In sickness and in health

African healer Credo Mutwa in “Shaking out the Spirits: a Psychotherapist’s Entry into the Healing Mysteries of Global Shamanism” by Bradford Keeney says this about disease:

“Every one of us exists in two worlds at once. There is another earth existing side by side with this earth. In the other earth, we are all cannibals. When a person develops cancer, we believe it involves the cannibal counterpart of ourself from the other world that is slipping into this world to devour us. When a person is attacked by cancer, he must never show fear or else he makes himself weak. Disease, being a living animal, is ahead when you are afraid. In the religion of the Great Mother, you must not call anything or anyone an enemy. If you do this, you make it stronger. … When you have cancer, you must never panic. You must fight your sickness with a great calm. You must, above all, realize that what kills you is not so much the actual disease itself as it is your own mind that is tempted to surrender to the disease. Take your mind and occupy it fully in a very exciting project or occupation. This will give the body time to heal itself. This I know. I have kept diabetes, tuberculosis, and cancer at bay with this understanding.”

I believe there is a hidden message to this. I believe that this is telling us in a roundabout way how to prevent disease. From learning how to heal sickness, we can learn about how to create health.

Here it is – If you engage yourself in an exciting project, in something of great purpose and meaning, then you will prevent disease from striking at you. Laziness, sloth, inactivity causes disease. It opens the door.

It is when we do not live out our purpose in life that we get sick. We were created for much more than eating chips on the couch and watching reality TV. We were created for so much more than engaging in gossip and worrying about what latest trend we should follow.

God has created us to do good in this world. God has created us to be a force for change. We weren’t created for ourselves.

The prophet Micah tells us – “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)

The prophet Isaiah tells us more (Isaiah 58:6-7)

6 Isn’t the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?

We are created to heal others – to feed, clothe, and house them, and to rescue them from all kinds of prisons (mental, physical, educational, psychological). We are to be the hands of God.

We have to take care of these bodies that we have been given. They are delicate machines and need to be maintained. It is important to do this so that we are in our top form to be able to do the will of God in this world. Yet we must remember that we must do this only so that we can serve God. We must never believe (like so many modern ideas say) that we should just take care of ourselves. Self-less service is why we are here, not self-ish gain. We were not created to bask in waves of delight for delight’s sake. God most certainly wants us to be happy, but even more certainly wants us to be useful to others.

These thoughts from “The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary” might help you see a way to help yourself so that you can help others, or a way to remind others how to unlock their own healing from within –

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
1. When did you stop dancing?
2. When did you stop singing?
3. When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
4. When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul. Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.”

So healing is to be found in dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence. Do those things and you will get well. Do those things and you will prevent sickness. It isn’t really about when you stopped doing these things – so much as starting to do them again right away.

Re-visioning church – playing church vs. Being the Church

Re-visioning. Not revising. Not changing, so much as looking at it again and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Jesus has to be the center of it. Not a minister. Not a “worship team”. Not the building. If Jesus isn’t the cornerstone, then it isn’t church. It is a façade.

Church isn’t the building – it is the people. It is the people that Jesus came for, that Jesus died for.

So how do we re-vision church? First, read the Gospels. Read what Jesus said. Look at what he did. Then look at what is happening in your church community if you have one. How closely does it adhere to that message?

It is time to strip everything away that isn’t Jesus. Any policy, any program, any activity that isn’t in line with Jesus’ message, strip it out. This leaves more room for actual work.

In the past two thousand years we’ve put so much into the idea of “Church” that we’ve often misplaced Jesus along the way. I think we’ve started to worship the idea of Jesus more than actually follow him.

Our job is to do the work of Jesus in the world. We have to heal, to reconcile, and to love.

Any church organization that is run like a business has gotten off track. Jesus didn’t do this. Why do we make it harder than it has to be?

I think the problem is that we think it has to be harder than it is, so we’ve put more into it. The “car” that is Christianity was really streamlined. We’ve put so much stuff in it and on it that it hardly goes anymore.

It is more common these days that “Christian” is equated with intolerance than love. That alone is a sign that we’ve gotten it wrong.

Jesus tells us in John 15:1-8
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

This is our template – we have to abide in Jesus if we are going to be Christians. Otherwise we are just “playing church” and not Being the Church.

Paternosters

decade

Paternosters are one-decade rosaries. They are more easily documented than rosaries, since many rosaries were destroyed during the Reformation. Beaded cords used to recite prayers have been found in many cultures and over many years. In fact, our word “bead comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “biddan” meaning “to pray” and “bede” meaning “prayer.”

