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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

It was basic developmental theory that first introduced me to the significance of the mirror. As a college senior, I first read about Jaques Lacan, who first identified the mirror stage of development. He observed that as an infant develops her awareness of the outside world, she begins to identify with the images around her, eventually discovering that she is also human and therefore capable of doing the things she has witnessed. In other words, she gained self-awareness through observing and identifying with other people. Ever since I learned this in college, I have firmly believed we are all mirrors for one another.

Later in my adult life, a friend taught me a great spiritual truth: If something about someone else bothers me, that is because I’m bothered by the same trait in myself. Now, this should have been easy to swallow since I already had such a fondness for Lacan’s mirror theory. But even now, over ten years later, I still struggle to be honest about the reflections I see. It would be so much easier to just write you off as annoying or stupid or (fill in the blank). But instead I am now faced with the fact that if you’re annoying me, then I’m probably quite annoying to someone else as well.

When I allow myself to become aware of the reflective quality of my relationships, then I have a choice. I can constantly try to alter the mirror so that I can become comfortable with the image I’m seeing. Or, I can use the opportunity to see if anything in my own life is flawed. Think about it. When I look into a glass mirror, I’m checking to see if I look presentable enough to go out the front door and face the world. Any hairs out of place? Anything stuck in my teeth? I use the tools at my disposal to correct any blemishes, and then I can start my day with some measure of confidence.

And so when I look into a human mirror, I should logically do the same thing. When I look at you, what do I see? Am I overcome by love and appreciation for the many talents and gifts that you have to share with the world? Or do I sneer and snicker in disgust at the wide array of bad habits and character defects you possess? More often than I want to admit, the answer is the latter. And to follow suit, more often than I even know it, as soon as I see the flaw I’m trying to figure out how to fix you, how to counsel you, how to manipulate and manage you until you just start acting right, dang it!

It’s time for us all to stop polishing the mirror and start paying attention to what we see. If I could look at you and simply see beauty and grace, then I wouldn’t be going around trying to fix all of your quirks. And if all I can see is your quirks, well…I’ve probably got more than a few of my own issues to work through.

If we are to truly adopt the Christian way of life, we must heed the words of our model for good behavior. After all, in the 7th chapter of Matthew Christ himself said it best:

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

Think I’m going to go see about my own log now. How about you?

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” When I think of all this I get down on my knees before the Father who has stamped his image on every race in heaven and on earth, and I beg him to give you, out of his glorious abundance, the power to win by his Spirit ruling your inner life. God grant that Christ, through your faith, might establish residence in your hearts. May love be your tap root and foundation. May you have the strength to grasp with all God’s people the width and length and height and depth of the love of Christ which surpasses all human understanding. Let God’s fullness fill you.”

Ephesians 3:14-19, Cotton Patch Version

Back in March, I was reading William Powers’ Twelve By Twelve and wrote a post called Sacrifice Your Birthright. Today I’ve been pondering again over my privilege as a white North American woman.

My thoughts rested on an experience from my college days, on a particular evening when I was waxing philosophical with a couple of friends. One was a young, naive white man who had come to college to find a wife. The other was my friend Kamran, whose parents had moved to the U.S. from Iran when he was a small child so his father could pursue a career as a doctor. The conversation bounced all over the map, until we began talking about our grade school days. All three of us had experienced some relentless teasing and physical bullying. During Kamran’s turn to tell his story, our other friend nodded vigorously and proclaimed over and over again, “Yeah, man. I know what you mean!” I could tell that Kamran was frustrated, but was a bit taken aback when he suddenly insisted, “No, no you don’t!”

He went on. “You’ll never know what that felt like, because you’re white! My family came over here with money, education, status. But I’m still treated like I might be carrying a bomb in my jacket, just because of how I look. You’ll never know what that’s like, because you blend in with all of them.”

Now, this happened back in 1997, so I’m paraphrasing Kamran’s response. But the gist of his message has stayed with me ever since that night. Because I’m white, I don’t and never will experience discrimination in the same way as a person of color. Even when I traveled to Honduras with Habitat for Humanity that same winter, and we were refused service at a gas station because our bus was full of gringos. Even when I was touring Spain in 1999, and there was anti-American graffiti because of some international situation that was upsetting folks that particular year, and some people sneered and swore at me in the streets. Even when I had dreadlocks in my hair and the airport security searched my bag for drug paraphernalia (I have never been searched before or since). Even when I took my daughter to a birthday party here in southern Georgia, and we were the only white people there, and I awkwardly made conversation and tried to help with the food preparations, making all the wrong moves.

