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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

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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Matthew 25:1-13
1  “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, 4 but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. 5 When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’
7 “All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’
9 “But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. 11 Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’
12 “But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’
13 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.

This is a much-debated parable, and so it is important to consider all the information very carefully. In our interpretation of scripture, in particular parables, we tend to be either literal or symbolic; but we can’t lean too heavily on either approach, or we will miss the point altogether.

First, let’s identify the symbols in this parable: the bridegroom, bridesmaids, wedding feast, and lamp oil. Most interpretations say this parable is about the end times, when Christ (the bridegroom) is meant to return for his bride, the church. In that case the oil would represent our faith and the way we live our lives, and the feast would represent life after death, with some being allowed in and others being excluded.

However, if we pay close attention to the first line, the insights will change, for it does not say “the kingdom is like a wedding feast.” It says this: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” In many translations the word “virgins” is used in place of bridesmaids…and in our modern context it’s difficult to make sense of why these unwed women would be waiting for the groom on his wedding night. Perplexing as usual, although I think one thing is certain…Jesus is telling us to be ready when the party begins.

In order to understand this story more fully, let’s examine Jewish wedding custom in Biblical times. The explanation below is a paraphrase of information found on biblestudymanuals.net. It’s a bit lengthy, but worth knowing about in order to fully understand what’s going on in this parable:

The first major step in a Jewish marriage was betrothal, which involved the establishment of a marriage covenant between the prospective husband and the bride’s father. They would negotiate to determine the price that the bridegroom must pay to purchase his bride. Once the price was paid, the marriage covenant was established and the man and woman were regarded to be husband and wife.

After the marriage covenant had been established, the groom would leave the home of the bride and return to his father’s house. There he would remain separate from his bride for a period of twelve months.

This period of separation afforded the bride time to gather her possessions and prepare for married life. The groom occupied himself with preparing a living space in his father’s house to which he could bring his bride. At the end of the period of separation the groom would come to take his bride to live with him. The taking of the bride usually occurred at night. The groom, best man and other male escorts would leave the groom’s father’s house and conduct a torch light procession to the home of the bride.

Although the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she did not know the exact time of his coming. As a result the groom’s arrival would be preceded by a shout, which would forewarn the bride to be prepared for the arrival of her groom. After the groom received his bride together with her female attendants, the enlarged wedding party would return to the groom’s father’s house. The wedding guests would already be assembled there. Shortly after arrival the bride and groom would be escorted by the other members of the wedding party to the bridal chamber.

While the groomsmen and bridesmaids waited outside, the bride and groom would enter the bridal chamber alone to privately engage in physical union for the first time, thereby consummating the marriage that had been covenanted a year earlier. The groom would emerge from their new home to announce the consummation to the groomsmen and bridesmaids waiting outside the chamber. These people would pass on the news of the marital union to the wedding guests. Upon receiving this good news the wedding guests would feast and make merry for the next seven days.

And so returning to the first line of the parable: “The Kingdom of Heaven will be like…” Notice this doesn’t say anything about a split kingdom, where some of the bridesmaids are in and some are out. The kingdom is made up of those whose job it is to invite everyone to the wedding feast. And as the kingdom comes to earth, there will be those who are prepared for this role and those who are not. In Jesus’ time, some of the listeners (the Sadducees and Pharisees) were not realizing that he was the Messiah. The bridegroom had come to sit in their midst, the consummation had already taken place, they were the ones responsible for letting everyone know…and they were complaining that the party hadn’t started. They had no oil in their lamps, no recognition of the spirit…and so they fretted and got bored, grumbled and then rushed about, but wound up realizing what was going on too late to join the celebration.

This wedding feast is no spontaneous gathering; the village would have been preparing for a wedding ceremony a year in advance. To then miss out because they were not ready for the moment they had awaited for so long…foolish is the right word. So while the wise bridesmaids are lighting up the streets and proclaiming the marriage union to the entire village, the foolish bridesmaids are going to miss the whole party because they were preoccupied with the things of this world.