It was very dangerous to be a Catholic during the Reformation. To possess a rosary or any other Catholic paraphernalia was to risk imprisonment or death. One way that Catholics chose to practice their faith in secret was to carry Paternosters instead of rosaries. They were easily portable and concealable. It was possible to use the paternoster discretely while going about daily life in public because it could fit in the palm of a hand.

Pre-Christian people valued certain stones for their talismanic or protective qualities. Among these were coral – to strengthen the heart, rock crystal – for purity, amethyst – to protect against drunkenness, and agate – for protection. Other materials that were used included amber, carnelian, and emeralds. When Christianity became popular, beads fell out of favor. God was to protect you – not the beads. But old habits die hard. When people made rosaries, the used the same stones, for the same reasons.

Paternosters are not meant to be worn, but used. Following the standard order for rosaries, the prayers go as follows: at the cross, recite the Nicene Creed. At each of the ten following beads (Aves), recite the “Hail Mary” prayer. At the final bead (the Paternoster), recite the “Our Father” prayer.

References –

The Book of Beads – Janet Coles and Robert Budwig
The History of Beads – Lois Sherr Dubin
Sacred Origins of Profound Things – Charles Panati

Answer – on intercessory prayer.

People often ask me to pray for them. Sometimes I hear an answer back of what they are supposed to do – some blockage to address, some wrong to be righted. They rarely want to hear this.

Perhaps they think their obligation is over just by asking for prayers. While it is important to ask for help, it is also important to be able to receive it. Receiving it in this case means listening to the answer to the prayer.

I think a lot of this resistance comes from the modern church structure. We are taught to be passive in our faith. We are receivers, not doers. Things happen to us. We don’t make things happen.

We are taught this when we are expected to be silent or to recite from a script during our worship service. This is the model we are given in the modern church service for how we are to interact with God, and how God interacts with us. Sit down. Shut up.

But this pattern is not God’s pattern. This pattern ensures docility and compliance. The Bible is filled with the exact opposite pattern. Our role models are active and willing participants in doing God’s will.

We are the hands and feet of God. When someone says “How could God let this happen?” the question really should be “How could we, the people of God, let this happen?”

So it makes sense that people don’t know how to react when I tell them the answer that I’ve heard. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me even. Rarely is it something simple or obvious. This is in part how I know the answer isn’t from me. I couldn’t have made it up because I don’t even understand it.

Sometimes the answer is to do something. Sometimes it is to stop doing something. And I don’t always get an answer. That is part of it too. Sometimes we just have to live in the middle, in the not knowing, and have faith that God has it all under control.

When I pray for myself or someone else I’m often asking for a change in a situation. Sometimes I’m asking for a boon or a favor. But just like if I was asking for a boon from an earthly king, I have to understand that it might not be just, and it might not be right.

With an earthly king, the request may not be in his power. With our heavenly king, it is always in God’s power. The issue is that we can’t see things the way that God sees them. God knows the history of everything even before it happens. This is what God means by the title “the Alpha and the Omega.” Time means nothing to God.

So sometimes what we are asking for isn’t really what we want, or need. We think it is, but we don’t have the whole picture.

When we pray, sometimes God needs us to do our part to make the result happen. We should welcome this work as an opportunity to serve God. So when you hear an answer, whether you hear it yourself or it comes by way of an intercessor, see it as a blessing.

Boat – on an anchorless faith.

I’m starting to think that the Episcopal church is better off without me. The whole deacon discernment process was put on hold a year ago. I understand now that there is no way I could speak freely and have them put their stamp of approval on me.

Because how dare I say that God is talking to me?

As Christians, our goal is to be connected with God. How can we possibly do the will of God if we can’t hear God?

Oh, right, I forget. We are supposed to trust that the priest/minister/pastor is hearing from God, and telling us what to do.

Yet, this isn’t what Jesus wanted.

So I’m on my own now. I’m non denominational. I’ve been without a church home for half a year, and it is a bit terrifying. There isn’t a road map for this. I keep wanting to go back to the old way, but then I feel a pain in my gut every time I think about it. I know that I can’t. I know that isn’t my path.

I’ll go to a Christmas Eve service. I’ll take communion in a gym. I’ll celebrate Christ in the pool at the Y. I’ll go to my spiritual director. I’ll go to a friend’s house where we share what the Spirit leads us to share. I’ll host events at my house. I’ll pray over my meal in silence at a buffet. I’ll make healing jewelry for a grieving friend. I’ll write.

God is connecting with me in new ways.

