31 December, 2013

Truth Squared

While cleaning out a drawer in the study of a parsonage I was occupying, I found a sole piece of a puzzle.  From that one piece, I could not imagine what the whole picture would have been, nor could I have determined which way the piece fit into the puzzle.  I didn't have enough information from that one slice of the whole picture to know what to make of it.  I needed more information, more pieces of the whole.

Truth is also an illusive thing.  For every occasion, there are several perspectives.  Where the truth of the matter is remains either separate from any perspective, or as a combination of the the many perspectives.

If I am a witness to an auto accident, I see things only from my perspective. I cannot claim to have the only true version of the accident. I did not see the whole picture; I saw only the slice that was within my viewing.  My perspective does not include what the drivers of each car saw, nor that of the person who might have been standing opposite from me on the other side of the scene.  And none of these perspectives include what might have been visible from above the scene.  No one who witnesses the accident has the complete truth.

The challenge for our society is to recognize that there are many perspectives of truth.  Our tendency is to clasp on to one perspective and claim it to be the complete truth, the only truth, and then proclaim all others as in error or as lies.  This is arrogance on our part.  It serves only to bolster our own ego, to build up our own self esteem with the hot air of self aggrandizement.

If we are intentional about listening with our hearts to the many perspectives of living, we can only get closer to what is true.  Only by understanding the many perspectives can we get a full picture.

When we fail to listen, when we assume ours is the only perspective, we create division and disharmony.  Such is the source of much of the conflict around us and even within each of us.

John credits Jesus with saying, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold." (John 10:6) and  "In my fathers house are many dwelling places, If it were not true, would I tell you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2)

If we are to honor what scripture teaches us, we must first accept that there is much we have yet to learn; there is another perspective that also holds truth; and we must learn to listen to one another to seek understanding and not project our own opinion upon the words of another.  No more than we have the whole picture from the single puzzle piece, neither you nor I hold or know the whole truth.

As I enter a new year, my hope is that I will learn and remember to listen with my heart for the new perspective of Truth that God is trying to give to me.  May I be blessed by a growing faith.  May I be graced by peace within and amongst all.  And may the Spirit thrive in our joy.

21 December, 2013

Late Advent Ponderings

On of my childhood memories of Advent is watching out of the windows of the church during the (boring) sermon while the snow accumulated on the panes outside the clear glass.  There was a real candle in hurricane glass on the inside of each sill, and around the base was real greenery and real red berries.  As my young mind wandered and the snow accumulated, the congregation sang songs of preparation for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  We just don't do Christmas like that anymore!

Bethlehem, the town just south of Jerusalem, is on a hill and surrounded by valleys and plains. "In the bleak mid winter, frosty wind did blow...." is the carol we sing.  The secular world plays songs about the descendant of St. Nicholas (AKA Santa Claus) and of sleigh bells, and white Christmases.

We learn so much about what we believe by looking at the words to songs we sing.  And, we also learn a bit of falsehood from those same, beloved carols.  As we prepare to let Jesus be born again in our hearts, let's look with new eyes at the story of Jesus' birth in light of what scripture does and does not tell us.

Was it really winter when Jesus was born?  Probably not!  Caesar's census was taken in July;  the shepherds would have been in the fields at night during the lambing season in the spring and would have corralled them during the winter months.  However, the Romans had their mid winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays of the winter solstice around the same time.  In 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) on December 25.  Christmas, it seems, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals.  The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on that day was in 336 C.E. under Constantine.  It is thought that Christians chose this date to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world:  If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, perhaps more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

What -- our Holy-Day is founded on a pagan celebration?  That's not how we learned it in Sunday School!  Yet, it is true.

It is also true that the scripture does not say there were three kings.  Matthew says that an unspecific number of sages, who would be astronomers, came from the east and brought three gifts.  In the King James version of the Bible, these sages are called kings-- an erroneous translation from the Greek motivated by the political interest of King James to use scripture to uphold and enhance the authority of the English Monarchy.  Again, another secular source of the story we've come to love.

In our time, Christmas has again become a generally secular holiday season.  The decorations began going up in the stores in August.  Christmas music starts playing over store sound systems in October.  Christmas is the most lucrative season for the consumer goods economy of our capitalistic society.  Businesses are using the birth of a child born into poverty to promote materialism.  Our economy is fueled by the buying and selling of stuff for the celebration of one who told his followers to sell all you have and give it to the poor.  Our society's determination of a successful Christmas season is measured in dollar $igns.

How will you measure the success of Christmas this year?

