Uncovering Jesus

What I’m doing is stripping down everything I’ve been told about Jesus and everything I’ve seen about what church is. It is like I’ve gotten a painting of Jesus that is 2000 years old. The original is underneath many layers. It has been covered in jewels and gold along with dirt and grime. People have added to it what they think needed to be there. They’ve added so much that they can’t even see Jesus anymore.

I’m doing this by reading the Gospels, the words of Jesus. I’m inviting the Holy Spirit in, to help me understand the real meaning behind the words on the page. I’m studying Jewish prayers and rituals to understand the meaning behind the parables. I’m trying to live like Jesus, while at the same time living like someone who has been healed by Jesus. I’m trying to see everyone I meet as if they are Jesus in disguise, just like how the disciples encountered him after he resurrected. I’m trying to remember that Peter not only walked on water, but raised someone from the dead. I’m trying to remember that if he can do that, so can all of us who call upon Jesus as our Lord.

Mostly, I’m creating a sanctuary for Jesus within my heart and within my life. Instead of affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost of my home, I’m affixing it to myself, as a reminder every day, every moment, that God is real, God is alive, and God loves me. I’m inscribing God’s words in my heart through prayer and study every day.

Am I succeeding? Sometimes. Not always. Sometimes I’m so angry and frustrated and upset that I want to yell at everyone and then lock myself in my house. Sometimes all I want to do is give up. And then I remember that even this is part of the journey. I remember that God loves me even when I feel unlovable. And then I remember that it was Jesus that brought that message to me. Then I remember that I need to share that love, that forgiveness with others.

What would make me happy about church? If Jesus showed up, in us, every time. What would make me happy about church would be if we stopped talking about “When Jesus comes again” and we start being real about how Jesus is here, already, right now, with us – as us. We are Christ’s body in this earth. We are how God’s love is made visible.

We are each Mary, who carries the Light of God within her and gives birth to it. We give birth to Jesus every day through our actions of love and compassion and service.

All we have to do is say “Here I am” when God calls us and let God work through us, and with us. We don’t have to be special – God has already made us special. We are each different because that is the way we need to be. We need to stop comparing ourselves to each other, as better or worse. Denominations and different faith traditions need to do the same. We are each different because that is what is needed. We are one in Spirit, and that Spirit will knit us together and create us into One Body that will, that is already, making a difference in the world.

We have to focus on the good, otherwise the bad wins. We have to focus on the goal, or we will be lost on the path.

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Jealous

I remember a time when the priest at my old church was talking about this non-denominational church that had started up in Nashville. She couldn’t figure out why they had such a hugely following. The unspoken part was that it was huge in comparison to the attendance at her church. Average attendance was about 80 at hers, and about 300 at this new thing.

I felt it, but I didn’t have the words at the time. I now know. She was jealous.

Instead of being glad that the Gospel was being shared, instead of being happy that more people were turning towards Jesus, she was jealous that this church was getting the numbers and hers wasn’t.

Like it is about numbers.
Like it is a popularity contest.
Like it is about her at all.

The fact that she was jealous is why nobody showed up at her church. She had made it her church. She had held on to it so hard that she had forgotten who was in charge of it.

It isn’t the minister.

It is the One who never ordained anybody, and told us not to have Fathers or Rabbis or Teachers, because we have all of that in God.

If Jesus is the head of the Church, all will go well. When it is a competition and a popularity contest, not so much.

She said “We have all of that, and we have sacrament!” as to why her church, her denomination was better. But who needs an empty ritual, a show of communion when you have true Communion with God through Jesus, when you have a living relationship with him?

She was afraid of the relationship I had formed. None of the classes offered there taught about how to have this kind of relationship. I’m surprised she even allowed people to go to Cursillo, which is all about meeting Jesus in person.

But then, she didn’t want me to go to it. She thought I was being called to be a deacon, but Cursillo would have been too much.

The fire still burns in me.

I still wonder about a denomination that confuses someone who wants to help people with someone who should be ordained. Surely, wanting to be helpful should be normal, not so unusual that it requires a committee and Bishop approval and homework and years of study.

Words

I kept using the word “crazy” to define myself when I was with my spiritual director. She knows my history with bipolar disorder. She knows I hear from God. She, unlike my former minister, doesn’t freak out when I say that. She doesn’t like it however when I say I’m crazy. She thinks my difference is a gift. She thinks that God made me this way on purpose, that it isn’t an accident and it isn’t a handicap.

She asked me recently to ask Jesus what words he would use to describe me. When I did, instantly I got back these two words:

Anointed. Chosen.

My reaction to this? That again? You have to be talking to someone else. Nobody is going to believe me.

