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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Cold Call dating two

When you go to apply for a job do you just walk in and say “Hey, you need to hire me”? Or do you get to know the place? Do you try to find out if they have the products that you like to buy? Do they have ethical practices that are in line with what you agree with? If so, then you should work there. If not, then no.

You should never just walk in off the street, having no knowledge of the place, and try to get a job there. You both will be miserable.

A similar amount of effort should put in if you are trying to find a girlfriend. Get to know her as a person. A boyfriend and girlfriend relationship is entirely different than knowing someone as a friend. There is a lot more to it.

Both getting a job and getting a girlfriend are big commitments.

There is a connection between retail and dating. Think of trying to date as if you are the product, and you are trying to sell yourself. You are trying to get them to buy you. Why would someone be interested if they don’t know anything about you?

Plus, girls want to think that they are special. They want to know that you are choosing them because they people and not just because they are female. Show some discretion and discernment.

One of the worst things you can do is ask someone out on a date when you have just met them. There might have been a chance you two would do well together, but because you jumped ahead a step, you blew it.

One of the best ways of getting to know someone is to be part of the same kinds of groups. Join a club. See who is there that looks interesting. And when I say “looks interesting” I don’t mean “looks beautiful”. Looks aren’t everything, and they fade fast. Look for someone who laughs at the things you laugh at. Look for someone who supports the same causes as you.

Is she fun and funny? Or does she seem needy and nervous? Is she helpful, or does she always need help?

Getting to know someone’s personality takes a while, and that is a good thing. If you are going to be in a long-term relationship with someone, you need to take the time to get to know them well.

Asking someone out on the first day you meet them is not the way to do it.

Sometimes it feels like guys are just shooting fish in a barrel when they are looking for a girlfriend. No aiming required. They will take whatever they can get. The results are messy in both situations.

Here’s one of many stories I can share about a dating attempt gone wrong. I’m in a water aerobics class that is pretty difficult. An older guy shows up. He is probably in his 70s, and most of us are in our 40s. In the first ten minutes of class he is already asking for dates, hinting openly that he wants a sex partner. Nobody knew him, and he didn’t know them.

Why would we, or he, want to have sex with a stranger? This is a very intimate and personal experience. Either person could end up with a really scary partner. Actually, it is pretty safe to say they would end up with a scary partner because someone who shows that level of casualness about sex is pretty sketchy.

It makes me wonder if he would buy a house just because the garden is nice. There are pretty flowers in the front yard, but the house is falling apart inside. The plumbing is wrecked, there is mold everywhere, the kitchen is gutted, the roof is falling in and there are raccoons and possums living inside – but hey, the garden is nice – I’ll buy it.

No reasonable person would buy a house like that. Likewise, no reasonable person should ask a woman for a date and know nothing about her other than she is a pretty woman with a nice smile.

The funny part? They guy didn’t even make it through the class. He lasted about 20 minutes and then he had to get out because it was too difficult for him. If he can’t make it through a water aerobics class, he certainly couldn’t have survived sex.

What he should have done is come to the class for at least a month, and gotten to know the personalities of the class members by talking to them. He should get to know the women as people, and not as women. He should have gotten to know them with no goal in mind, because having the goal of dating can make objectivity difficult.

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.

Goin’ on a book hunt…

I love going to used book stores. I’ve created a method to find the next great book I’m going to read in the speculative fiction section. I’ve discovered some amazing gems this way.

At any point the book can be passed aside. There are various tests that each book must pass. Sometimes a book will pass several tests, but not the following one. Then, depending on how high they rate in the previous tests, I may still give it a try.

First, the book has to be half an inch thick or less. Less is better. If the author needs 500 pages to get to the point, I’m not interested. Break it up into a trilogy if you have that much to say.

One reason for this requirement is that I often hold paperbacks with one hand while eating, and I often carry paperbacks in my purse. The smaller, the better. Size does in fact matter.

Second, I look at the cover art. Yes, I do judge a book by its cover. We all do, don’t look at me like that. There are some really amazing covers out there. There some real clunkers too. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I want to see a picture that is worthy of the words I am considering reading.