Let’s reconsider the symbols in this story. If we are the bridesmaids, then let’s say the lamp represents our hearts, and the oil represents the Holy Spirit who prepares us to receive Christ’s light. If we are not filled up with the Spirit, it’s easy to be consumed by the things of this world. When the divine party is about to start, we’ll be yawning and lazing about. We will have slacked off in our prayer and meditation times; and we will only notice that that our lamps are not ready as the party is about to begin. We go looking for oil at the wrong time and in the wrong place, and subsequently we find exactly what we had been seeking all along: separateness and lack.

But when we are wise, we have taken the time to prepare our hearts through prayer and meditation, spending time daily nurturing the spirit’s place in our lives. And when the moment finally comes, we are neither bored nor impatient. We have been waiting expectantly all along, and we are ready to proclaim the bridegroom’s news to all the invited guests.

“The kingdom of heaven will like…” So where is this kingdom that Jesus talks about so often? Is it somewhere beyond the horizon, only accessed after life on earth has come to an end? The answer is simple: Heaven is where God dwells. Through his spirit, God lives within our hearts; he exists in thoughts and in time, in all the space in our universe; in every aspect of creation; in the community of oneness, ushered in by Christ’s existence as a man; in the center of the cross, and all along its branching arms, connecting us to him and to one another. The only way to be excluded from the kingdom is when we close ourselves to God’s presence by allowing fear, doubt and self pity to overpower our God-consciousness. When we fill our hearts with shame and self-centered thinking, there is no room for the Spirit to dwell there, nothing to carry the flame of God’s light.

Let us always remember that the kingdom is not some far-off place, but is right here with us, and the celebration has already begun. And then let us share our light with the world, inviting the entire village to join in as we celebrate our unity in Christ.

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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.  Matthew 7:3-5

As we seek to demonstrate God’s kingdom here at Koinonia, we are all too often reminded of our human imperfections. And we can be all too eager to point out what’s wrong with a person’s behavior or a new idea before appreciating the good.

I’ve been in so many meetings that revolved around problems. Identifying the problem. Proposing solutions to the problem. Identifying problems with the proposed solutions…and onward until we can’t remember the original problem very well and we have several new issues branching off from there. And as the issues continue to branch out, we come up with an entire tree of “what’s wrong.” The thick foliage often shades out anything that has gone right, and suddenly we can’t see the glory of life’s forest for the row of seedling complaints we have lined up.

It seems so much easier to complain about things that don’t go right than to notice all the things that have worked out well. When we fall into a gripe session at my house, my husband and I call each other back by asking, “So what’s good?” This simple sentence helps us re-focus and stops the cycle of complaining dead in its tracks.

But here’s the tricky part: my definition of what’s good could be the opposite of what you think is good. In fact, I could have just been complaining about something that another Koinonian would name as their “good”, maybe even as their “best.” So how do we move forward without taking our diverse range of experiences and opinions and turning them into personal conflicts?

My mother comes to visit Koinonia often, and she’s very good at listening as I process all the happenings of the community. She too has a very subtle, effective way of telling me when I’m complaining and focused on the problem. She simply says, “Sounds like it’s time to work on your own log.” Not always what I want to hear, but it always calls me back to what I can change: my own thoughts and actions.

I have permaculture on the brain since participating as a student in our last Design Course, and a favorite permaculture axiom comes to mind: “The problem is the solution.” Notice it doesn’t say, “The problem will lead you to a solution.” The problem is the solution. Thinking this way leads me into a new appreciation of everything around me, and challenges me to spend more time in observation than in blindly trying to change the minds of others. With this outlook, even the log in my own eye becomes an asset, as I get the chance to learn and grow, then share my process with others when they are struggling with similar things.

What’s good at Koinonia? Everything. All the time. Because God is here among us, even when we can’t see the beautiful forest for all our trees full of complaints.

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My husband Brendan and I used to have our own business doing home remodeling. One day we were trying to come up with slogans to go on business cards, and we were discussing the quality of work that Brendan aspired to. He is attentive to detail, and would often go above and beyond the expectations of his clients. He said, with great gusto, “I like to go the extra inch!”

