Our Contradictory Nature: The Good And The Bad – The Yin and The Yang

I once had a coworker who was nearly impossible to work with.  He was impetuous and never finished what he started and usually I or someone else would have to finish the job.  He did not take criticism well; becoming childishly pouty and passively aggressive when confronted with his lack of respect for his coworkers.  Nevertheless, he also had good qualities; he was often charmingly funny and entertaining and would sometimes provide breakfast for coworkers, to include the person he had been passively aggressive toward.

I am also much like my coworker, in that I sometimes lose patience with my family, friends, and coworkers.  I can also be grumpy, instead of graceful when under a great deal of stress. If I chose to, I could go on and on about my own shortcomings.  Aren’t we all like that, a mixed bag of positive virtues and negative emotions, the embodiment of ‘yin and yang’?

The late singer, Johnny Cash once released an album titled American Recordings. The album cover is a picture of two dogs, one dog is black with a white stripe and the other dog is white with a black stripe. In a Rolling Stone interview, Cash explained the meaning of the two dogs.  “Their names are Sin and Redemption. Sin is the black one with the white stripe; Redemption is the white one with the black stripe. That’s kind of the theme of the album and for me too.  When I was really bad, I was not all bad. When I was being good, I could never be all good. There would be that sinful streak going through.”

This mixture of good and bad is what the Apostle Paul was writing about in his letter to the Romans when wondered aloud, “Does that mean I can’t even trust what is good? Is good just as dangerous as evil?” He goes on to say,  ”…Yes. I am full of myself — after all I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then act another, doing the things I absolutely despise. So, if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God…is necessary…Thank God…Jesus Christ acted to set things right in this life of contradictions…”   (Rom. 7:13-25  The Message)

Heavenly Creator, I want to love you with all my heart, mind and body, but I am sometimes swayed to act out through my emotions, or give in to the temptation to do wrong.  I thank you for your understanding. I thank Jesus for coming and showing that you love us even in our contradictions. 

I ask you God, to give me strength to stay focused upon who you have called me to be. Yet I thank you for the grace of your love when I do live up to that.  Your love, the love that Jesus shows me, allows me to love myself even when I am less than lovable and that gives me a way to understand, love and forgive my neighbor when they act in ways that make them less than lovable, and I thank you for that. 

Amen.

How Busy Are You – Really?

by J. WhalenMy spouse and I have been working part time for some time now. We did not choose our work situations and they are not ideal.  However, working part time has given me another perspective from which to view the work ethic of the people around me, and I can say that we are very busy people.

If you ask someone, ‘how are you’ or ‘what have you been doing’, they most likely will say how busy they are.  Almost no one responds, ‘I’ve just been relaxing’ or ‘spending time with family and friends.’  The response I usually hear is about how busy the person is; and it usually sounds as if they are bragging about being so busy – albeit, the bragging is often disguised as a complaint.  We are a people who view busy-ness as a virtue.  This should come as no surprise, after all the Puritans viewed work as a virtue and it was their religion and culture that was the springboard for our American way of life.

Yet, I have to wonder if all this busy-ness is what God had in mind when we were created. I wonder if all that busy-ness is sometimes something that we do to give our lives purpose and meaning. Since my spouse and I have been relegated to part time work status I have noticed that when I allow things to slow down, my body and mind respond accordingly.  I have found that it is truly a blessing to work in the garden and watch tomatoes appear, grow and mature. I have found that painting a picture or taking photographs have made me more in tune with the creation that God has surrounded us.  I have also found that when my partner and I spend relaxed time together that our bond is stronger and our relationship with each other and with God, grows and deepens.  Remember, God, created work as a punishment and it was the Puritans who turned it into a virtue.

Heavenly Creator: Slow me down, help focus on the important things in this life, the things that you have given me. Keep me grounded to your creation so that I can see you in it and find my meaning and purpose in you.

Images of God

Jim Whalen:

When Tony wrote this and passed it to me to proof read, I thought how this fit so well with my  previous posts on the “Images of God”. Although I haven’t written anything on the subject in a while I continue to get many readers coming to my blog through searches on the subject.  It is for those readers that I am reblogging this here. May your image of God continue to be dynamic.

