Perhaps you can relate – ever had what seemed like profound inspiration? I hear something interesting, it gets processed through the filters in my brain – my memory, my history, my emotions – and bang a light goes on/off – whatever. All of the sudden it makes since, and it weaves its way through me as I process, developing into what I think are great ideas. However, unlike mathematics, A + B does not always = C. Too often the ideas, although exciting, don’t turn to action/implementation/outcome.
There are many reasons for that reality, lack of knowledge or know how, lack of resources, lack of energy, health issues, lack of time. It soon becomes overwhelming, and I realize it’s too big an idea for one person. Perhaps if I pass the idea on, someone will take it up – yea right as soon as pigs grow wings. It doesn't take long before I've moved from all that is “lacking,” into the self-pity and blame game. It starts with “I should do this…”“if only I could…” “why bother I’ll just screw it up…” “no one will listen…” “no one cares…” “why bother…” “Fuck it another one bites the dust…”
Then I add it to my list of failures. So how can one break the pattern? And don’t say, “think or be positive.” (ok you can say it but…) The next person to tell me to be positive better be out of foot range, cause my foot will likely find its way to their ass. Think Positive implies that if I think happy thoughts somehow shit will magically come to pass. Sorry folks life just isn’t that easy. And yes I often wish it were. It takes a bit of effort and personal responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, positive can be a good thing, but not a magic pill.
We, that is the church (I don’t care which version/denomination/non-denomination) have been complicit it promoting this magical thinking. We say things like, “Pray for it, believing and it will happen.” This notion implies that when it doesn’t happen, it’s because I didn’t believe enough. Or we will say something like, “sometimes God’s answer is no” or “you didn’t ask for the right thing or in the right way somehow.” So, we are left with believing that God is an evil magician, or somehow something within me has the ability to make God do God’s magic.
It’s not that there isn’t truth in those statements, simply that it isn’t magic. The truth is revealed within/amongst those thoughts. Positive thinking can keep us open to the possibilities. Prayer allows us the opportunity to vocalize – internally & externally –and meditate on our thoughts, fears & hopes. Hope can feed our positive thinking. But the truth is much simpler & much bigger. The truth is that on our own we can’t do much of anything. As infants & children, someone or a number of people, have to care for us and teach us how to do the most basic of things. Our relationships with one another become influential. Our biology becomes a factor. Our community and how we see ourselves within it or outside of it, becomes a factor. Society and environment become influential. It’s not that God couldn’t choose to act in such a dramatic and magical way, rather that God has chosen to utilize what already is.
As a person of faith, I make certain assumption about the “natural order” of things – I do the same when thinking scientifically, we refer to what we call “natural laws/principles.” Those assumptions, are based on our observations filtered through our history, personality, experiences, education etc. One assumption I’ve come to claim is that I do not have the power to change one element into another, nor do I have power over others, sometimes I don’t even have the power to get my ass out of bed in the morning. My second assumption is that something, some force, some process has/had the power of creation – the ability to make something out of nothing. I call that power God.
There is a story in our sacred writings, which speaks of Jesus being “tempted.” The first temptation says in effect “If you are of God, you could transform a rock into a loaf of bread.” The temptation is not one of simple hunger rather it is one of identity and power. Jesus response is to claim his identity. Just before this scene God speaks to identify Jesus as his “beloved son.” Claiming his identity in relationship to his Dad, Jesus chooses to also let what was created be what it was meant to be, as Dad intended. Can anyone say, “Respect!”
Next the tempter/antagonist/accuser takes Jesus to the center of community life – the biggest stage around. Lights, camera action – the spotlight shines – “throw yourself down, Dad’s got ya covered – he will send out the rescue squad and they will catch you before you hit the dirt – and everyone will see how awesome you are.” Become a celebrity and the world will follow you. I mean get real, how exciting is it to feel admired, appreciated, lifted up, paid, followed. Glory is very tempting. And again, with glory can come power. Jesus response is one of what we call obedience, not in the since of blindly following another’s will, rather of trusting that the one in charge has put together an effective & working plan. Jesus is already at the heart of the plan, so he chooses to stay the course, even through all the injustice, suffering, pain, grief and death – trusting by faith – Dad has it covered. We can call that one, "humility."
Now we come to the final challenge. So Jesus is taken to the highest place available in order to get a good look at the world and all the nations. “I will let you conquer & take power over all these nations. All you have to do is give me the glory and your allegiance.” If Jesus won’t use power to change the natural order, and he won’t use glory to gain the power of celebrity, perhaps the power-over or use of force will work. As the Genie in the movie Disney's Aladan stated, "Hail the conquering hero." Jesus response, “pay attention I’m not interested in using power in such a way. Get lost!” Jesus chooses the way of "Peace."
Throughout the rest of his life & ministry, Jesus uses not power over, but the power found in/through/amongst relationships. The first relationship is with Dad. Knowing & trusting the love of his parents he understands his role & place within the family dynamics. The second relationship is with others, he walks from place to place encountering one person or small groups of folks at a time. In the gospel according to Matthew, he uses ordinary things to make happen the miraculous. He touches, he speaks, he takes dirt & water to make mud packs to cure blindness, he takes a few fish & some bread and starts passing it around, soon everyone has shared what they have and there is plenty with enough to spare. The third relationship is with society and its clashing culture, politics, economic, and structures/institutions. He chooses the way of peace rather than force. He chooses to be his human self rather than taking away human free will. He chooses to love.
Jesus is able to love because he knows/is love. He knows the love of God. He lives that love in and through each encounter as he journeys. He pours himself out for loves sake, allowing us to be who we are, and to freely choose. As he loves, he teaches/reveals how it happens. It happens in such a way that as we are loved we become loving. It is not law in the way we tend to think - as in the movie Dogma (one of my favorites) “Do it or I’ll spank you…” or perhaps as stated in Bruce Almighty "Oh smite me mighty smighter..."rather our love becomes a natural response and in living into it we get better at it, we become lovers, we are loved again and can love again.
So how is that translated into where I started? Well, in spite of my history or perhaps because of it: I’ve known love. I’ve got some street smarts. I have learned & grown. I acquired an education. I developed my gifts & skills. I became self-aware in such a way as to become aware of those around me, their lives, experiences, needs, desires, and hopes. Yet it is process and the pattern is not linear – more circular and paradoxical in nature. Sometimes I fail and my failure becomes what was needed. Sometimes I succeed and that success was tainted. The point is that through the power of love I’m able to recognize most of my limits as well as my gifts & skill sets. Through the power of love, I’m able to care for those closest to me. Through the power of love, I’m able to take one small step at a time to be loving in the wider communities I’m a part of, which filters into the wider society and culture, world. I can’t change the world, but I don’t have to. I can take action, one step at a time – but I have to choose to take the step, then the next and so on. I can use the voice I’ve been given. With, in, through, because of the power of Love, so can you.
Peace be with you
Peace be with you
(As a note & example – some of my reflections today were directly inspired by the preaching of my friend & colleague Rev. Mike Keys)