Because in Honduras, we simply went to the next gas station and got served. In Spain, most of the people left us alone. A few months after my flight, I cut off my dreadlocks. And after the birthday party, I shook off the awkward feeling and went back out into the world where I am part of a white majority. In other words, I always had a relatively simple way out of an uncomfortable situation.

In 2002 Kamran took a winding road trip that encompassed all 49 states on the continent. During the trip, he crossed the Canadian border so he could visit Alaska. He was heavily searched during both crossings, with little or no explanation. He was even forced to use a crow bar to pry open his glove compartment, which had jammed shut years before, simply because he looks like he’s from the Middle East. When he told me about the experience, he tried to laugh it off, but he was angry and hurt by the discrimination levered against him.

I recently heard a white man say to a black friend, “When I was in Africa, the only white man in the village, I finally understood what segregation must have been like.” I wanted to jump out of my seat, to yell and scream, “No, no you don’t!” Because in Africa, white people are not forced to use separate bathrooms from the Africans. They are not forced into slavery, treated like second-class citizens, jailed for no apparent reason beyond the color of their skin, shoved into corners and forgotten about, dying nameless deaths. No, in Africa, this particular white man went on to say, he was frowned at until he smiled and waved, and then the villagers waved back. The kids were curious about his hairy arms and pale skin. He did some good deeds, and a week later he was back home. That’s all. His experience simply gave him a two-dimensional snapshot, a mere glimpse of a fragment of a moment in time, compared to the agony that black Americans have been through in the last 200 years.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow the truth of racial discrimination as it exists in our world today. In the past I’ve tried to argue that all prejudice is the same, but now I’m not so sure. Because these wrongs have been passed down through generations, and we cannot hope to right all the wrongs of slavery and genocide, of racial profiling and workplace discrimination. A few friendships across racial lines cannot heal enough wounds to bring reconciliation between people whose families and cultures have suffered under injustice for centuries. In short, it would take a miracle to bring about that sort of peace.

The truth as it stands for me is that I need to continue sacrificing my birthright. I need to listen to others’ stories, and recognize that though I can empathize, I’m a long way from knowing what it is to be in someone else’s shoes. That goes for my friends who are black, Latino, Arab, Asian, or even white for that matter. And when I admit what I don’t understand, that’s when God can step in and show me that the miracle of peace was completed over 2000 years ago, and that it continues to unfold before me every day, if I’d only take the time to listen to his word.

I’ll leave you with the text from another chapter in Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version of Ephesians. Translated into the dialect of southern Georgia in the 1950’s (where black and white churches had replaced Jews and Gentiles) Clarence said of his volumes, “If this humble work may be used of God to enlarge and strengthen the faith of others in his Son Jesus Christ, then indeed my joy will be full.”

Ephesians 2 CPV

1.         In days gone by you all were living in your sin and filth like a bunch of stinking corpses, giving your allegiance to material things and ruled by the power of custom. You can still see this spirit working now in the lives of those who won’t listen. In fact, at one time or another all of us were following our selfish inclinations and doing just as we pretty well pleased, because we were naturally just as big scoundrels as everybody else. But even though we were a bunch of corpses rotting in our mess, God in his overflowing sympathy and great love breathed the same new life into us as into Christ. (You have been rescued, I remind you, by divine intervention.) With Christ Jesus he resurrected us and elevated us to the spiritual household. This clearly demonstrates forever the untold richness of his favor which he so kindly bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. So again I remind you, you have been rescued by his kind action alone, channeled through your faith. You didn’t get this on your own; it was God’s free gift. So nobody can brag that he himself achieved it. For we are his doing, made for the good deeds which God intended all along for us as Christians to practice.

11.         So then, always remember that previously you Negroes,who sometimes are even called “niggers” by thoughtless white church members, were at one time outside the Christian fellowship, denied your rights as fellow believers, and treated as though the gospel didn’t apply to you, hopeless and God-forsaken in the eyes of the world. Now, however, because of Christ’s supreme sacrifice, you who once were so segregated are warmly welcomed into the Christian fellowship.