We had a great laugh over his mistake, but it’s got me thinking today. I just learned that the saying “Go the extra mile” originated from Jesus’ teachings:

If someone sues you for your shirt, give up your coat as well. If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, lend it to them.
Matthew 5:40-42

This concept is central to the practice of non-violence. What are we to do when treated unjustly? Jesus says we should give even more generously, and be even more willing to show compassion. It’s so counterintuitive to the way American culture teaches us to behave. We learn to demand our share, and then try to get a little extra if we can. We want our dollar’s worth. As I’ve mentioned before, we seem to think we are entitled to things that are actually privileges.

I was talking with my friend Matthew the other day about the idea of ownership and entitlement. Our conversation began simply. Both of us were thirsty, and we ran into each other getting a drink of water in the Koinonia dining hall. The dining hall is always open, and throughout the day and evening people stop in to grab a snack or get a cold drink of water. And of course, because we are humans with many different standards of cleanliness, far too often there is a mess left behind for people to clean up the next morning. And far too often dishes find a temporary location in someone’s home, or on a picnic table, or at the playground, or in the office…

So for about a month preceding the day that Matthew and I were quenching our afternoon thirst together, there have hardly been any large water glasses in the dining hall. We started out with two full trays of glasses, but it had dwindled to less than half of one tray of full-sized glasses. We have hundreds of coffee mugs and plenty of teeny 4-ounce cups, but who wants to sip ice water out of a coffee mug or a cup that’s too small even for my two-year-old? Anyways, Matthew and I stood there enjoying our ice water out of two of the tall glasses and I made a casual observation about the missing drinking receptacles.

We wound up talking for over an hour about all sorts of things, but what stands out for me is the conundrum of ownership. See, we are living in an intentional Christian community that embraces “radical sharing” and we strive for less private ownership of things like houses and cars. But sometimes this means that no one takes care of certain parts of the farm, that no one cleans up certain messes because, well, it’s not mine. And it’s not yours. I guess that would make it ours…sort of.

The dining hall scenario can serve as a metaphor for all the elements of our life together. We want the space to be inviting, for people to feel welcome to make themselves at home there. This means that food and water are available at any time of day. It also means that someone might venture in at midnight, retrieve a leftover bowl of soup and a glass of water, taking both the bowl and the glass back to his apartment.

Now, this person is not taking the bowl and glass as a deliberate attempt to prevent others the opportunity of eating from that bowl and drinking from that glass the next day when we gather for lunch. Likely he was hungry and tired and had every intention of returning the bowl and glass upon waking the next day. But let’s say he wakes up late for morning chapel, has to rush, and in his rush he neglects to return the bowl. Later that same day his roommate washes the bowl and glass and puts it in their kitchen cupboard. And there it stays, for days, weeks, maybe even months.

So you might be thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s only a crappy plastic bowl and a dollar-store tumbler. There are plenty of other bowls in the dining hall, right? And plenty of…oh wait, there really aren’t many glasses at all! How did that happen? Did someone come and take all of the glasses? Is there a stash of them in the garden, or hidden in a corner of the pecan plant? I know, it was old so-and-so, all the missing dishes must be at his house!!

Here’s what has really happened to all the glasses: It’s not any one person taking them. And it has nothing to do with malicious intent. Actually, they probably left the building one at a time, and I believe that every single time the person intended to bring her glass back. And it just didn’t happen. So if one or two people take a glass from the dining hall, it’s no big deal. But if each one of the 30 people who eat in the dining hall every day takes a glass at some point over the span of a month, we suddenly have no glasses left. And it’s everyone’s fault.

The way this ties in with the scripture is this: when another community member needs a glass of water, instead of whining that I can’t serve him from the right-sized glass, I should probably be willing to give him two. And then offer to wash the glasses and put them away for him. The thing that prevents me from behaving this way is my sense of entitlement. I get tired of cleaning up after messy people and drinking from small cups. So then I preach about it, and somehow think that people will bring their dishes back because it’s so important to me. Then I get cranky and take it personally when people still don’t live up to my standards.

