Beads are prayers

The English word “bead” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “biddan” meaning “to pray.” A woman was said to be “doing her beads” when she was using her rosary. Beads and prayers are the same thing. Sometimes I like to express certain religious ideas in bead form. This was the original intent of this blog, but I couldn’t figure out how to add pictures. Thanks to help from a coworker and some dogged persistence on my part (and no thanks to two different WordPress books), I’ve figured out how to marry up words and pictures. Here are two examples of how I speak in bead, when it comes to religious topics.

This necklace is referencing two verses from the Gospels. The fish refer to when Jesus said to his new-found disciples “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). The grape leaf and the purple bead together (a symbolic grape) refer to when He said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) (translations from the New International Version)

I also like the medal. It is a Sacred Heart medal. Rather than being a crucifix that depicts Christ’s agony on the cross, the Sacred Heart shows us the depth of His love for us. It also reminds us that we are to create within our own hearts a sanctuary for Jesus.

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This bracelet depicts the world before and after Jesus. Start at the bottom at the 6 o’clock position and go counter-clockwise to follow the story. The small dark green bead represents the beginning of the Jewish people. The large green bead (both are antique watermelon beads) represents their many years waiting for a Messiah. Then the red bead is for the Holy Spirit, next to the blue bead for Mary. This combination symbolizes humanity saying Yes to God’s requests for us to bring forth His love into this world. The following bead has all three colors of green, red, and blue. It is the merging of history and destiny – Jesus as the culmination.

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I believe it is good to have prayers made visible.

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The History of the Church, in beads.

I’m attempting to explain the history of the Church in bead form. I apologize for the dark pictures – this is a work in progress. (edit – I’ve added new pictures that are brighter. )

Here is a picture that gives an idea of what the whole thing looks like.

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And another –
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It all starts with the cross.

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Then the large fancy beads near it represent the Byzantine era. I chose blue, purple, and red because those were the colors God said to use for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

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This section represents the Middle Ages. One church, so one unifying pattern. Lapis lazuli represents the material used by monks in their illuminated manuscripts. The red is antique “white hearts” from the African trade to remind us of history and time.

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Here is another picture of this section –
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This section has the three colors of the temple, but it is casual and a little jumbled. There is a pattern if you look hard. This is now, the age of strip-mall churches and Mega churches.

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And also here –
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Pure and unadorned, the color in this section has the best of blue and purple to it, and was started off with red, the color of the Holy Spirit. Blue is also the color of Mary – a human being who said Yes to God and allowed The Divine to work through her to bring forth healing and redemption to our world. This is the future. This is what we as the Church are being called to.

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Better lit –
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What is “Christian”?

Rene Descartes talked about the color teal. You can tell someone what is blue and what is green, but they won’t understand what “teal” is unless you tell them what it isn’t. They need a boundary. You have to show them what is no longer blue enough but just green enough that it is teal. For instance, peacock green is teal. Emerald green is not.

The church is the same way. We have reached a point where it is important to draw the line between what is Christ-like and what is not.

There are people around today that are calling themselves Christians. They band together and say they are part of a church. Perhaps you know the group I’m referring to. I refuse to name them because I refuse to give them any more press. That is what they thrive on. They are like bad toddlers. They love attention and will resort to throwing a terrible tantrum. They throw their tantrums by protesting at military funerals. They carry signs that say things like “God hates (fill in the blank)” They are illogical in their actions. They are an embarrassment. There is nothing Christian about their actions.

Now maybe they are doing the rest of the church a favor. Let’s go with the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ. The apostle Paul talked about how each part does what it has to do and it is not for the other parts to feel jealous. The head can’t do anything without the arms and legs to take it where it needs to go. The arms and legs can’t do anything without the head directing them. All the parts of the body are mutually dependant.

Perhaps this group is the asshole. Every body has one, so why not this Body? It is important to get the waste out. It is important to remove the parts that are not helpful. Perhaps by their over-the-top actions they are showing us the worst we can be. Perhaps by viewing why they think they think that the term “Christian” applies to them, we can see how far off the track we have gotten.