14.         He himself is our peace. It was he who integrated us and abolished the segregation patterns which caused so much hostility. He allowed no silly traditions and customs in his fellowship, so that in it he might integrate the two into one new body. In this way he healed the hurt, and by his sacrifice on the cross he joined together both sides into one body for God. In it the hostility no longer exists.

17.         When he came, he preached the same message of peace to those on both the inside and outside. In him we both found a common spiritual approach to the Father. So then, you are no longer segregated and pushed around, but you are fellow citizens with all Christians and respected members of God’s family. This is based on the unshakable foundation Jesus himself laid down through the apostles and other men of God, with Christ being the cornerstone. Around him all the rest of the building is fitted together into a dedicated temple of the Lord. And you all are a vital part of God’s spiritual dwelling place.

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Hello my friends.

I’m excited to share with you that I have started a new blog! The intention is for Brendan and I to write together about our journey into the ideas of permaculture design, and to keep you posted on all the amazing projects going on at Koinonia Farm. The blog is titled Father God, Mother Earth. Creation care is central to our faith. The way Christianity’s creation story explains the birth of the first humans, God the father joined with Earth the mother, and we are the result.

This new project seeks to open up dialogue in the Christian community about topics like permaculture, holistic management, intentional community, and so much more. Also, we hope to delve into discussions about spirituality and faith with people from the sustainable farming movement who practice other religions, or who have no particular faith at all.

I just added our first post, so click on over and let us know what you think!

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We are into the wilds of summer, the days when everything has grown impossibly tall, when the morning glories are attempting to blanket the garden no matter how far below average the rainfall total has been. The days when the chickens start disappearing in the night, as darkness falls sooner and predators lurk longer. The days when temperatures never fall below 75 degrees, and the air clings to sweat-damp clothes which cling to skin, leaving no protection from the swarming mosquitoes.

August is always the hardest month for me here in the south. It seems that all these relentless forces will never let up. Sometimes I think the soil itself is going to start creeping up over our houses, turning every bit of organic matter into compost so the weeds can have their way. The synthetic parts will be left for the roaches to inhabit. I fall into days or even weeks of depression. I don’t feel like talking much (which is not normal for me, an extreme extrovert who usually needs to process my thoughts aloud), except for when I’m yelling at my kids or nagging my husband.

This year is no different, at least not circumstantially. The weeds are plotting their coup of the garden, rain has been scarce, chickens and turkeys have been mauled, heat has been relentless, dirt clings to every surface, bugs are taking up residence in my kitchen, and I haven’t exactly been a happy camper. What is different, though, is my response to all of these forces.

I’m preparing to facilitate a study session on Nonviolent Communication (NVC). During my review this morning, I was reminded of the true meaning of responsibility: it literally means to be able to respond. So when I take responsibility for a situation or circumstance, it more or less means I think I’m able to do something about it.

Last weekend I attended a retreat on co-dependence at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. It was titled “Jesus was not co-dependent, are you?” We were given a copy of the serenity prayer at our first session:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I am not able to change other people. I am not able to change God. I cannot control the bugs, weeds, dirt and temperatures, no matter how hard I might try. I am responsible for me, and only me. Everything else comes after that. This might sound selfish. But for a co-dependent alcoholic like me it means the difference between a relatively peaceful existence and a life lived in hell. On my good days I choose to follow the wisdom of the prayer, and on my bad days, well…

So what makes this summer different? In learning about my responsibilities, I’m starting to place self-care at the top of my list of things to do every day. I’m following Jesus’ instructions from Matthew 5:37, which reads, “Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” I make sure I mean it when I say “yes”, and I allow myself the space to say “no”. In the past I spent much of my “free time” thinking about what others must think or what I needed to do to get others to act right. But now I’m paying more attention to what I think, and whether or not I’m acting right.

Many factors have led to this critical shift in my thinking and behavior, but two stand out of late. The first happened about a month ago when I found a copy of Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic at the local Salvation Army. Not only has this book helped me to take a different approach to these heightened qualities that my children have possessed from birth; it also showed me that I’m a spirited adult. This realization has taught me to give myself some grace, as I recognize that I was born with my temperament and there are positive solutions to character traits that I used to despise. Once I allow myself room to be who God created me to be, I am able to do the same for the other people in my life.