Then I think of Moses, arguing with God. He didn’t want it either. He kept trying to get out of it. Moses was one guy, untrained, with a speech impediment. God told him to go in front of the most powerful person in the world at the time and ask him to free thousands of people. God was asking him to liberate people from a tyrant.

With no army.
With no diplomatic skills.
With nothing, except the word of God.

God called to Moses from a burning bush. He didn’t send an angel. This was a bush on fire, yet it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. Sounds like a hallucination.

It all sounds crazy, right? Yet it happened. Why can’t something like that happen now? Why wouldn’t it? If we believe in an active and living God, then we have to believe that God still talks to people.

Why does God call amateurs? Why not call the experts? If God keeps working through the amateurs, why become an expert? What is the point of becoming ordained? If “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called” as is frequently said, then it means the call is more important than the preparation.

God made the waves part for the Israelites to escape from the Egyptians. God made water come from a rock when they were thirsty. God made bread for them too.

Blessed are you God, who makes bread come from the earth. This Jewish prayer said at every meal where bread is served. It is a reminder of the manna from heaven. It is a reminder that God provides for us all the time. We didn’t buy or bake that bread. God gave us the ability to buy it or bake it. God made the grain grow from the earth. Sure, somebody planted it. But God made it happen.

If by my faith I am healed as Jesus says throughout the Gospels to people, then I want to believe that God has called me. I want to believe that I’m not making this up. I want to believe that the voice I hear is God’s voice. I want to believe that it is real.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:4 that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God.

Now, Jesus is the bread of life, and the Word.

When my spiritual director tells me I am amazing and special, I think that she tells that to everyone she directs.

Sure I’m special. And different and unique. I stress that to everybody how special they are and that they should celebrate their uniqueness. And then I have a very hard time fully believing it myself.

Perhaps my hesitancy is part of it all. Perhaps God needs me to be certain of my call. It has taken me a lot to tell ministers of the call I first heard when I was 12. It took me a lot of self convincing before I even told a minister. I had to convince myself first. There were a lot of walls that had to be overcome in my own heart first.

Why not believe that Jesus has made a home in my heart? Why not believe that I am called to build a new church?

What is the danger of believing this?

Embarrassing the church. Leading people away from the truth. Having them be mislead. Like David Koresh. Like Jim Jones.

Going so far that I am discredited, that the message is not heard.

But, then I think, if the message is from God, it will get out. If it really is of God, it will happen.

I ask to not get in the way, and to be the way. It is both at the same time. God made me the way he made me because he needs me this way.

My diagnosis means I am mindful and careful. It means I ask for guidance and for oversight. It means also that I self limit. This is good and bad.

I’m still upset that the place I asked for training and oversight didn’t know how to handle me. But then again if I am to do something new, I can’t follow an old pattern.

New wine, old wineskin, and all that.

Stamp of approval.

It benefits the Episcopal Church that I’m not going to get its stamp of approval. I’m pretty out there for them. I actually talk about hearing from God. I am very vocal about radical inclusion. I’m pro- everybody rights. I’m so far out there that they didn’t know what to do with me.

Part of the process of seeing if you are called to be a deacon is seeing if you are willing to submit to their rules and their timetables.

They don’t check to see if you are willing to submit to God’s rules and God’s timetable, which to me seems more relevant. They have confused their paperwork and bureaucracy with God’s power. They’ve substituted themselves for God. This is very dangerous.

I was very angry that I was made to wait three years before the process even began. I wasn’t angry that I was put on hold, for my sake. I get that they need to make sure that someone is suitable before they put their stamp on them. You don’t want some wacko embarrassing the church, after all. You also don’t want someone trying to do something that they aren’t suited to do. It is like affixing a garden hose to a fire hydrant. The force of the water will blow that hose to pieces.

The same thing can happen with people who aren’t called.

I am angry at an institution that doesn’t seem to know how to build up the Body and therefore the Kingdom.

If someone comes to you and says they want to help, and you make them wait three years before you even begin to see if they are suitable in your eyes, then you have wasted a resource. You have wasted a lot of time, and you run the risk of discouraging someone.

Jesus tells us in Luke 10:2 that “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” There are a lot of broken, hungry, hurting people in the world, who need love and care. Why would you make them wait, by putting a worker on hold?

There are so many sleeping people in church. There are so many people who show up every Sunday and don’t even do anything. They passively listen and they get a warm feeling of smugness or perhaps of assuaging of guilt that they have gone to church and done their duty, and that is all.

It would be so much better if they all took that hour and a half and skipped church and went to serve food in a homeless shelter. Or manned the local crisis line. Or walked to raise money for AIDs patients. Or visited people in hospice care.

Or did any number of things other than sitting on their butts, listening to someone say how awesome God used to be way back when in Biblical times.

