Yes, it Really Is About Giving Presents

So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be.  Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.

“Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”

Well, actually, yes it is, partly.  The Christmas tree has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).”  (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)

“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”

It most certainly is.  While the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving:  Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.

(Who is our neighbor?  Every one else.  EVERY ONE ELSE.  Yes, them, too.)

No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day.  They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us and sometimes the world, from harm.  Having a designated day is a good thing.

By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.

It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one.  I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts.  Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.”  In fact, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command:  One may readily give gifts to those one appreciates…but what about those one doesn’t particularly like.  The process of giving to someone you don’t want to give to is a huge opportunity for healing.  Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law.  Were there no designated day to Do It ANYWAY, you could live out your entire life without having to face the fact that you resent a member of your own family.  As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT.  Christmas…the designated day to deal with your issues; what a gift from God!

Christmas has become crass and commericalized

Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic?  You bet it has…and we have.   But that’s easy enough for each of us to step around and over-come.  Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.

Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing.  It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love.   Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.

So, Christmas:  Bah! Humbug?

No.  Baa…as in a little lamb.  The Lamb of God, that showed us that in stripping away the material obsessions, reactions, judgements, greed,..we can be pure Christ-ness on earth the way He did.  God’s gift to the world.  Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas.  Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift.  Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that Jesus showed you how to love and that in celebration of His birth, you want to give them a gift.  Feel moved to share your joy.

The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment.  Just celebrating His birth is not.  Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.

Everything about Christmas has become so hate-filled and crazy!”

Hey, it’s all good; even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments!  If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for Black Friday because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do many many ‘good turns’…all in one day.

Do you need to feel better about Christmas?  Need to feel better about the world and about life?  Christmas is Here to the Rescue!  Look no further for opportunities to practice love, patience, and kindness:  Go shopping!

This Following Jesus Business

Jesus came into the world without the generational issues that we have to deal with.  Therefore, He was aware of… and showed… full Christ presence from the very beginning of His ministry.  He did not have traumas, neuroses, and complexes that got in the way of His knowing His Father’s will at all times. Nothing hid His being Christ.  We, however, need to do the hard work of stripping away the issues and distractions to reach that clarity.

I have known people who have died without reaching a clear awareness of Christ.  I have known people who never even tried to address their issues at all, unaware that working out their own salvation is theirs to do.   I have also known people who have reached that clarity and were able to live the last years of their lives in full Christ presence and in full service of the Father.

We have been given the means to do the hard work of shedding all of the interfering stuff.  The Holy Spirit has blessed us with knowledge of dealing with addictions, resentments and hate, illness and diseases.  We have psychology, spiritual healing, prayer, AA groups, solid advice on what to eat, how much exercise to get, the importance of spending time in nature, deep breathing, and good sleep.  All of that knowledge and help has been provided to assist us in shedding our issues.

While working out our salvation, we can spend precious and protected moments in silent prayer and meditation…becoming familiar with that clarity.  With enough consistent practice, we can carry that grounded Christ presence out into relationships, crisis moments, and the world.

But we must still do the work.

Jesus spent His life psychologically whole, unattached to possessions, and undistracted.  He spent time in prayerful meditation to maintain His clear awareness of God.  All other times, He was open to the people around Him and present, in the truest sense.  He was attentive, aware, and conscious.  Follow Jesus’ example.

It is not necessary for us to be crucified on a tree in order to die to our distractions and issues.  But what Jesus demonstrated was that once we choose to, after a time of grief, darkness, and confusion, we awaken full of Christ and ready to serve.

Follow Jesus.

A Gift that Counts

…the Gift of Fore-Giveness

Okay I’m playing with the words, perhaps, but walk closely with me here, if you will:

It seems it is time to address dark generational issues in my life and in the lives of those close around me.  During my work yesterday morning, looking at the evidence of painful and sensitive generational issues, I backed away from the specific situations for a bit and looked at the dynamics of incarnations and karma, in general.  Whether or not you believe in reincarnation or even karma, I think you can accept that ‘sins of the father’ can be visited on the son.