The Christian church has gotten a lot of bad press recently, and it is its own fault. To many non-Christians, the word “Christian” is synonymous with self-centered, ignorant, and judgmental. This is entirely the opposite of what Jesus intended. He wanted us to be servants – to be His body in this world. He wanted us to do God’s will, in the same way that He did. He wanted us to be submissive to God and to treat everyone as if they are our neighbors.

Everyone. We are to treat everyone as our neighbors. Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, gay, homeless, drug addicted, mentally ill – you name it. Everyone who is not us. That is part of the meaning of neighbor – if they were part of our family, they would be living with us. Neighbors are everyone else, but they are close enough that they are still part of us. They aren’t necessarily friends, but they are fellow humans. We have a relationship with them, often by accident. We don’t choose our neighbors, we choose the house.

And here’s the biggest thing I want to try to get across. Not everyone has to be Christian, or follow Christian rules. WE have to be Christian. We have to serve them as Christ would. We do not have the right to impose our belief system on them, especially in the laws we create. To expect that other people follow a particular religious belief system that is not their own is exactly the same as Sharia law. Americans are deeply concerned that Muslim-influenced laws will begin to creep into our society. We don’t want to be forced to pray towards Mecca five times a day. We don’t want men to not be allowed to shave their beards. We don’t want women to be forced to cover themselves from head to toe.

Then why is it OK for Christians to try to make laws that push their belief system on others? Abortion. Gay marriage. The death penalty. These are hot-button issues. People are varied in their opinions. While one person’s viewpoint is perfectly valid according to their belief system, it is opposite another person’s also perfectly valid viewpoint. What I believe is for me to follow. I do not have the right to force you to follow my beliefs.

Take abortion for instance. I personally am against abortion. I see it as murder of an innocent. But – I will not take away someone else’s right to it. I feel that every child should be a wanted child. What I would rather focus on is better sex-education and better contraception. I believe that nobody ever wants to go through the ordeal of abortion – so I’m more interested in them never having to make that decision.

As for gay marriage, I’m for it. I’ve never understood the reasons that Christians have against gay marriage. If you don’t want to be married to a gay person, then don’t be married to a gay person. This seems simple enough. The same can be said of abortion – if you are against abortion, don’t have one.

I think what may be the issue with many Christians who are against gay marriage is that they are against homosexuality in general. They quote from Paul’s letters and from the Old Testament about injunctions against homosexuality. But they seem to miss the fact that Jesus, our Lord, says nothing about homosexuality, and says a lot about not judging other people. It isn’t our place to tell others what we think they are doing wrong. It is our place to do what we know to be right, and part of that is to show love. There is nothing loving about telling someone they are going to hell. There is nothing loving about excluding someone from your family or fellowship because of who they love.

Another issue is the idea of women in church. For many denominations, women cannot be ministers. This is following on the ideas of the apostle Paul, not of Jesus. Now, I’m not a Paulian. I’m a Christian. So if what Paul says adds to the message of Christ, then I’m for it. If it takes away from the message of Christ, then it is not helpful. I think it is important for people to read the Bible for themselves and to use the brain that God gave them, rather than expect their minister or their denomination to tell them how to think. When I read the Gospels for myself I found a lot about love and acceptance and not judging. I read a lot of stories about Jesus appreciating the service and ministry of women.
The bad part is that the loudest people get all the attention. They are hostile and rude, and are sullying the name of Jesus. They are bearing false witness to who Jesus is. But they are reminding us that we need to be able to think for ourselves and to make a point of countering their bad actions with good actions. We need to get out the word that Jesus came to show love, and we do that by showing love. I don’t hate the rude people who say they are Christians. I pray for them.

Food for Fuel

I have heard of different vegetables being used to create ethanol. The current selection that researchers use are beets, soybeans, and corn. On the surface this sounds like a great idea. Instead of discovering more pockets of oil and converting it to gasoline, why not discover new ways to create different fuels? All of these vegetables are easy to grow. They are renewable unlike oil. We can always grow more beets. We can’t create oil. It is something that once it is used up there isn’t any more. Need more vegetables – just plow another field.