God is awesome now, and is real, now. And Jesus isn’t here anymore to heal us. That is our job now. We are to pick up where Jesus left off. We are to get up and be Jesus in the world.

The purpose of church needs to be to train the workers. Church needs to be more like a mobile command unit for a war, because it is a war we are fighting. We are fighting a war against depression and hunger and poverty and abuse. We are fighting for all that is good and right. We are fighting because that is what we were made for.

That is why God put us here, to be God in this world.

Instead of saying “How could God let this terrible tragedy happen?” we really need to say “What are we, the children of God, going to do about it?”

Peacemaker and the Process.

I said at one point about a year ago that my goal in life was to be a peacemaker. I’m not doing a very good job of it. Either I need to reapply myself to my goal, or I need to be honest with myself about what my goal really is.

When I said that was my goal I was in the deacon discernment program in the Episcopal Church. It was tedious. It was a lot longer and harder than I thought it would be. I thought that if a person said that they wanted to be helpful to people, they’d be given some training and some oversight and a task right away. Folks would get help in a helpful way, soon. Nope. Their plan was wait three years and think about it. Meanwhile, I’m stumbling along, clueless. Meanwhile, people are still coming to me with their problems and I still don’t really know what to do.

Part of the Process of discerning if you are called by God to be a deacon in that church, and it really is a Process with a capital P, is a series of assignments. You get an assignment once a month. You need a whole month to work on it. The last one that I was given before the Process was put on “pause” (read, thanks for playing, but you can stop now, you aren’t what we are looking for) was about my goals for life. It was to teach me that everything that I’ve already done in my life was training for what I’m going to do. I felt a bit cheated. If I already have all the training and experience, then what do I need this Process for? If I can figure out for myself what I’m being called to then why do I have to go to these meetings every month and bare my soul to these near strangers?

I’m a little bitter, still, about the whole experience. I try not to write about it much because it just opens fresh wounds that I’m trying to heal. But I’m learning that it is important to examine the source of pain in order to heal. This is a new part of my practice. I’m still learning how.

I said that I wanted to be a peacemaker. I said that I’d love to travel around the world and get people who have disagreed for years to actually listen to each other for a change and see things from each other’s perspectives. I thought that peace in the Middle East would be a big coup.

But then I thought I’d need to learn all those languages, because you always lose something in translation. And I thought that they certainly wouldn’t listen to a young American woman. That is three strikes right there.

Is that the yetzer hara speaking again? Is that the voice of the “evil inclination” that is trying to prevent me from doing what I’m called to do? Or is it the voice of reason that points out that is really not my calling?

Who am I kidding? Peacemaker?

I don’t even talk to my brother or my aunt. I don’t go to my previous church in part because of a huge falling out with the priest. And I’m spending Thanksgiving at home with just my husband because of a falling out with his family. My circles just keep getting smaller.

I don’t have a great track record with making peace.

My usual modus operandi is to avoid the problem. If you don’t talk about it, it will go away, right? Don’t talk about the elephant in the room. We herded elephants in my family home. Just thinking about that madness makes my stomach start to cramp up again. Who doesn’t want to avoid pain? Running away seems very healthy. Until it isn’t, and you realize that you’ve run away your whole life and there isn’t anywhere to run away to anymore.

I feel like I was cheating a bit when I said that I wanted to be a peacemaker. It sounds good. It is close to what I want, what I feel called to. I don’t really want what I’m being called to – but then I want nothing else. The idea of not doing what I’ve been put on this Earth for makes me sad. Nothing is more tragic than seeing someone waste her life thinking she has another day, another month, another year to start living it. I don’t want to be that person.

But then I don’t have a word for what I’m called to. That was why I consented to be part of the Process. I figured it would separate the wheat from the chaff. I figured out it would separate the signal from the noise and let me know what I was hearing. I figured if several of us listened together we’d hear better.

Turns out instead of boiling off the stuff that I don’t need, like skimming off the scum from chicken soup that you are reducing to juicy goodness, it just boiled everything over and spilled it on the floor. I didn’t know I had so much in me. I didn’t know that I can’t be contained to one denomination’s rules and rubrics. I didn’t know that one expression of faith wasn’t going to be enough for me. I didn’t know that this process would widen things up instead of narrowing them down.

I know God works through everything. I know that everything I go through is from a loving God who wants the best and is working with and through me to bring forth what is best. I also know it doesn’t feel very fun while it is happening.

Perhaps peacemaker is part of it. Perhaps I need to know what peace isn’t in order to understand what peace is. Recovering addicts make really good counselors. They’ve been there. They know. Perhaps I’ll know what my calling is when I get there. Perhaps God is treating me like I’m a secret agent. Not even I know my mission because that is for the best that way. Perhaps I just need to live my way into it and take one moment at a time, with trust.