“May a good vision catch me
May a benevolent vision take hold of me, and move me
May a deep and full vision come over me, and burst open around me
May a luminous vision inform me, enfold me.
May I awaken into the story that surrounds,
May I awaken into the beautiful story.
May the wondrous story find me;
May the wildness that makes beauty arise between two lovers
arise beautifully between my body and the body of this land,
between my flesh and the flesh of this earth,
here and now,
on this day,
May I taste something sacred.”
—David Abram, Alliance for Wild Ethics
Big day today, big religious day today, big letdown day too: it is Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Generally, for millions of people this a day where we fantasize about Love as it does not exists; for 1.2 billion Catholics (and all people of faith) it is a day to ponder the ways of God’s love – love as it was truthfully meant to be.
Either way you look at it, it is a day to celebrate, seek and give LOVE, so I thought I would offer my two cents on LOVE.
According to Christian scripture God is love and that love is the law we are supposed to follow. So, what does this whole “God is Love” thingy look like? How are we to love people? What is love supposed to look like, and what does God say about this “crazy little thing called Love?”
My take on it is that if God is love (1 John 4) then I want to know what love is so I can either take the long way – read the Gospels and look at how Jesus lived – or I can take the summarized version – read 1 Corinthians 13 substituting the word “love” with the word “God.”
For today, I chose the latter. Read this with the knowledge that this is precisely how God loves you, and me and the entire world. God is love which means that:
God is patient.
God is kind.
God does not envy.
God is not boastful.
God is not conceited.
God does not act improperly.
God is not selfish.
God is not provoked.
God does not keep a record of wrongs.
God finds no joy in wickedness.
God rejoices in the truth.
God bears all things.
God believes all things.
God hopes all things.
God endures all things.
God never fails.
“…I need more of the night before I open eyes and heart to illumination. I must still grow in the dark like a root not ready, not ready at all.”
Denise Levertov, “Eye Mask”
True confession here: I am in love with poetry. I adore poetry as one of the great spiritual guides in my life. There are many reasons I love poetry – its ability to say much with so little, its deep spirituality, it intimacy and delicacy, to fill and to empty, to flourish and fire. Denise Levertov is another one of the reasons I love poetry particularly the poem with a stanza from above. Denise Levertov has a way of capturing the deeper truths I am embodying without it being a Faulknerian novel; crisp, concise. It is good meat for my spiritual life as well. I too must remain still and rest in the dark, like a root not ready for the world and all it contains. I must gestate longer in this womb of God; much like the Christ child in Mary, I too need more time in the darkness before I am at fruition.
Most people are speak ill of the dark; they lambaste it as a place of bad or evil. My guide poetry reminds over and over again to not fear the darkness. Through the words and wisdom of poetry, God reminds me not to fear the darkness for many good and wonderful things happen in the dark, more than just things that go bump and boo. In the darkness, all manner of vegetation, flora and fauna take root and take hold of the Earth, clinging to her like a babe to a breast finding life in the suckling darkness; then so lovingly and compassionately turning from what they received in darkness and to fill and feed.
What I know is that darkness is a good thing. It is not something to be feared, to run from, or to see as negative. Far too often in western culture, and specifically “white” western culture all things darker are considered negative, from skin to spirituality. But darkness is necessary for any authentic spiritual growth. In darkness, come dreams, fantasies, hopes, inspirations…God spoke in the days of old and still does speak in the dreams that come in the darkness (the prophet Joel reminded us that our young would see visions and our old would dream dreams).
I need to go deep into the dark like a root, so that God can water my soul, give me the tenderness of damp, earthy shadows where I can remove all pretense, drop my skin and shell to the floor like old rags, and lick my wounds and set them free to roam in God’s healing freedom.
As a dark root, I let God touch my selfishness, my anger, my chards of rage, my fears, self-pity and my resentments towards all. In the darkness, God heals me, feeds me, molds me, and breaks me, loving me back to my humanity. So, like Denise Levertov, I am not ready for the illumination of the day.
I am in need of darkness, the emptiness of gestation where the Divine Love that comes from nothingness, will be with me. I must still grow in this sacred darkness, a little holy root of God.
I used to look at the world in black and white, extreme black and white at that. It went something like this: “either you were or you weren’t; either you did or your didn’t; either things (or you) were good or bad; black or white; in or out. Fill in the blank at the end but the meaning is still the same: life was made rigid; exclusive self-righteously all bundled up in neat, little packaging (socio-cultural/economic/political/religious MREs if you will).
It seemed to make life safe for a twenty something who was new to faith and scared of almost everything in life. In my twenties, I so desperately needed the world to be black and white because it had been so painfully colorless and empty as the fourth son of a tormented alcoholic father.