But then I started thinking about it in a different way. This is food for fuel. We are transforming food into fuel. It isn’t that we are transforming something we don’t need like kudzu into fuel. In that situation we would have a win-win. We want to get rid of kudzu. It chokes trees. It destroys landscapes. Or how about crab grass? Scientists can start with my yard. It would save a lot of work for my husband every summer.

Do we really need more energy? Is that the most pressing concern we have going these days? Is fuel more important than food? There are starving people all over the world. How many people are starving or suffer from food insecurity every day? The last report I read is one in four here in America have problems getting enough food. So they can get gasoline to get to the grocery store, but they can’t afford to buy actual, fresh, nutritious food.

But apparently our society thinks we need more fuel, more gasoline. Or rather, we need more ethanol to water down our gasoline. Because our cars don’t actually run on ethanol. As the price of gas keeps going up we notice that the amount of gasoline in our fuel keeps going down. More and more ethanol keeps going in. Some car manufacturers even say that this is dangerous for your car. You could destroy the fuel pump using anything less than pure gasoline, and that kind of damage isn’t covered by that expensive extended warranty you bought.

But what other damage are we wreaking with this insatiable appetite for fuel? People are starving. But instead of being able to fill their mouths, they are able to fill their gas tanks. Somehow we have our priorities reversed.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we need to seriously assess our “need” for so much fuel. My cousins in England rarely have to drive anywhere. There is good public transportation. There are markets in the neighborhood that you can walk to. They don’t have to have a car for most things. Cars are expensive. They are seen as a luxury, unlike here where they are seen as something that every teenager feels he has the right to have.

The price of gasoline keeps fluctuating, yet we don’t seem to see the cliff that we are hurtling towards. We go through the crisis of high gas prices and when it is over everything returns to normal. A lady I know freaks out when it reaches over $4. Every time she says if it stays this high she is going to have to quit her job and find another job closer to home. At the time of the last large spike in gas prices house was 60 minutes away. Now her house is 40 minutes away. Still she complains when the prices begin to creep up. The last time she started in on her litany I pointed out that gasoline is a limited resource. There won’t be more. The price will only continue to go up. So it makes sense to wean ourselves from this addiction. She could take the train for free but she would have to walk two miles from the train station. This is way too much inconvenience for her. Perhaps that is the root of many problems. We want things to change but we don’t want to have to work for the change. And it certainly can’t involve any time or effort on our part.

Deaf to God.

What is it that people don’t get about God? Why do they see God as a magic trick or an imaginary friend? Why do they think of believers as chumps? Why are the words “believers” and “freethinkers” opposites?

I can’t ever not remember believing in God. I have always known of God. If faith is believing in things not seen then yes I have faith – because I have not seen God but I still know He’s real. I hear Him. I feel His presence. I know He listens to my prayers. But just because my eyes don’t perceive Him doesn’t mean I don’t know of His reality.

Now, to clarify, I don’t see God as a Him or a Her. God is the Creator. God is above gender. God doesn’t need anything or anyone else to create. But our language doesn’t have a third person singular designation for something that is genderless other than “it” and that word just doesn’t have the weight and presence I feel is needed when talking about the Creator. And as to the term “God” – it is a descriptive. I remember someone getting very angry with me and saying “He has a name!” Yes. But which one? “I am that I am,” or “I am” or “YHWH” or “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” or “The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Israel”? Our Jewish friends feel it is rude to say the name of God. They will write “G_d” or they will say words like “Hashem” which means “The Name.” The Arabs have 99 names for God, which really describe His qualities. God is Love – that is an appropriate name too.

I know is that it is comforting to know that I am not driving the bus. I am not in charge. Something larger than me has it all worked out. My goal is to get closer and closer to this Creator and align myself with Him. I remember having some rune stones when I was younger and one of the explanations for a particular rune was “I will to will Thy will.” I think that sums it up well. I’ve heard it is better to want what you get rather than to get what you want.