Originally posted on Faithscape:

Earlier this week one of my students shared with me that she learned that a friendcommitted suicide. She was really hurt and at the same time very angry. She said that her friend had so much potential and now he is gone. She also felt that he didn’t work hard enough to survive and wondered why he did not reach out to her for help. In her heart, she felt God will truly punish the friend because, in her words, ‘he was young, he had a lot of potential and he didn’t fight hard enough to survive.’ I shared with her that God may be disappointed in her friend, but God would not punish the friend. That God, better than us, understood his pain. She seemed relieved and said “I just wished my friend was still with us.”

After that conversation, I began to reflect how each of us…

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A Reader asks “Is God Sexual?”

In responding to my posts Who Are You God and Where are You Leading Me? and Spirituality and Sexuality – ‘InThis Image’

Betsy wrote:

“You put out the idea about having to change the way we look at God, from time to time.

In this post you say we are made in the image of God and that we are spiritual and sexual.

Does that mean that God is sexual?”

 

I replied:

“Thank you for stirring the pot, Betsy. “Does that mean that God is sexual?”

I know our sexuality is a gift from God.  I also know that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human and therefore was a sexual being.  If you believe, as I do that Jesus was/is the Christ, then yes God is a sexual being.  Beyond that, I believe, the question is unanswerable.”

 “Is God Sexual?” What do you think?

 

Spirituality and Sexuality – ‘In This Image’

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.   Genesis1:31 (NIV)

 

Spirituality and Sexuality - Some view them as repellent to each other as oil is to water, ‘They do not go together,’  they claim.

 Yet, we are, in our humanity, both spiritual and sexual beings.  “So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27; )  It is by God’s design that we are both spiritual and sexual. We can’t be one without the other. 

  Like the  Live Oaks trees in the picture above, we are of the physical, rooted in the earth which nourishes us to grow strong and upright toward the light.   The earth nourishes us both physically and spiritually, offering us glimpses of the nature of God. Who among us has not seen the divine as we witness the birth of another being, walk a forest path, climb a mountain, or contemplate a sunset? Like the earth, sexuality offers us glimpses of the divine – who among us hasn’t seen the divine in our soulmates eyes, or cried out to God in our lovemaking?  If it were not for the love of God, could we express the love we physically share?  

We are rooted in the earth, which nourishes us, just like the trees. Yet, we seek the spiritual, growing toward the light of God.

 Sexuality and Spirituality, God created us in this image “…saw all that he had made, and it was very good…” (Gen.1:31)

 

Note: This is an “encore post” first published last year.

 

 

If God is Infinite, Can My Image of God Also Be Unlimited?

 The necessity of allowing one’s image of God to be flexible came to me recently as I spoke with the mother of a young gay man who had died from a drug overdose.  She confessed to me that she had not been a ‘good mother,’ unable to fully embrace her son’s sexuality.  She withheld her unconditional love from him because her image of God was of a God who did not unconditionally love ‘the homosexual.’ 

 We hold onto images of God,  ourselves, and others, even when they become  burdonsome.  We hesitiate let go of  them  because we know that new  images might require a conversion on our part, a change which we are not sure we want to make.  Only we can decide to quit carrying oppressive images of God and at the same time accept new, images of God, self and others.

  Most of us cling to the image of God that we acquired as a child or adolescent, because it helped us make sense of our lives.  However, no  one image of God is the whole truth — God after all is infinite! For example, as a child we may have believed that God would answer our prayers in life threatening situations.   But what happened to my image of God when I prayed for a very sick person who then died?

 If I have a single image of God and this is contradicted by a new and painful experience in my life, in a sense, I have the same options regarding my image of God as I have when I outgrow a pair of shoes:

 

  • I can continue to wear the same shoes, even though they hurt my feet  — ‘why is my good God punishing me?’

 

  • I can go barefoot — become an atheist or an agnostic

 

  •  I can find shoes that fit — allow my image or images of God to match my understanding of God , the way my life has revealed God to me.