At 50 years of age, my life and my view of the world is more an appreciation of the entire color-spectrum of life: the kaleidoscope of God’s very Being reflected and deflected in, through and off of all of creation – us included.
But…and there’s always a but. But there is one area of my life I am still a bit “black and white” with and that is about the dance between fear and faith. The way I look at it either I live in fear or I live in faith; I live by fear or I live by faith. Now granted, I know it is not so neatly packaged, far from it.
But it seems to me those two choices are the existentially paradigmatic choices of our lives.
And depending upon which one I choose, determines in all likelihood the quality and maybe even the quantity of the direction my life takes.
If I choose to live (mostly, say 51%) by faith, then the world is just more beautiful. God is more present in all things and in all Ways and I feel connected to all that is – the Creator, the creation and the created.
But if I choose to live by fear (let’s stick with the 51% option again), the scales of life and my perception therein seem to tip and tilt towards the darker, sadder, painful parts of living – the “less” ness of life (as in there seems to be less of everything I desire if I perceive and experience life through the lens of fear).
By choosing (and yes, I do feel at the core, it is a CHOICE) to live by faith – faith in God, faith in myself, faith in other people, faith in love and service, and faith in the healing process – a miraculous metamorphosis begins to take place within me and in all those with whom I share life.
Life gets bigger. Life gets more abundant.
Life gets fuller of, well, almost everything: joy, suffering, emotions – the veritable messiness of it all.
Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, or prettier, or more neatly packaged. In fact, it’s quite the opposite because looking and living life by faith involves such things as crazy leaps, pain, heartbreak reckless abandon and ruthless trust. Living by faith involves fearless looking at the person I am, all of me, and embracing it as I am not as I want to be. For that is how God does it.
And here is something I am learning slowly and deeply: not only is living a life of faith all of the aforementioned, a life of faith means living with the ever growing knowledge that God actually has faith in me!
That may seem like heresy to some, but if we all step back and look at the gifts, miracles, roles and responsibilities we are blessed with, those things that we seek after and get and those things that seemingly fall into our laps throughout the days and years of our lives, Someone must indeed trust and believe in us to endow us with such abundance!
So, today although life on the outside is a bit scary, I still find myself a bit more relaxed, nestling rather than wrestling into this life of faith over fear, hoping against hope, trusting even as my eyes are still getting accustomed to the Light, that in the end (and at the end) that by choosing a life of faith, my life becomes a valuable gift both given and shared to this wonderful wounded world in which I live.
In your darkest times, in your most desperate moments, when all is lost – sometimes literally, sometimes spiritually – you can still bear witness to God’s presence in your life.
In our brokenness, in our addictions, in our depression, in our lostness – as much if not more so in our joy – we can still know that God is present in all things, as crazy as that seems.
It is when we can learn to experience God in the absence and darkness, the moments when grace breaks through our walls of despair, that we can share the Hope that God is indeed among us. As we grope our way into God’s future, we can know that even in the most unchartered waters, we are being led by a luminous God whose name is grace.
Editors Note: This is a repost of a challenging and stimulating article written by a minister, Brandi Miller. It was originally published online at The Huffington Post. The original link is at the bottom of the article. – Niles
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During recent budget and tax bill debates in Congress, Republicans moved to allocate fewer breaks to poorer tax brackets while providing massive cuts to the most wealthy. They more explicitly revealed a belief that the previous budget, which allocated more resources to social programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was far too progressive. It’s becoming clear that equity is not at the forefront of their priorities. Essentially, the wealthy continue to legislate their way out of supporting just and charitable causes and thus, legislate their way out of helping those most in need.
Where the state fails, the Church should step up to provide for the poor. However, despite the frequent teachings of the Bible to care for the marginalized, American Christians fail to vote for and support programs that provide for those in need. While early Christianity leaned on social programs and welfare as devotion to Jesus, in the early 20th century Christian charity ceased to simply be a tool of social aid, but shifted to a means to structurally maintain value-based oppression.
In being against programs that benefit the poor, Christians are almost ensuring the very poverty they’re meant to eradicate.
Throughout the Bible, Jesus invites his followers to live generously and to care for the poor. And it’s not that church-goers aren’t generous (although only 10-25 percent of a typical congregational membership gave to their church and of those, most are giving 2.5 percent of their income as opposed to the standard 10 percent tithes). In fact, Christian’s from states that typically vote Republican are among the most likely to give to both congregations and to non-profit organizations. But these same conservative voters, often giving the most, are also among those backing President Donald Trump, whose administration has sought to cut funding for social programs that promote justice and provide for the disenfranchised.
