On names – what does it mean to be a Christian?

“Israel” means to struggle with God.

“Islam” means to submit to God.

So what does it mean to be a Christian? In a way it means a little bit of both. It means to serve God. It means that you believe that God loves us so much that God decided to get down to our level and understand things from our perspective. It means that we are to follow Jesus’s example and to allow God to work through us to bring healing to the world. It means we are to be obedient to the will of God and put our own desires and wants last. Not second.

Now God will never ask us to ignore our needs. And we aren’t meant to be zombies.

This all sounds a lot like the word “submit”, but I think “to serve” is more accurate. To be Christian is to intentionally, willingly, and (hopefully) joyfully serve God.

How do we serve God? The easy answer is to be a minister. The hard answer is just as you are. You can go to school and learn how to tend God’s sheep. Or you can take care of them right now. Mother Teresa taught us that we don’t have to help everybody all over the world. We just have to help one person at a time.

God made you the way He made you because He needs you that way. We aren’t all supposed to be the same. Your differences are your strengths. Consider a garden. A garden full of the same kind of flower is boring. God made us all different because we are more beautiful that way.

Poem – names

We have
this idea
of naming
different rivers –
yet
they all flow together.
They are really
just
different parts
of
the same thing.

There is
the same
with a set of woods –
they are all trees,
yet
they are all
the same.

How about we
think of
people
the same way?

Different names,
but the same Source,
and the same
destination.

Pods!

Check out this awesome seed pod.
pod1

It is about 6 inches long, and an inch and a half wide.

Let’s look at it closer.
pod2

Such a pretty color. Sort of like a fig, all purple and brown. I think it might be a honey locust. I’m not sure. It is way too big and too thick to be a redbud pod.

It is ripe. Here is a picture of it turned on the side. The seeds are trying to come out.
pod3

And another.
pod5

Yet another.
pod4

I kept trying to take a picture of just the seeds, but my camera wanted to focus on the ground instead.

Then I had to smell it. The smell was warm and a little musty. The seeds had rotted a little with all the rain. This pod had sat on the ground a while. The skin of the pod is very thick, but the shell had opened so the seeds could get out. This also means rain can get in. It smelled a little sweet, like honey.

It is good to stop and examine things anew – to see them and try them out. When was the last time you picked up something interesting off the ground and looked at it and smelled it? I hope you do so very soon. It is rewarding.

Poem – Body

The Body is strong enough for everybody,
even the misfits, the oddballs.
There is a space for everybody
in the Body of Jesus.

We are all welcomed
We are all blessed.
We are all sacred.
We are all kissed
by the tears of Jesus.

He welcomes us,
includes us,
even though we don’t feel worthy.

We are to do likewise
to the rest,
to the forgotten,
to the forsaken.

We are to include
the excluded.

We are to embrace
the unloved.

Go and do likewise.

The empty cross

cross1

I love this shape. It is the cross, the intersection of heaven and earth, but empty. It is filled with the wearer.

I love that it is a quatrefoil. It reminds me of a four leaf clover. It looks medieval, yet the place I bought it from calls it “Moroccan.” It isn’t just one thing, and that kind of thing makes me really happy.

It reminds me of the bead that launched my love of beads way back when I worked in Washington D.C.

cross4

I loved that bead so much that I got a tattoo of it. In fact, it was my first tattoo.

cross3

I’ve since added to it, as you can see. But it is the center of the design.

This tattoo reminds me that God is always with me. It got it after the first time I was in the hospital for my bipolar disorder. They take away all of your “stuff” when you are in a mental hospital. That is the one place where you need something solid to hold on to. Me? I chose to have a reminder of God’s love with me. I figured they couldn’t take this from me.

But this symbol – this empty cross, I like even more. It is the same shape as that bead of course, but it means more because it is less. By having the center of it empty, it shows the wearer through it. It reminds me that I carry God with me, and so does everyone else.