The second was the deep silence I experienced during my time at the monastery. Before I left, I felt a bit of anxiety about the idea of so many hours a day in silence. As an extrovert, I need conversation and interaction to recharge my energy levels. I feared I would return to Koinonia more exhausted than when I left.

The first night was pretty strange, but I did enjoy my silent dinner. I watched a steady rainfall in the garden through the patio doors, and I was grateful to be anonymous in the room full of strangers. I wondered why it was always so important for me to make myself known everywhere I go, and over the course of the weekend I was able to renounce the ego boost I get from telling my life story. My life is not my own, and the story is best when I use it according to God’s will instead of attempting to impress others.

The discipline of the monks floored me. They spend 6-7 hours a day in prayer, gathering 5 times every day in the abbey church for communal prayer and spending 2-3 hours in silent, solitary contemplation. They practice a “grand silence” from 8pm to 8am, other than morning vigils from 4-5am and mass from 7-8am. They eat their meals together in silence, listening to readings of scripture and theological or contemplative texts. They also work, earning their living by the sweat of their brow.

But the discipline alone was not enough. During the retreat sessions, I was gifted by the stories of Br. Michael, who has been a monk for 14 years. Before I left on Monday morning he made time to talk with me specifically about our experiences of life in community. Needless to say, it was such a great relief to hear that even with all their years of  practice and commitment, the monks live through the same issues we face during these years of rebuilding community at Koinonia.

I was surprised to find that I wasn’t quite ready to leave the silence at the end of my three-day sojourn. Looking back, I can see that my anxiety before the retreat was based in the fear of what I might discover in silence. What I found was nothing fearful, rather a simple reverence for God’s presence in the mundane events of my life.

I plan to continue this practice of silence, and it’s going to take a lot of prayer and dedication to find quiet in the midst of my hectic communal family life. But I’m willing to do whatever it takes…even continuing to face the wilds of the Georgia summer, year after year…to remain in the presence of God.

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It’s been weeks since I last posted. Think I’ll re-enter the blogging world with some thought-provoking words written by someone else. Here’s one of last week’s readings from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. I’ve been reading this page a couple of times a day since Wednesday, referring to it as “Zen and the Art of Following Jesus”:

God’s purpose or mine?

“He made his disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side…” Mark 6:45

We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to him, he will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, his purpose for us may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but he is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, his purpose is for me to depend on him and on his power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish — His purpose is the process itself. What he desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walkig on the sea” (6:49). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God.

God’s training is for now, not later. His purpose is for this very minute, not for sometime in the futures. We have nothing to do with what will follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself.

God’s purpose is to enable me to see that he can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious.

May we invite God to be present in the storms, as well as on the sunny days. May we learn to depend on him now, always just now.

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Last night during worship at Koinonia we sang what is becoming one of my favorite songs, called Your Love is Strong. Some of the lyrics read:

The kingdom of the heavens
is now advancing
Invade my heart
Invade this broken town
The kingdom of the heavens
Is buried treasure
Will you sell yourself
To buy the one you’ve found?

As we sang, I was overcome with how deep the love of God is for me, and I wept with joy for the care that he has for my life and every single living being in this entire universe. If this is what it means to sell out, I wish I had done it long ago.

These lyrics explore a brief yet powerful parable from Jesus’ time on earth. Matthew 13:44-46 reads:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

Likely if we met a person doing the equivalent today, we would write him off as foolish and careless. What we forget is that storing up treasures in the kingdom of heaven is so different from earthly savings. I want to be foolish enough to give up everything I have, to sell it all for the pursuit of the Kingdom.

I’ve been reading daily from My Utmost for His Highest, and in today’s reading Oswald Chambers writes:

Eternal life has nothing to do with time. It is the life which Jesus lived when he was down here, and the only Source of life is the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the weakest saint can experience the power of the deity of the Son of God, when he is willing to “let go.” But any effort to “hang on” to the least bit of our own power will only diminish the life of Jesus in us. We have to keep letting go, and slowly, but surely, the great full life of God will invade us, penetrating every part. Then Jesus will have complete and effective dominion in us, and people will take notice that we have been with Him.