It is like I’m on a boat, sailing far away at sea. I’m no longer following the coastline or the man-made lights along the shore. The lights I’m following are the same lights that sailors have followed for thousands of years.

I’m going backwards to go forwards.

The radio doesn’t work here, this far out. There’s no map on the sea either. I have no way of knowing if I’m headed the right way. I have no way of knowing if I’m lost.

I’m pushed along by the breath of God, and that suits me just fine.

This is the same breath that created the world, that gave life to Adam.

I feel safe in this boat, this ark, the ark of Noah, the ark of Moses as a baby. Both went out on trust, went out in wooden boat on the ocean, adrift. Both were there because all was lost and the old ways didn’t work anymore. Both were there because to stay where they were meant certain death.

The Covenant has an ark too. So do Torah scrolls.

The main body, the sanctuary of a traditional church building is known as a nave. It is from naval, from ship. It is an ark for people. It looks like a ship, upside down. The sharp pointed roof is the hull of the ship, pointed towards the sky.

I don’t want that ship anymore. I want to take it and turn it all upside down and set it afloat again.

I don’t think that God wants us to be grounded or set in our ways, or stuck in one place. I think God wants us to be forever trusting in God’s ways, and the only way to do that is to set sail, rudderless, anchorless, free. God wants us to take us further than we’ve ever gone and right where we need to be.

God is, was, and shall be. The Hebrew YHWH is a contraction of these words. It is a good name for God, the infinite, the forever, the now and always is. God is endless and eternal.

We can’t understand this, we humans. We invented time. We invented the idea that tomorrow follows today and each day has a separate name and that time takes place. Perhaps that is why we are confused. We don’t understand God because we can’t limit God. We can’t define God because God is indefinable.

Wake up. Hear the gulls. The day is dawning here.
There’s no shore, but we are not alone.
The beings of the sea and sky keep us company.
Wake up, and smell the salt in the air.
We are safe.
We are home.

White is white – on blind obedience to the Church, and going it alone.

Some of you will remember that I was in the deacon discernment process for the Episcopal Church. This means that I believe (and the priest believed) that I was being called by God to serve “the least of these” – the poor, the homeless – those who have no one to serve them. Some of you have been reading along since April of this year, when I stopped going to church. The part that is interesting to me is that only a handful of people have even seemed to notice I’m gone.

I’ve recently written to the team that was involved in the process. It took me this long to get over my anger at and sense of betrayal by the priest. I didn’t want to write an angry letter. There are/were (what tense do I use?) nine people on that team, all trying to “listen” with me to see if it was a call from God. None of them have written back. I then sent a copy of the letter to the Bishop. Nothing, again. I feel like I’m standing at the front of an auditorium and the microphone isn’t on so nobody can hear me. Or maybe they are ignoring me, hoping I’ll go away. But the weirdest part is that more people from a church that prides itself on being welcoming and friendly hasn’t contacted me.

I was very active in this church. I was there every week. I was the leader of the team of lectors and chalice bearers. I was also an acolyte. I served up front as part of the worship team nearly every week. It is a small church. I’m hard to miss.

To be a deacon in the Episcopal Church is a big crazy process. It takes years. It takes homework and meetings. You have to submit your transcripts. You have to submit your baptism and confirmation records. You have to submit to a physical and psychological exam. Basically, you have to submit. They want to make sure that you are hearing from God, sure, but they also want to make sure they can control you. They want to make sure that the Church is safe by not signing off on a wacko, sure, but they also want to find out if the priest or the Bishop tell you to do something, you’ll do it.

The odd part is that you have to go through all this for an unpaid position. You are expected to keep your day job. You have to do more at church and in the community, but you don’t get paid for it. They have this whole multi-year process to shape you into a deacon. The process is arduous.

But it turns out that they don’t really have a framework to teach you how to follow God when the Church isn’t. That’s the scary part. There’s a group in the Catholic Church that embodies this blind faith in the Church. The Jesuits say that if they see that something is white, and the Pope says it is black, they are to say it is black.

I’m not about that kind of obedience. I understand it, somewhat. We humans are fallible. I entered into this process because I know of my weakness. I’m bipolar. So I wanted training and oversight. I wanted to make sure that if I thought I was seeing white, it was indeed white. It is my greatest hope that I not deceive or mislead anybody. I think it is really important to make sure it is God’s voice I’m hearing and not my own imagining.

I left church because I could see white and everybody else was doing black. The more I read of the Gospels, the more I realized that what we, collectively as a Church, are doing, is wrong. It isn’t about building church buildings or having ordained ministers. It is about building up the Body of Christ – by teaching every person who is called to be a Christian how to be a loving servant of God and how to hear the voice of God. Everybody. Not the elect, not ordained people – everybody.