I made this version of the empty cross necklace with green, orange, and purple. I’m not sure why these colors keep standing out for me. I like them, sure. They seem a little more vibrant than I normally work with though.

cross2

I’m a little limited on these crosses – the batch I have only comes in green, and it is a bright green at that. No hiding it! But in a way I like that too. Green is a color of growth, and this vibrant green is a good reminder to be alive in my faith.

Picture-story part four – introduction

I’m sorry – I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Torii Jane. My friends call me Jane. I can’t tell you when America adopted the family name first practice like the Japanese do. Somewhen with all the computer files and doctor’s offices it seemed more sensible. We were sorted by family name first anyway. Somebody decided it would just be easier to make it all the same.

Torii? Yeah. That sounds Japanese too. It is. My family name means gate, but it isn’t like a gate anybody uses anymore. It’s a gate without a lock. It’s a simple thing really. It doesn’t keep anybody out. It just lets people know they’ve arrived.

Turns out the Inuit had something similar, in their inuksuit. They made stone structures to point the way. My name’s kind of like that. My family was full of people like that, people who knew where the line was between “here” and “there,” and how to get “there” in a really good way.

I sure miss them.

I started selling survival kits door to door to try to find people who saw things like me, but I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know that was why I felt so different. I didn’t know that was why I’d fallen out with so many friends. I was becoming invisible.

Maybe this is why they’ve not sent a search party for me. I’m not missed. I’ve spent so long moving away from them and their drama and their parties that they don’t even notice I’m gone.

Maybe here I can find a new home for myself.

What am I thinking? I’ve got an apartment back home. I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got a Book of the Month club membership. I can’t just give all of that up. How will I survive?

All right. Get a hold of yourself, Jane. You’ve survived this long without those things. You sell survival gear, remember? You’ve lived on your own for what, twenty years?

Good Lord. Now I’m talking to myself.

Picture-story part three – gold

I’ve finally met some people. They tell me they call this planet Graille. I didn’t see them at first because nobody sees them at first. They’ve become invisible. Well, not really invisible, but nobody notices them.

They came here because they could actually see each other. The closer you get to being awake, the more visible you become to each other, and the more invisible you become to everybody else.

Everyone else is so busy watching reality TV that they have stopped noticing what reality even looks like anymore. They are so used to artificial colors and flavors that they don’t know what real food looks like or tastes like anymore either. No wonder the real people have become invisible.

That field of stars I saw? That’s gold. It isn’t a field of stars at all. It’s a compost pile of sorts.

There was a hoarding of it around the turn of the century, a century ago. Every street corner and every abandoned building became a place to buy up gold. “Cash for gold”, they said. “Best prices!”

Some of these invisible people set up these shops, alongside the end-of-the-world doom mongers. They did it to collect more gold. They knew that money wouldn’t do them any good where they were going, but gold would.

It wasn’t for a profit. It was for the planet. This planet.

The gold feeds the soil. They use it with their compost, their kitchen scraps. The gold cancels out the acidic soil here, makes it come alive again.

They discovered that digging up all the gold was why the Earth’s soils stopped producing food, why they had to start 3D printing it out of plastics and polymers. That food fills you up, same as eating Styrofoam. It just leaves you hungry for more because you never got filled up with food in the first place.

The soil needed the gold under it all along. That’s why the Creator put it down there in the first place. Funny people, digging up the wrong thing. They thought if they dug up more gold, they could buy more food. Turns out if you leave it where it is, you get more of what you were looking for.

(After a long amount of wrestling with this, I’ve decided that if the words come without the picture, to let them. And if they are not 1000 words a section, that is OK. Rules cannot get in the way of the goal.)

On Gentiles and Messianic Jews

I want to learn more about Judaism, but I don’t want to become Jewish. Well, in the way that Jesus meant, yes, I do want to be Jewish. In the way that Judaism is now, no, I don’t. I can’t give up Jesus.

It isn’t out of fear that I say that. Years ago it would have been easy to walk away from Christianity, and with it, Jesus. Years ago I thought I was Christian because I believed that Jesus was the son of God, was God in human form. I still believe that but there is so much more to it now. Now it seems like every month I get closer to understanding who Jesus is, not who he was.’