In being against programs that benefit the poor and create pathways to eradicate poverty, some Christians are almost ensuring the very poverty that their local churches are meant to give their time and financial resources to. Much of the rhetoric preventing many American Christians from supporting government social welfare programs stems from a value-based approach to poverty adopted in U.S. politics. Conservative Christians mirror the anti-big government rhetoric espoused by GOP legislators over the years and believe in decreasing dependency on the government, promoting personal responsibility and valuing hard work.
Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps has become American gospel.
Personal responsibility and hard work are not bad values. However, these values tend to move charity to a subtle form of social control where the poor are offered assistance based on merit or adherence to conservative standards, rather than on the basis of generosity and a commitment to a more equitable society. Providing social charity becomes less about if there is need, but about whether one deserves charity.
There are multiple ways some local governments decide who’s deserving of assistance, which can include not having felony convictions, being drug-free and having a mailing address. These requirements add a racial lens to who, in this value-based system, deserves care, with people of color being disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, urban poverty and homelessness. Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps has become American gospel and a reinterpretation of the way of Jesus that shifts to affirm conservative social policy.
Christians, of all people, have been among the first to cast stones at those who the government has deemed undeserving of assistance. This value-policing of social programs inherently shames those who rely on them. Planned Parenthood is demonized while providing necessary health services for those without insurance. Publicly funded free and reduced meal programs are defunded and the poor are shamed for not being able to provide for their families.
To be sure, there are American Christian communities who fight for justice, who use their charitable giving to generously provide for the needs of poor. There are communities who march alongside Black Lives Matter and fight against racism. There are communities that create and maintain charities that provide necessary services and more comprehensive justice to the needy.
Still, Christian motivation is a complex intersection of genuine compassion, power and politics. Social control may not be a primary motivation for all American Christians, but it is the natural result of a Christianity that is increasingly indistinguishable from secular conservative politics.
True community justice requires that Christians set aside political agendas and seek equity.
The Bible is clear that charity and justice are key and non-negotiable values. Over 200 times in the Old Testament, God calls for various forms of restorative and socially motivated equality. Jesus himself models a commitment to charity and justice. He regularly critiques those who use charity to boost the perception of their personal piety, calls out the ways that the temple system maintains social hierarchy through its giving systems and tells parables about caring for the outsider, one’s enemies, and the poor. He flips tables in the temple to critique the systematic exclusion of ethnic outsiders and the exploitation of the poor. Jesus implores people not to simply be more generous, but to overturn oppressive systems that create inequality in the first place.
True community justice requires that all American Christians ― conservatives and liberals alike ― set aside political agendas and values and seek equity because ultimately, charity is incomplete without a pursuit of justice. It’s not motivated by who deserves it, but about restructuring systems and a communal sharing of resources. That’s something the GOP, in its current iteration, will legislate its way out of in the name of Jesus while entirely missing the spirit of the God who invites them to “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.”
American Christianity’s collective inability to practice the intersection of charity and social justice is the natural result of a faith system that has claimed to value generosity, but serves politicized agendas over the good of the marginalized. Christians have all but abandoned their communal responsibility for “the least of these.”
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.
SOURCE: Originally published at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-miller-church-charity_us_5a6da5fde4b0ddb658c72c8e
I love grace. I need grace; and desperately so. But most of all, I rarely understand grace. So permit some random musings on it.
One explanation I try and use for grace is that it is the place and space where the tenacious loving madness of God and the seemingly never-ending woundedness of human beings meet. Frederick Buechner says that this meeting place between us and God is almost “always a matter of life or death and usually both.”
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Grace is the reality that God meets us where we (wherever that is), as we are, and begins the transformation process at that precise spot. Grace is NOT “I’ll get a bit better, more whole, wiser, holier, etc., and then God begins to transform us.”
Not at all. That is the letter of the law kind of thinking, not the Spirit of Grace.
That still involves me doing the work, and God does the work. I ask for help, surrender, become open and wait upon the Spirit to breathe new life into these old bones.
That is grace.
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Grace is not just talking about God, or admiring Jesus, or even trying to follow his way. Grace is being down on the floor, all curled up, sobbing over the pain and confusion of it all, and knowing, experiencing the Truth that God is down on the floor with us, sobbing, being present to all of us, with us.
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Grace is God’s complete and total love and acceptance of us as we are NOW, the whole kit and caboodle, and not at some distant point in the future when we arrive or get to some heavenly place.
Grace is almost always a NOW thing, a movement of God that removes the stain of the past and the fear of the future and brings radical acceptance in the here and now.