Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Do We Know What We Want?

Have you ever struggled with a difficult decision, perhaps a major change in life such as whether to move or quit a job? We’re faced with decisions all the time and sometimes we’re not sure what would be best. When we make difficult life changing choices, we often look for meaning and a sense of inner peace. But, if we ask for meaning and peace of heart, do we know what we are asking for? Do we seek meaning in the accumulation of things as in the story of the rich person who wasn’t able to give up their wealth to follow Jesus? Do we believe that winning a huge lotto jackpot will bring us peace? Or maybe we seek meaning in status, having people look up to us and think we’re important. Or maybe we seek peace in power, thinking, “if only I had more control…” Even in the church we look to the world’s definitions of success, thinking to follow Jesus “successfully” means bigger churches and bigger offerings. We think that is what measures how meaningful we are, whether our efforts are “worth it” or not.

When James and John came to Jesus in Mark 10, asking to sit beside in him glory, maybe they were wondering if following Jesus, with all his talk of death and persecution, was really worth it. Maybe they were seeking a sense of meaning. But like many of us they thought meaning was found in glory, power, and wealth. But Jesus responds that in God’s eyes to be great is to serve. This is where we find the natural harmonies and rhythms of life that bring peace. God created us as interdependent beings, not to be competitors for empty glory but to be companions meant for relationship and community. To be great, to find meaning and peace, to find what makes it all worth it, is to serve, to help each other, to support each other, and to love each other.

Jesus asks if we can follow in his footsteps and give up our pursuits of wealth, power, and glory to serve? Can we help each other, support each other, and love each other even if the world around us is threatened by it and despises us for it? That isn’t an empty threat either. Right now in our own times, journalists who are seen as threatening the power of so-called leaders are being denigrated and even killed. If we as Christians do as Jesus did and stand up to oppressive power, we too may put ourselves at risk. There can be a cost to following Jesus. We often think James and John didn’t realize this, that they wanted glory with no effort. But, I wonder if they just wanted to be reassured it was worth it. I believe it is. We will get resistance when we live for justice. We will get pushback. But we were created by God to be companions, not competitors.

I also believe in resurrection, in God’s promise of new life. In every discouraging lie told, for every degradation of the poor, of women, of immigrants, of LGBTQ people, I see more and more people standing up and saying this is not acceptable. In standing up for each other we plant the seeds of hope. We begin to nurture new life – a life that acknowledges that to serve and support each other, to love, is the order and motion of God’s Creation. This is where we find true, lasting meaning and peace in life: in God’s unconditional, everlasting love flowing through us and into the world.

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This reflection is inspired by the sermon, “Do we know what we are asking for?,” from October 21, 2018. The audio of the sermon can be found on the Phoenix Community Church web site.

The Disaster of Wealth

In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Amos warns that contempt for truth and a disregard for the poor and disadvantaged leads to disaster. These are words that we might remember as another election day nears. Words that we might ask our political leaders to take to heart. But it is also a warning that is relevant to all of us. Too often even those of us who identify as poor, or at least feel the pressure of meeting our monthly bills on time, fall prey to the mindset that wealth is the true measure of success. It is what our culture teaches us.

And in our desire for greater riches, our desire to be a success, we start to ignore truth and forget about the poor. We start to accept some of the lies we hear, thinking that perhaps little lies don’t matter so much or that maybe it’s ok to tell lies about the liars. We don’t bother fact-checking that great meme before posting it on Facebook. Maybe we think we can’t bother with the homeless when we can barely make our own rent or that businesses shouldn’t have to pay livable wages if that means higher prices for me. Maybe we think it’s ok to vote for a corrupt politician as long as they promise to vote for my pet issue. Maybe we just covet that new phone model. Surely that will solve all of our problems.

When a rich person comes to Jesus asking how they can be one with God, Jesus tells them since they already keep all the commandments that the next step on their spiritual journey is sell all they have and give the proceeds to the poor. Needless to say, the rich person walks away dejected. Jesus’ instruction was alarming not only to the rich person but to everyone there, including the disciples. Living in a capitalistic country that sees wealth as the measure of success, we are probably alarmed as well. But Jesus knew that the person’s wealth, which brought them safety, security and status, had become a spiritual burden. It didn’t allow them to truly be compassionate toward others. It got in the way between them and God as well as between them and their fellow human beings.