Because I see Jesus as alive and present in my life, I can’t cut him out of it. This wasn’t so ten years ago.

Part of how I’m coming to know Jesus is through his culture. If I made a friend from say, Uzbekistan, I’d try to learn more about her by learning more about where she came from. What are the foods, the dances, the songs that she grew up with? What are the values she was raised with? This will help me to understand her better. Her idioms will make more sense. Her habits won’t seem out of place to me. Sometimes, to understand “where someone is coming from” you actually have to understand where they are coming from.

Now, Jesus is Jewish. There is no way around that. He was born and lived as a Jew. So I want to learn more about Jewish culture.

I’ve been reading about Judaism but I want to experience it. It is the difference between reading a recipe versus actually cooking it. So I need to interact with people who are Jewish and participate in their customs, rituals, and holidays.

But the last thing I want to do is make them feel uncomfortable. It is super important that they understood that I’m not there to convert them, nor am I there to convert to becoming Jewish.

So I thought, how about a Messianic Jewish congregation? This seems ideal. Since I live in a major city there has to be one. I’ve found one listed online and it seems exactly what I want. These are Jews who see Jesus as the Messiah, yet retain the Jewish customs that are in harmony with Jesus’ teachings.

Now I have to admit that I’m a little amused by the term “Messianic Jew”. If you are from any background and you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, then you are Christian, by default, right? There are some people these days who are Christian and add extra adjectives to that term to separate themselves from mainstream Christians, but they are still Christian first. But I digress.

So this congregation looks ideal. And then I read the fine print. They say essentially they believe that Jews and Gentiles are equal, but Jews are more equal. Gentiles are welcome to worship with them, and have a role to play, but the role is to help convert more Jews to their side. But still, the Jews, by virtue of being Jews, are better.

I cannot handle that attitude. It isn’t in line with the teachings of Jesus at all.

Jesus erased all distinctions. In Jesus women and men are equal. All races are equal. There are no leaders or subordinates.

If they truly believe that there is a distinction between Jews who believe in Jesus and Gentiles who believe in Jesus, then they have missed the whole message of Jesus. It isn’t about blood, or genetics. It isn’t about history or ancestry. It isn’t about the past. It is all about the present. It is about who you are, right now, and how you have chosen to live your life. If you have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, then you are equal with every other person who has done the same.

On separation and inclusion.

The Jewish rules of kashrut, the kosher rules, were to ensure purity and separation. They were to keep the Jews safe from being diluted or dirty. The rules reminded them they were separate and special. There were other, similar rules that ensured that they kept apart from people who were not Jewish. These rules created lines of “us and them” and demarcated what was “other”.

Jesus came to erase those lines. He says that there are no distinctions between secular and sacred, between earthly and heavenly. He says in the lingo of today that “It’s all good”.

And it is all good. God looked at the world after he made it and said it was good. God made and continues to make the world. If we believe in a good and loving God, we have to believe that God will only make good things, and that includes people.

They may not seem good to us at the time. They may in fact seem very bad and broken. But if we have accepted Jesus into our hearts and lives, we have to believe that they are in fact good at the core, because Jesus believes that.

Jesus came to say that nothing is broken and nothing is dirty. Jesus came to say that everything is safe. Jesus showed us by getting right in the middle of the world that it is safe.

Jesus touched lepers and didn’t get leprosy. By touching them, he not only healed their condition, he healed their relationship with the community. They were no longer excluded.

Jesus says that when we separate ourselves, when we play it safe, we aren’t being love made visible. He says we aren’t showing trust in God as a loving God when we exclude others.

Jesus came to join together heaven and earth, God and humans. Jesus came to heal all divisions. When we divide, when we exclude, when we limit, we are not being like Jesus. We are operating out of fear instead of love. We are saying that our decisions keep us safe. We are saying that rules keep us safe.

When we do this, we are taking our lives into our own hands instead of putting them in God’s hands.