I’m OK with the idea of not doing something “right”. I’m ok with “messing up”. I’m ok with it not coming out like I thought it would. Because that too is part of the plan. “All things work together for good for those who follow God,” so the apostle Paul tells us. All things. Even the stuff you don’t think is OK. Judas was filling his role when he betrayed Jesus. He wasn’t in his right mind. It was as if he was possessed. And then, he came to. When he realized what he had done he killed himself. But his actions were prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. Betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver. It had to happen that way. So even “bad” has to happen. Sometimes it is our need to define a situation as “bad” or “good” that becomes a problem in itself.

I used to feel really self-conscious about what I feel is my calling. I first heard the voice of God at 12 while standing in my back yard in Chattanooga. What I heard I would do has perturbed and confused me for the rest of my life so far. It doesn’t even seem possible. It doesn’t make sense. Adding to it – I’m bipolar. I was diagnosed at 30, but I had the first signs of it at 17. I’ve talked to psychiatrists who were also priests (that’s a trick to find) to see if that was a sign of the disease. You know what I mean. Lilly Tomlin tells us that if God talks to us, we are crazy. This is what society says. Yet we take seriously the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Isaiah, and Moses talking with God face to face. We don’t even question that it happened. So why can’t this happen to us, now? These stories should be considered blueprints – not myths. Here’s how you know that God is calling you. Listen. It isn’t just a story.

Samuel lived in a time where God hadn’t spoken in a while. He had to be taught what to do in that situation. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” is what he was told to say the next time he heard his name called out by God. Perhaps we need to say this. Perhaps we need to stop talking so much. Perhaps we need to turn off the talk radio and the reality TV and put down the latest thriller novel. Perhaps we don’t do this because we are afraid of what we might hear.

I think we would rather sleepwalk through our lives than hear God’s voice. And we don’t even have to hear it to know what to do. We have the Bible to tell us.

There was a homeless guy from Poland named Bogdam who had sort of moved into the post office that is in my neighborhood. He was very pleasant and about 60 years old. He seemed content. I had made a point of talking with him every time I saw him. One day I had picked up supper for myself at Captain D’s and was on my way home. The post office was on the way, and I started thinking about Bogdam. I prayed – God, should I give him my supper? Send me a sign. And instantly the answer was – you have a sign. You have the whole of the Gospel telling you to “feed my sheep”. You don’t need anything else. Of course give him your supper.

So perhaps we don’t often hear the voice of God because we ignore the message we already have with us. We know what to do. Now it is time to take it seriously.

On Maundy Thursday and Remembering

“Maundy Thursday” is Thursday, March 28th this year. It is always the Thursday before Good Friday. “Maundy” is from the Latin word mandatum. It is where we get our word “mandatory,” meaning something that you must do. On that day we reenact and recall the first Lord’s Supper, where Jesus instructed his disciples on how to remember him. That meal is a remembrance in the truest sense of the word.

A few months ago I was listening to a podcast called “Paradosis” by Father John Hainsworth, an Orthodox priest. He was taking issue with the idea of the English word “remember” that is used to describe what happens in Communion. He was taking the word “remember” to mean the opposite of “forget”. He thought of it meaning that we remind ourselves what happened in that upper room during the first Lord’s Supper. His argument was that we don’t remember. We relive. It is happening right there, then, with us there. There is an alteration of space and time and we are there with Jesus and his disciples, and they are there with us in our own churches. We are all together with each other in spirit.

I think that is a perfectly valid understanding. But “remember” is a good word. In this sense it means really the opposite of “dis-member” Another word for our limbs is “members.” When you dis-member a body, you chop off the arms and the legs. All the parts of it are removed from the trunk. The parts that do the work are removed. When a doctor reattaches a limb that has been chopped off, he is actually “re-membering” a “dis-membered” limb. He is putting a member back. When we take communion, we are rejoined with Jesus. He is the body, and we are the arms and legs. We do His work in this world.

He tells us that he is the vine, and we are the branches. In the Gospel of John chapter 15 verse 5 we are told that “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” When we are rejoined in Communion, we are stronger. We gain sustenance. We are refueled. We gain the strength to do God’s work in our communities and in our world.

Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. The three of them talked for a long time. They didn’t recognize him physically. They didn’t recognize him by how he talked and what he talked about, as he explained all that was said about himself in the Scriptures from Moses and the Prophets. The recognized him in his action of blessing and breaking bread. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 30-31 we hear that “ 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Not by sight or sound or reason did they recognize him. He was there with them and they didn’t know. These are his own disciples, his hand-picked followers who knew him intimately. It was only in the blessing and breaking of the bread that they were truly rejoined with him. The same is true with us. It is in that simple, human experience of sharing a meal with our Lord in a community of believers that we can truly be re-connected and re-vitalized.

(all translations of the Bible are from the New International Version)

Ideal Church

Here are some of my ideas about what I think church should be and look like.

No hierarchy of leadership. Everybody can teach and preach if so called.

People are taught how to find and express their gifts of the Spirit.

People learn that they don’t have to work for a non-profit to be serving God. All forms of work can be valid paths.

No infant baptism. There can be a ceremony to accept children into the church – to say that the parents will raise them as Christians and want the support and help of the church. But baptism is too important for it to be done for you. You need to make that conscious decision yourself.

No peer pressure to get baptized or confirmed – it is open to all at any time. It isn’t just done once a year with all people over a certain age.

Full immersion baptism.

Communion every week.

Communion table is in the center – not at the end. No sense of distance – that it is special and you aren’t.

Money is not handled during the service. Parishioners give their tithes online or mail it to the church.

The service isn’t so weird that strangers can’t figure it out.

The service isn’t so boring that old-timers get tired of it.

The service changes with the seasons – liturgical, colors.

All major events are noted, and some smaller events. Note how some Hindu festivals are done – some are every three years, some 7, some 11. They aren’t all crammed into one year. If some Christian services are like this they will feel even more special.

Prayer is held every day in the sanctuary.

I really like the idea of incense, bells, and chanting at some services, not all. (otherwise strangers will feel excluded)

Money isn’t spent on expensive stained glass and vestments. It is spent on the poor.

Prevention rather than cure – time, energy spent on trying to prevent poverty, abuse.

A center for community education to raise people up. How to be good parents and good people.

Ministry is service to all, not just the “chosen” and not just those in church.

Honest facing of our corporate existence – health, both mental and physical. Birth, death, sex – no shame in the body.

Estate planning – and how to handle being a widow or a widower. Preparation for what it means to be married, or to be a parent. These major life events shouldn’t be a surprise or learned about after the fact.

Ignorance equals fear. There needs to be an emphasis on education.

Exercise and nutrition should be taught. How to keep the body healthy. Stress reduction such as yoga. Different ways of how to express yourself should be taught – art, music.

We are all one – now. Christ makes us so. “Full Communion” is in your head. It doesn’t require a committee or a vote from bishops.

Equal opportunity for membership – you show up on a regular basis, you are a member. You don’t have to be confirmed. Plenty of folks get confirmed and quit showing up, but are still counted as members.

The church gauges its success on the amount of people it has helped, not on the amount of money it has raised to support itself.

No bureaucracy – all can vote on everything. No vestry. This is more like the New England town hall idea of voting.

All are welcome to take communion. If Jesus calls you to the table, who are we to set limits or rules? Baptism is not required. Also, it is not for us to judge sinfulness or contrition. We cannot refuse communion.

No forcing people to get information in ways they aren’t familiar with. News and information should be online AND in print form.

Equal access for disabilities. Large print. Hearing devices. Sign language. Wheelchair accessible.

Think of how you are going to get a casket in and out before you design the place. No steps or tight turns.

Other religions are studied and respected. That which is found to be true and helpful is incorporated in the worship experience.

The service isn’t about the minister – it is about focus on God. These mega-churches are personality-driven, not Spirit-driven.

Everybody has to do something. No passive parishioners.

It is essential that nobody thinks they are better than any other denomination. To think that one denomination has a lock on it is to cause division. We are about the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” “Catholic” in this sense means “universal”.

Look around – if there are people from all walks of life and all races, you are doing it right. That is what Heaven looks like.

All are welcome. If there are leaders, then they need to be an equal representation. Not all white, heterosexual men.

Nobody is refused membership because of something they have no control over (gender, race, sexual orientation.)

All members are expected to participate. The same 10 percent don’t do all the work.