a conversation with Andre Young, King said: “I am tired of picking up people along the Jericho Road. I am tired of seeing people battered and bruised and bloody, injured and jumped on, along the Jericho Roads of life. This road is dangerous. I don’t want to pick up anyone else, along this Jericho Road; I want to fix… the Jericho Road. I want to pave the Jericho Road, add street lights to the Jericho Road; make the Jericho Road safe (for passage) by everybody….”
How does a collection of houses and the intersection of streets become a neighborhood? Will you help me build it?