Invitation: Sing the Lord’s Song

Riot police, protestors bravely fighting for human rights, and a humble few singing the Lord’s song are minute to minute happenings in the middle of a town square today in the Ukraine.  Much like those occurring in Syria and other countries, the powers that be are thinking more of themselves instead of listening to the people.  In Kiev, Ukraine, ministers and pastors, deacons, and other believers have established a prayer tent.  This tent is at the epicenter of a revolution, the people protesting their leader taking their country back to Russian socialism instead of aligning the country the democratic European Union. They report that the tent is definitely not a place of calm, meditative conversation with God.  The riot police and protestors shout and the sound of barricades and weapons are heard.  The language is far from pious and visitors to the prayer tent are not dressed in their Sunday best. Women make sandwiches by the hundreds, heedless of their own personal comfort.  Hot tea is the beverage of choice since the temperature is a minus 15 degrees, cold for even the most seasoned Ukrainian.  Sermons and homilies are lived, not preached.  The ministers and deacons and pastors do not wait for the people to come to them but take their faith on the streets, often carrying the injured to help.  Sometimes the best they can do is teach a dying protestor how to think prayers and supplications to God before the mind can do so no longer and life has ceased.  They realize that people on the outskirts, cut off from supplies and fuel for warmth cannot come to them and so they go to those in need.  Both on the streets and in the prayer tent there is a convergence of many faiths and creeds and while deep discussions take place over life-changing matters and life and death happening before their eyes at an elbow’s length, there is little territorial dispute.  Emphasis is on faith, not on differing doctrines.  There are, in essence, sharing the love of their beliefs – singing their Lord’s song and inviting others to do the same.  And they do this amid the hail of gunfire, chaos, and cold.

The Episcopal Church is entering Year Three of a three-year-long campaign of invitation.  A year ago I asked a parish rector how he was interpreting this for himself, his parish, the diocese in which we both lived.  Our diocese had done a very good job of reminding people we were to “Invite!”  Calling the Episcopal Church the “best kept secret”, our bishop frequently addressed this in his monthly letters to the diocese which was published online.  This rector thought a minute and then replied:  “I would ask those whom I know and who are just like me.” 

I think this rector is extremely honest and gave me a most honest answer and that, if truth be told, most people would feel the same way.  Do we do the Lord’s work that way, though?  Do we really want to invite people to our churches?  What if they, like those coming to the prayer tent in Kiev, talk less than pious?  Of course most of us don’t speak only great things with piety and humility but we already know each other so maybe that makes it all right.  What if people come to our churches and we don’t like their attire?  What welcome would John the Baptist get?  How many Biblical characters would meet our “requirements for invitation”?

How can we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:4)  We must sing the Lord’s song in situations foreign to us, to people foreign to us.  We cannot sit in our comfortable buildings, fearful to trust God to make the unknown doable.  We have to go to the people and offer them what God offers.  Thankfully, we don’t have to do it in the middle of a revolution, just amid internal hesitations.   We sing the songs of Zion when we live the invitation.

Human Commodities

People are not commodities. 

Let’s break that down into simple definitions, just so we are all clear. 

  • People – persons > human; member of the homo sapiens species.  Basically, “homo sapiens” is Latin for “wise man”.  The species was named that due to its bipedal locomotion, a fancy way of saying we walk on two feet very well. Given the chaos and havoc mankind has brought upon the environment and the trials and bloodshed of its own species that man has perpetrated throughout the years, one might argue that we are not wise.  In fact, an Australian scientist proposed in 2011 that the classification name be changed from “wise man” for just those reasons but so far, no change has occurred.  [I personally would question just how able our bipedal locomotion is after having spent a morning chasing a quadro-pedal feline who seemed to move much better than I but I will assume that science knows best and we are in fact “homo sapiens”.]
  • Are – to be; exist
  • Not – negative; no
  • Commodities – something bought or sold; an economic good

Therefore, my topic sentence seems pretty clear, right?  Problem is I did not give you the first definition for commodity.  According to the five or six dictionaries I consulted, a commodity is “something or someone of value”.  Aye, there’s the rub!

This post might have seemed more fitting for Jan 15, Martin Luther King Jr’s actual birthday, or January 20, 2014, Martin Luther King Jr’s federal holiday, but I wanted that day to recognize his life, his courage.  Today I want to talk about what I believe the purpose of his efforts was and that is summed up in my topic sentence: “People are not commodities.”

Slaves, and they have come in all colors, sizes, and nationalities throughout the history of the world, were valued for their contribution to the homestead.  Some worked in agricultural fields, some in mines, some in houses.  Today we call them by other names and sadly their value is still similar to that of a pet goldfish – a dead goldfish.  Several years ago, nominees for political appointments were disqualified for having undocumented alien workers who were not paid according to wage and labor standards, in addition to being illegal residents.  Everyone has probably been serviced by such a worker, whether at a fast food restaurant, in lawn care, maintenance workers at an office we frequent…the list is endless. No one can say they have not been part of that loop in some way. 