  • By the number of parties you attend?
  • By the dozens of cookies you consume?
  • By the number of gifts you give or receive?
  • By the amount of snow that is on the ground on Christmas morning?
  • By the number of merchants who wish you a Merry Christmas instead of a Happy Holiday (holy+day)?

  • Will you count the number of blessings you have already received from God and give thanks?
  • Will you sacrifice something to help "one of the least of these? from Matthew 25?
  • Will you bring (non-materialistic) joy to someone who you consider your enemy?
  • Will you let the word of Jesus into your soul and let them grow into acts of love, mercy and kindness?

The time is near.  Make straight the path. Clear the highway in the desert of our world.  Prepare the way of the Christ Child to live in your heart.  And, plow aside the stuff of the world.  

05 December, 2013

We all make mistakes; We all do stupid things; We all need forgiveness.

Yes, we all make mistakes.

And of course I'm no exception.

On Being with Krista Tippett 8/5/2013
It's been a long week with lots of stressors, but that's no excuse.  The holiday week cut short the work week; a sinus infection has haunted me all week long; the stress of holiday gatherings; a dozen spider bites from a stored blanket have sent my immune system into further dysfunction; a long day of driving; letting loose of a loved one under less than perfect conditions,..... these all contribute to poor judgment, but they are not excuses.  They are nothing more than the setting from which my poor judgement and bad behavior arose.

The bottom line is that I did something I should not have done.  I stepped on someone else's toes, offended their authority and professionalism, and infringed upon their domain.  I am clearly in the wrong.

And having been called on the carpet for my doing so, I feel like dirt.

Having apologized, acknowledged to the other my breach of trust and professionalism, having vowed to never cross this line again, and having asked for forgiveness,  the relationship is nonetheless scarred.  There remains a cold wall between us despite the chitchat and information exchanges between us.  That cold wall is the remnant of a broken relationship; a scar in the skin of the body of Christ.  It can be mended, but requires tender care.  It is able to be healed, but will take time.

That cold wall could easily turn into a grudge or a root of bitterness that grows inside and between us. It would be so easy -- and familiar -- to carry anger, hurt, betrayal, and cold stares into the the future of the relationship.  This is the way of the culture around us.  This is one of the sources of our radically divided society, the divisions in our political and social strati, the fights in our communities of faith.  Our inability to humble ourselves, admit wrong doing, being hurt, betrayed, struggling -- our inability or unwillingness to set aside hubris -- will build cold walls, dangerous divisions, and cankerous wounds.  These will become grudges and bitterness that will ultimately divide the Body of Christ.

Only forgiveness will keep that from happening.  Forgiveness is the mending that needs to happen. Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending nothing happened.  Forgiveness is understanding the harm, understanding the wrongness of the wrong-doer, and agreeing between you to try again.  To forget anything happened will cause the wound to fester and infect the whole Body.  To not change the status of the relationship would be further denial; if I did not feel like dirt, there could be no hope for forgiveness! Entering into the path of forgiveness is digging through that dirt, wearing it on my penitent forehead, and sorting through all the implications and wariness of the new situation, the new relationship.

So we have a choice. We can nurse the pain; we can respond to the continued pain, pulling out swords and spears to slash and stab back. We can hold a grudge and remain cut off. Or, we can sincerely, deeply from our hearts choose participate in forgiveness. I can turn my sword and spear into repentant love that, in its own way, has a much better chance of piercing the other's heart, of reaching them. There is no guarantee, however, that the other will put away their sword and spear. There is no assurance that the other will be changed moved to forgiveness. But it will change me. It will keep a root of bitterness from growing inside me, replacing it with love.

Forgiveness is not easy.  In order to turn spears into to pruning hooks or swords into plowshares, the blacksmith must pound upon red hot iron; sparks fly in his face and all around him.  It is grueling labor.  It is uncomfortably hot. Peacemaking is difficult and dangerous work.  It is not possible for us to beat our own swords into plows, to bend our own words and actions and attitudes into means of forgiveness, peace and love on our own. We need the strength, skill, and extravagant love of a master blacksmith.  God has provided us One!

Even if forgiveness is offered and received, the cold wall will remain until enough time and space passes for the healing to happen.  Healing is the slow rebuilding of trust, of care, of mutual respect, of honor for the other.  These are relationship essentials that may have been offered freely once but now must be earned.  Only time and consistent care can heal.

We all make mistakes.  We all do stupid things.  We all need forgiveness.  In this season of Advent, let's journey toward making peace, shalom, happen first within and among us.