To choose the third point, I must reexamine everything,  even the Scriptures.  What do the Scriptures teach me in light of my life experience?   “What meaningful and instructive things have I overlooked?”  This choice requires an effort on our part to go beyond what we were taugh as a child. It requires a commitment to continual growth regarding both my image of self and of God.

 

                         Creator God, open my mind and eyes, my heart and my spirit, to accept the revelations that you have prepared for me.

 
This is an encore presentation of my September 4, 2010 post.

 

Spirit of Christ in the Cockoo’s Nest

“He taught the “narrow way” as opposed to the broad way of convention and tradition. Both his life and his message were subversive and modeled the metaphor of death and resurrection as a way of life. Discipleship was not about knowing new things or subscribing to certain theological statements or positions, but about the never-ending process of dying to an old self and being reborn into a new one. The evidence of this rebirth was not a clever argument or allegiance to a certain rabbinical school. It was made obvious by a new way of being in the world. Good Friday and Easter are therefore not isolated events. They are the twin polarities of wisdom – as we constantly die to the bondage of blindness and are reborn to the light………………This way of “being” was open to the mystical, or the “sacred,” and was so grounded in pure compassion that Jesus could not be around the sick or the broken without attempting to heal them. Because such wisdom can make the scales fall from our eyes, it often produces what French philosopher Jacques Lacan calls “la douleur de voir trop clair (“the pain of seeing too clearly”). Opening oneself to this disparity between the world as it is and the world as God intends it to be leads either to despair or to the calling of a prophet – a greatly misunderstood vocation in our time…..The kingdom of God is not a press conference, or a resolution, or a short course on how to be eloquently indignant. It is a table, laden with grace, at which the social maps are all redrawn. The guest list comes straight out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”                  

 Robin Meyers – from Saving Jesus From the Church

I read this quote on another blog (lifebrook.wordpress.net) and want to share it here with you. It says so much about what is ailing the church today and it reminded me of this sermon I wrote a few months ago: 

Broken, Bleeding, and Blessed

“We have not abandoned ‘traditional values,’ we are merely recovering and reclaiming an essential piece of the foundation of classical Christianity! We claim it every time we bring all of who we are to the altar in praise and thanksgiving of the God who created us, redeems us and calls us good.”

 Text: Mark 5: 21-34Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 

 In Jesus’ time a lot of things were considered unclean.  The list is long and it is found, not surprisingly, in the book of Leviticus, Sometimes referred to as the book of abominations.  It says that to be unclean is to be unholy, unfit to enter the temple and therefore unfit to be in the presence of a Holy God. 

 To be unclean was to be untouchable. To touch someone deemed impure, such as a bleeding woman or a corpse is to defile yourself and make yourself impure, or unclean.  In this system things were clear and everyone had an identity.  But Jesus messed the whole thing up.  Which is just like him, Jesus the rabble rouser.

     Today’s gospel text is about Jesus touching people he should not be touching.  It is a picture of Jesus defiling himself and breaking society’s rules about purity.  Jesus made all the wrong people worthy to be in the presence of a Holy God.

 This is an appropriate text for this Sunday, the Sunday before the ‘Feast Day of the Unclean,’ otherwise known as Pride.  It is fitting that we read THIS text as we sit here today in anticipation of the Pride Parade next Saturday. 

 It is appropriate because the parade will be made up of today’s unclean: transvestites and drag kings and queens,  transgenders, and all stripes of the rainbow people. This is a parade of people who, our society treats like bleeding women and dead girls.

     Our culture needs to have the clean and the unclean.  We need it – to know who we are. 

 Now I’m not a fan of “The Simpsons.”  I’ve never really watched the show, but I understand there is well known episode of the Simpsons titled “Homer-phobia.”  In the story, Homer’s wife Marge befriends  an interior decorator voiced by gay film director John Waters.  He and Homer become friends until Homer finally suspects his new friend is gay.  The John Waters character tries to tell Homer that he is gay for most of the episode until finally Waters finally says, “Homer – I’m queer.”  Homer replies, “You can’t call YOURSELF queer. That’s our name to make fun of you and we need it.”