Wealth can build a wall around us, isolating us. It can put a buffer between us and the suffering. Wealth can make us think we don’t need each other and get in the way of true community. We’ve all heard someone say: “we earned our wealth,” “they’d succeed if they worked harder,” “it’s only business, nothing personal,” and “the poor are lazy.” Perhaps we’ve even said similar things ourselves. But statements like these only serve to justify the distance between the haves and the have-nots and blame the poor for their poverty, letting those of us who have money off the hook. If we are not able to hear the pain of others, we will not be able to fully experience God for God is found in our relationships with each other and Creation. That, I think, is what was happening to the well intentioned rich person in the biblical story. They weren’t able to fully experience the Divine energy because their wealth stood between them and the people around them.

What burdens do we need to let go of that we might fully encounter God? Is it wealth or the desire for wealth? What burdens do we carry that keep us from living in God’s way of love in the here and now? That get between us and the Divine? Some money is necessary in our society to live, but we should not allow the pursuit of wealth to come between us and those around us. We are all on this journey together. We need each other. It is in “the least of these” that we find God.

For further reflection on the role wealth plays in our lives, check out this thought provoking Ted Talk posted on my church’s blog: https://phoenixchurch.org/home/2018/10/does-money-make-you-mean/. You might also want to listen (or re-listen) to the sermon from October 14, upon which the above reflections are based, at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/sermons/through-the-eye-of-a-needle/. This reflection was originally published in my church’s newsletter.

More poems! – Small Stone Hearts

I self-published a second booklet of my poems! “Small Stone Hearts” contains 26 of my more introspective poems, 8 of which have been previously posted on this blog. You can buy it now from Amazon. Other booksellers should also have the ability to order it. I hope you enjoy reading!

Making America Great Again

Have you ever wanted to be important? We want to feel needed. We want to feel like we are making a difference in the world. As kids we might dream of being the best at our favorite sport, sinking the winning shot in the championship game. Maybe we dreamed of being admired like a doctor or lawyer or maybe we dreamed of being president, someone with a lot of power. Maybe we achieved some of our dreams of importance and maybe those dreams still linger with us. As adults we still want to matter and make a difference in our lives.

But when we think of importance, when we dream of greatness, we also have to ask ourselves what exactly that means. How do we measure greatness? Is the wealthiest person great? Or is power and influence the critical factor? And who benefits from our desired greatness? Do these dreams come from pure selfishness or do we want to help others? Greatness and its motivations seem to be a hot topic in our country. Some people say they want to “Make America Great Again” but then act out of racism, sexism, homophobia, and a disregard for the poor and disadvantaged. Does being great mean making everyone else miserable? Just what does it mean to be great, to be important?

In the ninth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ disciples were debating this very question, arguing amongst themselves about who was the most important of their group. And Jesus tells them how to be great in his eyes: become a servant for others. Greatness has nothing to do with wealth or power. The greatest are those who put the welfare of others first. Cultivating peace and justice; being kind, considerate, and compassionate; acting in the interest of others and the common good… these are the things by which we should measure greatness.

This is the way we are called to live if we choose to follow God’s path and live by God’s wisdom. True greatness is measured by love. We can say God is great because God is love. God loves each one of us without condition. If we want to be great, Jesus tells us, then share that love with those around you. Be a servant and welcome the children and the vulnerable. Love. By welcoming the vulnerable we welcome God. When we love others, we love God.

What if we used love as a measure of greatness everywhere? What if “Make America Great Again” meant: let’s see how loving we can make our country? What a great place that would be! Imagine people outdoing themselves to help others. Imagine people competing to see who can create the most efficient and impactful programs. Not to put money in the hands of the rich but to feed people and provide health care, to end racism, to help victims of abuse instead of blame them… and on and on. What if the greatness of our country and our government was measured by love? Not military power or wealth, but how much it helped people – all people, but especially the vulnerable and oppressed. That is the place I want to live in.

Let’s all have a great (loving) day!

Note: This reflection was originally published in my church newsletter. The church website is www.phoenixchurch.org.

New book — Bruised Skies

I wanted a way to share a few of my poems in a more traditional way so I decided to undertake this small experiment in self-publishing, coming up with this chapbook length book featuring 17 of my poems (12 of which have been previously posted on this blog). If you’re interested, you can buy it from Amazon now. Other booksellers should also have the ability to order it – if not immediately then in the near future.

Bruised Skies: Poems in Response to A World Gone Mad

The 17 poems in this short collection express dismay and anxiety over the state of life in this second decade of the 21stcentury, from the rise of fascism to the way we treat the earth and each other as we go about our everyday routines. Yet, at the same time, they call us to resistance and change while offering a glimpse of hope for the resurrection of compassion and connection.

 

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