Deal-breakers? The cover has a picture of a muscle-bound man with a sword or a gun. Especially if he has a nearly-naked woman by his side. If the woman has a sword too, I reconsider. I am tired of books where the woman has to be rescued. Then there are covers with lots of spaceships and antennae. I’ve found I like books that are set on other planets with other cultures, but I’m not so interested in books that are set on a spaceship. Somehow I get claustrophobic reading those.

Camp is not my thing, so covers that look excessively silly won’t do.

This “druid” looks like he has been mainlining steroids.
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Now, if the cover art is really good I’ll consider buying it just for the cover, but the cost is then an important factor.

Third – the price has to be right. Under $2 is good. $0.75 or less is ideal. Because of this, I don’t look at well-known authors. Because of this I’ve found some amazing “new” authors. They aren’t new at all. They are probably dead, because most of the books I’m reading are 30 years old or more. But there are probably other books by that author to find the next time I go.

If the price is over $2, there had better be other factors that change the balance. It doesn’t mean it is out, but it does mean there had better be other points in the book’s favor. Now, $4 or more is right out.

Fourth – I flip to the back and read the blurb. Is it interesting? (plus) Is there excessive capitalization? (minus)

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Are there long silly names? (minus)
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Fifth, I open it. If the print is tiny then everything ends right there, even if everything else passed. I am getting older, and tiny print is a real pain. I love my Kindle in part because I can make the print as big as I need, but that doesn’t factor into used book selection. Plenty of these books will never make it to Kindle. Even if they did, they’d cost too much. I love the Kindle, but you can’t trade in used Kindle books like you can real books.

I’ll flip to a random section and try it out. How does it read? Are there lots of unintelligible words? (minus) Does it seem plausible yet surprising? (plus) I’ll flip to several sections to check it out at this point. This part takes the longest, which is reasonable. I’m going to spend the longest amount of time reading it, so it had better be worth my time.

Sixth- How does the book smell? And I don’t mean that old-book smell. That is a plus. I mean does the book smell like pee – human or pet? Does it smell like cigarette smoke? Does it smell of some cloyingly elaborate perfume that some ladies wear to cover up the other two smells?

Those are definite deal-breakers. I have no desire to spend hours really close to a book that smells.

Here are some covers of books I’ve enjoyed recently using this technique. I hope it inspires you to find new authors. Happy hunting!
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Here’s a collection of some I found using this method for the first time. It was on a road trip.
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Temporary nuns.

I know a lady whose friend thinks she is being called to be a nun. She is about to enter a year-long discernment process to determine if she is indeed being called. If it is anything like the Sisters of Mercy process it could take a minimum of seven years before she is able to fully be accepted as a sister.

Why? Why this long? But then again, wouldn’t it be helpful if all people went through a process to see if they were suited for their professions? I’ve lost track of the number of people I know who spent many years and many more dollars to get an education to get professionally certified; only to find out when they actually entered their chosen field they hated it. They trained to be teachers or nurses and found they couldn’t stand it in reality. When it came time to do the work they were trained for, they found that they didn’t love it.

That is a lot of time and money and energy wasted. A little discernment beforehand would have helped a lot.

Of course, deciding to be a nun isn’t the same as deciding to be a nurse or a teacher. Well, actually it is. A lot of nuns end up doing those very jobs. They are both service jobs.

But nuns don’t get paid. They don’t get to marry. They don’t get to own anything either. There is a lot more commitment to being a nun.

I’ve heard that very few young women are entering the convent these days. Perhaps the Catholic Church should rethink this whole thing.

Let people have 5 year runs. Let young women sign up to serve the poor, the homeless, the sick for five years. During that time their “pay” is room and board, just like regular nuns. During that time they are single, so they can dedicate all of their time to their mission and not a family.

After that time they can leave. It is kind of like the Peace Corps, but with church training and oversight. This would bolster the ranks of the nuns and give young women who want to help a way to do so without the lifetime commitment.

They might also have the opportunity of renewing their contract. Either way, they will have training and on the job experience that can translate into a job in the secular world.

Seems like a winning solution to the shortage of help.