 We need “those people,” whoever “those people” are to you, to point to and make clear our own identities:

  • intolerant conservative or the immoral liberal
  • the filthy poor or the filthy rich
  • the atheist or the Evangelical.

 We live in a world of binaries:

  • good and bad
  • black and white
  • sane and insane
  • joy and sorrow

     If you are familiar with the gospel stories, you might remember Luke telling that Jesus comes upon a naked homeless man in the wilderness.  A psychotic man who in his day was considered demon possessed.  Jesus heals the man and people from the city come out to see what has happened and they find the demon possessed man clothed and in his right mind. 

 You would think that the people would be happy that the homeless psychotic had been healed, but Luke tells us they were furious and asked Jesus to leave.

 As long as that man was insane, the townspeople did not have to look at their own insanity.  Jesus comes and turns their binary system, their system of purity on its head and they were angry and fearful.  They needed that person to be what is un-holy, so they could  feel right about themselves and feel right with God. 

 Jesus took something precious from them.  He took away their identity in relation to who they proclaimed unclean. 

     But Jesus, the rabble rouser that he is, would have none of that.  He  touches everything we deem impure, defiling himself again and again.   

  Jesus is about showing us the Commonwealth, or the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ promise of abundant life brings healing and that healing disorders our identities.    To be healed is to be changed and to be changed by Jesus is to be changed forever.  The change that comes with healing can create its own wound.  Change can create its own wound.

 For twelve years, that bleeding woman was untouchable.  That must have been a very sad and lonely existence.  However, that is who she was, the untouchable bleeding woman, unworthy of even worshipping God. 

 I wonder what her life looked like after her encounter with Jesus. I wonder if it hurt to be healed.   Like frostbite, when a patients blood rushes back into the extremities it is excruciatingly painful. 

 It is actually more comfortable to allow parts of ourselves to die than to feel them have new life.  It is actually more comfortable to cling to the identity of being unclean because it is what we are used to, it is an identity. 

 While everyone else needed to call this woman impure, they needed to call her unclean, to call her unholy, Jesus called her daughter.  In that one word Jesus tells her who she really is and even if that word caused pain as it surged through the parts of her that had been deprived of love and life– child of God is what she is.

     Any old identity we cling to, after we have encountered Jesus, becomes nothing less that an idol for us to worship.  It is not the word or will of God.  Let me repeat that.      Any old identity we cling to, after we have encountered Jesus, becomes nothing less that an idol for us to worship.  It is not the word or will of God.

 The radical Commonwealth of God that Jesus ushers in destroys the systems that say who is clean and who is unclean.  In the radical Commonwealth of God anything that I have used to define who I am, and anything I used to define everyone else is, other than the gospel is going to be taken away. 

 It’s hard to loose your identity, it hurts!

      To loose whatever it is you cling to: money, status, education, marginalization, victimhood, political correctness, moral superiority,  career, what ever it is, to loose it hurts.  However, that old and comfortable identity can never offer what Jesus offers; it can never love you like your God loves you. 

As a matter of fact, an identity can not love you at all.

 These things we choose to keep us safe and comfortable they will never confirm the only identity that really matters…the only identity that brings us healing, wholeness and salvation. 

 When our impurity and isolation touches even just the garment of God it all falls away.  We no longer remain who we say we are, or who society says we are, or who our families say we are.  We are, as the Apostle Paul tells us, a new creature in Christ.  You have a spanking new identity.

 Then what?  Where do you go!?  What do you do!?

The formerly unclean know who they are, but society takes some time to catch up: the world still sees them as unclean.  So where do they go?

       I like to think that the bleeding woman got together with the lepers, the prostitutes and tax collectors, and all  the others who had an encounter with Christ.  I like to think that they gathered together, much like we do, here at MCC, gathering to eat together and sing of God’s love, and God’s grace and salvation and remind each other that we truly are new creatures, worthy creatures, new to the understanding that God calls us good.