I think everybody needs to go to Cursillo and be woken up to the Holy Spirit. I think the homework assignments for the deacon process are very helpful for helping people “hear” their calling. I think small groups where people “listen” to each other and keep each other accountable are useful. I think reading books by progressive Christian authors about their struggle to integrate the ways of God with the ways of the world are helpful. I think we all need to work on our faith rather than take it for granted.

Perhaps this is what they are afraid of. Perhaps this is why they haven’t contacted me. I represent a total upheaval of the way things have always been done. No more church buildings. No more vestry. No more priests. Church isn’t a social club but a way of life – and that life is service. Perhaps this frightens them.

It is like the early Christians, who knew in their hearts that what they were doing was right, was in fulfillment of all the promises that they as Jews had been told. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah. But everybody else railed against them. How dare you upset the way we’ve always done things? How dare you tell us that we are doing it wrong?

I get that. People are like that.

But white is white, and black is black, and the blinders are off now.

Hindu/Christian

Is it about being Christian, or being Christ-like? What is more important? The label or the work?

Perhaps you have seen the video about a Hindu man of the Brahman caste who quit his job to feed the poor and destitute in his city in India. His name is Narayanan Krishnan. He cooks breakfast, lunch, and supper and goes out into the streets and feeds them. He doesn’t just drop the food and leave. He feeds them by hand, himself. This is against the rules for his caste to do, but he does it because he feels it is the right thing to do. He also will shave them and bathe them if needed. He has commented that it is important to feed the soul as well as the body – to let these people know that someone cares for them as a human being, and that they are loved.

He and his team feed thousands of people every day. They feed the old, the sick, the mentally ill. They feed all the people that society has thrown out, has deemed as worthless.

This Hindu is very Christ-like. It isn’t about faith or religion, but service and love. Of course, there are plenty of people who say they are Christian who will say that he is going straight to hell – meanwhile they aren’t doing anywhere near the amount of service he is doing.

Jesus says in Matthew 12:50 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

There is also story in the Gospels about the disciples getting ticked off because they see people who aren’t part of the group doing their work. They feel jealous and threatened. They are angry. In Mark 9:38-41 we read “38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” 39 “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of My name, since you belong to the Messiah—I assure you: He will never lose his reward.”

I believe the goal of Christianity is to bring Jesus to people, rather than bringing people to Jesus. That we are supposed to serve them in the same way that Jesus served them – love, heal, feed, encourage. Not to convert them. But I say this on my blog and “Christians” attack me for it. I find it crazy that I’m all for the love and the service and they freak out over it. Like love is a bad thing.

I’ve decided I no longer care what they think. They are on their own path. For me to try to convert them is just as pointless as them trying to convert me. I’m trying to love them anyway, to see their pain and their need to control in their words. They were taught this intolerance, these words. They haven’t woken up yet. They think I’m asleep too, that I’m blind too.

They’ll throw the “I am the way” verse at me as their proof that you can’t be Hindu and be saved. They don’t get it. It isn’t about being saved so much as saving. Who cares if you “are saved” and you keep it all to yourself? Who would want to convert to a religion that is all about guilt and control? Not me. This is why I say I’m reluctantly Christian. Actually I think “Jesus follower” sounds better. More accurate.

I’d rather know of a Hindu who does the work of Jesus than know of a person who says they are a Christian but all they do is tell people they need to “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.”

What is the value of “accepting Jesus” if you don’t do the work? It isn’t about lip service. It is about service. It is about humbling yourself. It is about being a servant. It is about taking up the yoke and following Jesus, by doing His work.

In James 2:14-17 we read “Jesus says “14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.”

Christians argue all the time about what denomination has it figured out and what doesn’t. Christians also say that Christians as a whole are better off than non-Christians. More enlightened. Closer to God.

Nobody is, if they aren’t willing to do the work.

In Mark 9:33-35 we read “33 Then they came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus came to teach us to serve, and to teach us that God is real, and loves us. That is it. That is what we are called to do. We are to serve everyone. We are to let them know that God is real, and that God loves them. We are to show them love. Not guilt-trip them or judge them.

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35 For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41 Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!

42 For I was hungry
and you gave Me nothing to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger
and you didn’t take Me in;
I was naked
and you didn’t clothe Me,
sick and in prison
and you didn’t take care of Me.’

44 “Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’
45 “Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(All translations of the Bible are from the Holman Christian Standard Version.)