Again, here is the challenge to let go completely, to release everything I have and everything I am to the power of Christ and his infinite love. At first glance the parables of the buried treasure and the pearl seem to be about material goods. But it’s deeper than that. To experience heaven, I must release everything I know, everything I say and do, everything I think into God’s hands.

It’s here that I encounter another great paradox: God desires nothing more than to simply be with me, for me to come into his presence. He will pursue me literally to the gates of hell in order to bring me home with him. Yet, the kingdom of heaven is not about me; God is not pursuing me because of how wonderful and perfect I am. He is in hot pursuit of my brokenness and my sinful nature, begging and pleading with me to allow his spirit to work in my life and heal me. The love and grace of his healing become available to me when I let my guard down, when I’m willing to sell out, to give up even my most closely held ideals and values for the sake of the kingdom.

Sounds contrary to the culture in which I came of age, a culture that taught me lines like “I am woman, hear me roar.” A culture that taught me to fix my outsides and wait for my insides to come around. A culture that taught me to pick my ideals, carry them in my pocket, and never settle for anything less. But the problem is, when I rely on my personal power and my human understanding of these ideals, I sell myself far short of the glory that God’s plan holds for me. I’d rather sell out to the Kingdom of Heaven than sell myself short for a few hours of earthly glory. So today, I leave my broken spirit in the hands of the Lord, ruins to be invaded, plundered by his agents of love and grace.

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There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.
–Philippians 1:29

You know how it is when someone says something to you that you already know, but you’ve never heard it put quite that way? That’s how I felt when I was reading Philippians earlier tonight. I’ve been mulling this over for quite some time now. The call to suffering as a Christian is an idea that always bothered me before, but as I see it come to fruition I’m coming to accept it as part of God’s grace.

As an alcoholic, suffering is something I’m not fond of. A friend of mine used to say that, for an alcoholic, the antidote to a bad feeling is a good feeling. I have an innate need to replace discomfort with something that seems more comfortable. My response to suffering used to be a nice stiff drink. Now I indulge in all sorts of other things to escape dealing with my problems: work, obsessive cleaning, computer games, shopping…but at some point I realize that none of these things is going to take the sting away and so I’m learning a new set of responses.

On Monday last week I wanted to complain all day long. Everyone was doing everything wrong! I was preparing the community lunch with a couple of brand new visitors as helpers. Wouldn’t it have been a tremendous orientation to life in community if I had complained about the other Koinonians all morning long? By God’s grace, not a single complaint made its way from my brain to my lips. Each time I wanted to complain, I prayed instead. I gave the issue over to Jesus, let him have the whole mess, and I went about my business with as much joy as I could muster.

I’d like to say that my week got much better because of that experience. But the truth is that I stayed grumpy all week long. My head was filled with self-righteous, judgmental thoughts. And I didn’t always manage to exercise as much restraint as I did that Monday morning.

For the past six months or so I’ve felt drawn to the story of Job. He suffered terribly, but always turned to the Lord for solutions. Even when others attacked his faith, he returned to God with his complaints.

Did you know that God actually longs for us to bring our complaints to him? I always think I need to figure it out on my own, then just run things by him in a quick prayer so that my brilliant plans can be verified. But Philippians 1:29 tells me that the world will not always think I’m brilliant. In fact, the people of the world are going to persecute me, and they’ll do it even more so when I declare that I’m living for Jesus. The persecution will be so great that at some times I won’t be able to figure out a solution.

And so here is where the gift comes in: in those times when I have nothing left, when everything I do turns out to be one big disappointment after another, in order for the spirit to survive in me I must rely on God. I must leave all my troubles at the foot of the cross, and when I release it all to Jesus’ grace, I can receive the gift of salvation. Here and now, he rescues me from the troubles of this world, and I can live in peace.

Even as I write this, I wonder if I’m completely losing my mind…but it’s true and so I’ll say it. Bring on the suffering, Lord! I will endure as much as you want me to have, because I’m not alone and I’m not afraid.

The suffering in my life may not sound like such a big deal: People blame me for all sorts of things that aren’t actually my fault. Others expect too much of me. I expect too much of myself. I don’t get to see my kids enough and when I finally make time for us to be together they do nothing but whine and fight with me and each other. My husband vents his frustrations on me instead of going to the people he needs to talk with. I am a work coordinator here at Koinonia, and the people I work with refuse or forget to do what I ask.

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