 Like you and me, they had a new purpose, a new calling on their lives to speak to those others that did not yet know that God also loved them.  I think God’s love gave them the same sense of Pride we have. 

 It gave them a sense of pride that allowed them to get together and march right down through the center of town as a witness to both, those who judge, and those who are judged.

   They lived in a world that wanted them to remain the identified problem.  They lived in a world that wanted to give them an identity based on something false, and small, and insignificant to God.  In a world where it’s feels safer and easier to cling to marginalization and victimhood like a warm sweater. 

 So, they probably felt drawn back every day to being what they had been because it’s familiar and comfortable.  And don’t  we all want comfort when we are the object of scorn and ridicule?  Don’t we all feel put down when the most commonly used insult in America’s schools is “Oh, that’s so GAY.”  And don’t we find it sad that LGBTQ people can not openly serve in the military.  And are we not enraged when teenage children are bullied to death because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and the authorities watch and do nothing.

Our culture continues to consider its LGBTQ citizens expendable.  And how do the vast majority of Christians around the world react?

 They inform us that we are sick and in need of healing, some even say we are deserving of death!  They say we are abandoning the Church’s ‘traditional values.’

Yet, when I look back across the history of the church, Christ’s church, it seems to have made a wrong turn somewhere.  The Church, while in search of righteousness, has lost its humanity.  

 As far back as the second century AD, Iraneus of Lyon, one of the revered Fathers of the Church, and one of the first great systematic theologians, said:  “THE GLORY OF GOD IS THE HUMAN PERSON FULLY ALIVE”

“Fully alive” … isn’t that what we are when we embrace rather than deny our sexuality? Isn’t that the Good News we offer in counter-point to a culture that tells us we are unclean, untouchable”?

We have not abandoned ‘traditional values,’ we are merely recovering and reclaiming an essential piece of the foundation of classical Christianity!

We claim it every time we bring all of who we are to the altar in praise and thanksgiving of the God who created us, redeems us and calls us good.

Yes, LGBTQ people do need healing,  just like the broken and bleeding woman  needed healing.  Our people, and maybe some of you need healing of the belief that you are less than clean and holy.  We queer peopl need healing of the shame and guilt that has been heaped upon us for God only knows how long.

 So, yes the bleeding woman and the lepers and the maniacs, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the others who encountered Jesus, they felt out of place in their new identity.  Therefore, I believe they became a community, a community of the broken, bleeding, and blessed body of Christ. 

 It is in being broken, bleeding, that we understand and can share the tension between the sorrow put on us by the world and the joy of God’s healing. 

 It is in being broken, and bleeding, that we are finally blessed.  It is in being broken and bleeding that we remind each other of the Gospel which rings with both joy and pain as it rips away that unhealthy stuff to which we cling.

A poet wrote:

I carry a notebook in my mind.

It has a black cover, the pages are

brown with coffee stains and if

you were to taste the paper, you

would find it infused with the

salt of tears; Whole chapters

written in tears that come in waves,

briny truth from beneath the musk

folds of my inner being, truth that rises

from the  eternal source I call God.

I listen often, breathing long,

slowing down, letting go,

going deep through the constant

buzz and hum of my mind that is

thunder next to the quiet whisper of truth.

Sometimes, for a brief moment in

the silent space between my

thunder, I catch a piece of God

that reveals itself in tears of both

joy and sorrow, the invisible ink

that salts my notebook.

 I hope that the bleeding woman and the other healed freaks got together on a regular basis because it is only in this way that we remember who we really are.  No longer unclean and impure, but beloved children in the presence of a Holy God who made us and calls us good.

 When Tears of joy and sorrow come together like a hot and a cold storm front and creates thunder, this is where we most often meet God.  This is where healing takes place, in the broken places.

 And we have the opportunity to be part of that healing ministry: today as we claim our proper place as sons and daughters of God, and next weekend as we participate in Pride, be joy to someone’s sorrow, let the thunderclap of God create a storm that heals the broken, stops the bleeding and blesses others.

Go out and counter the sorrows of the world with the joy of Christ.    Amen