Human rights, defined as rights you should have simply because you are human, are interpreted by governments and religions with multitudinous applications, none of which are close to being similar.  Martin Luther King Jr was not the biggest man nor the tallest nor the loudest.  I know; I once informally met him on the steps of a federal building shortly before a rally when I was a child.  He discouraged people from making their point in the biggest way, the loudest way, or with force.  He appealed to the sapient in all of us, based upon a simple belief that “People are not commodities.”

Would parents be better parents if they got a raise at work when their child made the dean’s list at school?  Would parents know where their kids were and with whom if they got a tax break for raising children that never had negative contact with law enforcement?  Would we be better neighbors and coworkers if we were given bonuses for being respectful to others?

Martin Luther King Jr knew that our Good Citizenship Award would determine the future of the world.   People who are educated will solve problems and cure illnesses.  People who are healthy will be more productive.  People who are productive feel valued and respected.  People who feel valued treat others with respect, even those who differ from them in race, color, creed, gender, age.  People who feel their voice has a place have no need to create terror.  People who live in peace….live in peace.

What if we had international stock markets that traded in peace?  What if peace became the world’s greatest commodity?  Then we would have a future, the future of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s dream.  Would that peace was our own personal commodity. 

Mean Girls (and boys)

A news story this morning spoke about mean girl in kindergarten classes.  Everyone was amazed and appalled.  I also am not happy but I fail to see why this is amazing.

Kids seek that which is familiar.  We as adults offer them security and encouragement to try something new.  Unfortunately, as the world has gotten smaller so have the number of parents who feel secure enough to trust in change and then pass on that trust to their children.

Bullying has been around for a really long time.  Cultural folktales are full of such and even if the bullying is not overt, the implied discriminations are.  After all, no one speaks of David’s prowess but only of his size – short and small. 

Bullying will stop when we stop participating in those cultural events that glorify it.  Movies such as “Mean Girls”, tv shows like “The Jersey Shore” that perpetuate stereotypes and staying within a circle of stereotypes, sports teams that pay players for bullying the opposing team’s players out of sight of the referees, pop music that denigrates a certain sex or class or religion or profession….all of these encourage young people to bully.  They also encourage those same young people to think such actions are not only cool but also acceptable.

It really is not a question of faith or culture or even class.  It is a matter of self-esteem.  A person who possesses self-confidence does not need to put someone else down in order to bolster their own self-image.  You may not like every other person or want to hang out with them but you should not need to be mean to them.

When we as parents so our job as parents, then we will not feel guilty nor that we have come up lacking.  Then we will be able to encourage our children to stop bullying. 

Bullying is a team activity.  No one gets satisfaction out of bullying in private. The next time a kid takes his or her own life or takes a gun to school, ask what the environment was for that child.  Before you defend the other kids or feel they were at fault, stop.  Also ask what their environment is like, both at school and at home.

Teachers are having to do the work of the parent, the therapist, the educator, the counselor, the enforcer and most for less than minimum wage when all the time they spend regarding their job is tallied.  Parents are over-worked trying to keep up with their neighbors or some image from the medi that they feel they must duplicate.

No one stands at the grave of their child thankful for their big house or fancy car.  No child gets security from absentee parents.

Next time you wonder where all those “mean kids” came from….maybe the answer is as close as the nearest mirror.  When we as a culture decide bullying is wrong, it will stop and our children will live stronger and healthier lives.

I just hope we are not too late to look into that mirror.

Spirituality versus Religion

I want to thank Nancy Kern for her contributions to this essay.  Her contact information is located at the end of this.  I heartily recommend her for anyone desiring a greater knowledge of her specialities!

Thank you, Nancy!

Recently, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed.  In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended.   The parish had a thriving youth program.  Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”.  They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme.  Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc.   The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came.  One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor.  When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled:  “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said. 

The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory.  Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness.  What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate?  According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”  The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins.  Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion. 

The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas.  They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion.  Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law.  Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo.  The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present.  Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.

What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future.  They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable.   We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter.  Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely.  We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?

Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices. 

 

“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary.  The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs.  Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress.  Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”

 

Kern adds:  “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings.  Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”

If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision.  Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith.  Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality.  We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive His Holy Spirit.

Contributing Writer to this article:  Nancy Kern is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling.  She teaches at the Spectrum Center and the Jung Center of Houston, TX and can be reached at www.nancykern.com.

Goofs & Gifts

Goofs & Gifts

Like most people, when the New Year 2014 struck at 12:00:01 AM, I hoped that it would be a better year than those previous.  However, I am grateful for all those times in past years that life was a big “OOPS!”  Those were the times that tested me, challenged me, and offered me the greatest opportunity for growth, learning, recognition of friends, a sense of accomplishment.