Yes, going the extra mile takes on a whole new meaning in community. It’s easy to show kindness to a stranger. It’s a no-brainer that when we have guests here, we clean up after them and invite them to be first in the lunch line. Much more challenging is to be gracious and kind to the people we sit with every day. I find that if I’m only doing things to please the people around me, it’s much more difficult to go about my day with a sense of joy. People are hard to please, and we constantly disappoint one another no matter how hard we try. So, don’t bring your cup back to the dining hall just because I want you to do it. You’ll probably wind up resenting me for it. Instead, let’s try to figure out how to please God together. I’m willing to bet that if we take that approach, we’ll just be grateful to have anything to drink at all, and we’ll offer to refill each other’s teeny glasses and coffee mugs, and everyone will have a wonderful time as we walk the extra mile together.

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Do Not Worry

Tonight I had an enormously huge revelation.  I was tangled up in my own head all evening with all of my problems (or at least the things I perceive as problems).  But let me give a little background before I delve into my day, and the aforementioned revelation.

Last weekend Brendan and I were both very sick.  Throwing-up, can’t get out of bed sick.  We had both stayed up all night one too many times that week trying to get our work done, so we were exhausted to boot.  He got sick Thursday night, and Friday afternoon I went to bed at 3:00 and couldn’t get out of bed until 3:00 the following afternoon.  Brendan floated in and out of wellness, and after a couple of days of getting around, by Sunday night he was back in bed.  I was doing fine by then, and have since been well.  He, on the other hand, has had recurring bouts of this sickness for nearly a week now.

Today Brendan seemed to be in the clear, and he and I had some good conversations and seemed to be back on track with each other.  Overall though, for me, today was a very busy day filled with unmet obligations and too much troubleshooting at work along with a slew of back-to-back meetings that lasted into the evening.  When the final meeting ended just after 5:00, I realized that I hadn’t sat down all day, Ida and Kellan were climbing and jumping all over me as only a one- and a four-year-old can at the end of a long day, and Brendan was…sick…in bed…again.

I think that most of the time I’m a pretty sympathetic person, but apparently that all goes out the window when I’ve had a long day and the person needing sympathy is my husband.  Though I kept trying to reassure him that I was not angry with him, I was in fact insanely frustrated that he was still sick.  My thoughts went a little something like this: “Brendan needs to go to the doctor now, whether he wants to or not.  Why can’t he just get well and get it over with?!?! Doesn’t he realize I need down time? (I’m sighing and cringing at myself even as I write this).

And then Ida and Kellan started fighting with me, demanding attention and focus that I didn’t have to give.  And then I got into some imaginary arguments with a few of my fellow community members about things that they never have said or would say.  And it went downhill from there until bedtime.

Eight o’clock (bedtime for my girls) found me rushing around, going over my to do list in my head as I hurried them into bed, thinking about how unfair it is that I have all this work to do and I have small children and I have a sick husband and none of you could possibly understand the greatness of my suffering and ogodmylifeissohardwhymewhymeeee…

Ok, you get the point.  So then I got to thinking about priorities, and how selfish I was being when Brendan was laying in the next room in agony, and my friend Sandy just found out last week that she has cancer, and there are starving children in Afghanistan and even right here in Americus, and probably everyone in the world has more to worry about than I do.  But rather than slipping into self-deprecation, and the deep and murky pools of guilt and further agony that offered to swallow me whole in that moment, I paused.  And I prayed.  Well, really I asked a few questions.  And the answers came from somewhere deep inside.

I wondered, why is it that some problems seem to be “worth it” to worry about, while to some others we easily sniff “get over it”?  You should not spend too much time comparing yourself to others. But, how do I know if it’s important or not?  I mean, what is worth getting upset about?  (and this is when the revelation came)  You are not supposed to worry about any of it.

And I felt peace wash over me like an ocean wave receding.  I am not supposed to worry.  About anything.  Jesus practically commands it in Matthew 6, the story about the lilies of the field.  He does not say in that passage, “Just worry about the important things.”  He says, do not worry about anything, I will provide.  As the Message translation (verses 31-34) puts it:

What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving… Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.  Don’t worry about missing out.  You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

I think I’ll go home now and lay down next to my sick husband and hold his hand, say a prayer, let God worry about tomorrow, and try to get some sleep.

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