When a science experiment goes according to plans, all that does it confirm for the scientist that what he/she thought he/she knew was correct.  It is when the experiment does NOT go according to plans that science occurs.  That is when real learning happens.  Why did the elements not react as expected?  Why was the result different?  What caused those changes?  Can we replicate them?  If so, how?  In finding the answers, we realize a new part of science.  We gain from the unexpected – those “OOPS!”

Life is so nice and calm when there is no build-up of static electricity that causes a light bulb to blow when I turn it on.  However, until I go to replace that blown bulb, I don’t realize I need to go buy some more bulbs.  Every morning I arise and without much thought, get ready, completely taking for granted the plumbing, the water coming through the taps, the electricity used to make my breakfast.  Let there be a power outage or a water contamination, though, and all of a sudden I value my creature comforts like never before!

The past year had its challenges and I am grateful for not only having survived them but for the friendships that supported me through them.  I am blessed to be able to say lessons were learned.  Not all my questions were answered but…Hey, maybe that’s what 2014 will bring!

Embrace all of your life – the good and the bad.  Draw strength from your own spirit and wisdom from your base of faith on how to move forward.  May we all make 2014 a year of enlightenment, love, health, and joy as we hop from goof to gift!

Epiphany – What Color is Love?

Epiphany – What Color is Love?       

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 This past Christmas season a national network news anchor declared that both Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated at Christmas, hence the name for the holiday, and Santa Claus, a popular cultural icon of the holiday season, were both white – Caucasian.  There were no cameras to record the event of the birth of the baby Jesus and the calendars used in modern times were not the calendars used at the time of the believed birth of this baby.  So we have no real court-worthy evidence of either the birth or the date of it.  What we do have is a story, a myth, an oral tradition that some people have taken on faith and believed. 

 

Evidence of life is not determined by whether or not one believes but such beliefs can enhance, improve, and even give reason for life.  Science is very clear about the effect quality of life has on a living being and having a positive belief system is included in quality of life.

 

Whether or not one is a Christian, a follower of the baby whose birth is celebrated at Christmas, or whether one participates in some other faith system or claims to have none at all, we all have certain beliefs.  We hold our beliefs to be truths and to us they are as self-evident as any court-worthy evidentiary facts.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  The Declaration of Independence, the first legal document of the United States of America, declares that we have beliefs and the right to them. 

 

Was this news anchor exercising her right to her beliefs or was she violating the rights of others to their own beliefs?  This baby who would grow up to be called Messiah by some is said to stand for love.  Believers believe he gave his life for their chance at eternal life.  Certainly that is love.  So what color was he and what color is love?

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 At the top of the page are 88 smiling faces, or should be if I counted correctly.  Multiply those by 1000 and you have the number of chromosomes in the average human body.  Chromosomes do a multitude of things.  They are tightly coiled, organized structures of our DNA.  Immediately above this paragraph are also a group of smiling faces.  Both groups look fairly similar or are they?  Actually, one group has two less faces than the other.  Can you tell which is which?  Of course not!  Two less faces really doesn’t make that much of a difference.  However, wars have been fought and are currently being fought for what those two less faces represent…. All supposedly in the name of love – love of culture, of nationality.  Actually, wars are most often fought for love of greed and power.

Less than two thousand of the eighty-eight thousand chromosomes in the average human body affect ethnic features – eye shape, skin color, hair type, etc.  Multiple those two less faces by 1000 and you have exactly what I am describing.  Two thousand of anything is a large number but put it in context and it can be practically nothing.  After all, if I gave you 88 M & M’s and then asked for only two back in payment, would you hesitate?

On January 6th, the Christian community will celebrate Epiphany, the day in which the baby born in a stable in Bethlehem was manifested as the son of God, the promised Messiah, the love of God in human form.  This child legally was not Caucasian since the legal definition of Caucasian is someone whose ancestry is European.  Any child born in Bethlehem would have been Middle Eastern or, in common terms, Arab.  Born into a Jewish household, he would have been considered Jewish, Israeli in the common vernacular, but those are not legal definitions of race.  I would hope that a national news network would educate its on-air personalities but apparently this particular news network does not.

What color love will you see on January 6th?  Some will indeed see Love as lily white; some will see it bronzed and brown, or almond-eyed, some with a yellow hue.  Most will envision Love just as they are but the more open-hearted, will know that Love comes in all colors.  Just as the smile that Santa Claus brings can appear on the face of any color, so Love can be manifested in any body.

Let’s all have our own epiphany this January 6th, that sudden intuitive leap of understanding that Love comes down to us all when we stop filling in the picture with fear and start living the faith we profess.  After all, Love does not limit us.  Why do we limit it to just one color…or shape …or size?  This January 6th, let’s see love with the eyes of our heart, the eyes of faith.