So, I was thinking about how my mother treated me and I extrapolated that out to how she was treated as a child by her parents (based on stories she told us about her mother and father).  Then I thought about how, if souls reincarnate, why they reincarnate: to either ‘get it right this time’ or to pay for what they did in their previous incarnations.

Without going into the details of the patterns, clues, and repeating tendencies, (and there are many) if I look at all of this from a distance, without attachment, I can see how one generation plays into the next and how the law of Karma explains why.

Then, it dawned.

What if I stand in the infinite, the eternal, the non-time space and…holding in awareness all of my incarnations through history…I forgive all those souls who have hurt me therefore owe me a karmic debt?  Then, what if I ask those souls whom I have hurt through history, therefore those souls to whom I owe a karmic debt, to forgive me?

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

We’re talking a whole chunk of forgiving…past, present, and future. That, to me, would be a Gift that Counts.  AND, if enough of us do this kind of work, that is how all souls can be forgiven.

 

“Information is not Wisdom”

Ever since the beginning of Lent back in March, I have been studying the writings of spiritual teachers and mystics, contemporary to ancient.  I have been accompanied by other pilgrims through an internet forum and through email.  Since Easter, most of the original group has lost interest, leaving about 5 or 6 of us.  The conversations have deepened and become more personal as we get to know each other.

This small group of us bring together varied spiritual backgrounds and life experiences and have shared where our understandings come from…books, doctrine, speakers, ancient texts, holy scripture,…  As I learn from my friends, I naturally expand my interest to include their suggested ‘teachers.’  Then, as one writer recommends another, I have expanded the margins of my interest beyond my own spiritual heritage.  I now find myself walking my spiritual path carrying about 12 books and as many websites.

I am a follower of Jesus, a true Christian.  I am a constant seeker of Christ in life and believe Christ is what is sought, the ‘wisdom,’ in all spiritual practice.  Christ guides me so I am able to find guidance in all areas of life.  Each morning, I gather my ‘library’ about me and pick which ‘speaker’ will speak to me today … which teacher will tell me what to do.  Well, that’s what I did, until today.

Lately, I have been struggling with insecurity in discerning my personal path.  The varied sources describe the same journey but with different sign posts, markers, and itineraries.  In truth, for most of my life I have not followed any prescribed path but some of my fellow pilgrims have, and I have wanted to know, “Where am I on the map?  How am I doing?”  In fact, for the past 12 days I have felt I have lost my way, lost sight of the trail, and may have lost my right to be on the path because I had lost faith.  One of my online friends sent me several passages from a teacher he highly regards and between the passages he included simply, “Ask Jesus.”

This morning, I picked up The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo and before reaching today’s meditation (October 7), my finger stuck in the page for September 9.  Making a quick promise to myself to go back to September 9 next, I moved on to October 7,

It is so tempting to want the answers before we begin the journey.  We like to know the way.  We like to have maps.  We like to have guides.  But we are more like a breathing puzzle, a living bag of pieces, and each day shows us what a piece or two is for, where it might go, how it might fit.

So many of my questions were answered by that alone, yet because a promise is a promise, I returned, smiling, to September 9:

If at times you feel numb or distanced from the essence of what you know, perhaps your mind, like the sage’s teacup, is too full.  

Information is not wisdom.  If you cannot speak when your mouth is stuffed with unchewed food, how can you think clearly if your mind is stuffed with undigested information.

Then, without even thinking about it, I took up Thomas Merton:

The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you to think and not to do your thinking for you.  Consequently, if you pick up such a book and simply read it through, you are wasting your time.  As soon as any thought stimulates your mind or your heart you can put the book down because your meditation has begun.  To think that you are somehow obliged to follow the author of the book to his own particular conclusion would be a great mistake. It may happen that his conclusion does not apply to you.  God may want you to end up somewhere else.  He may have planned to give you quite a different grace than the one the author suggests you might be needing. (emphasis mine.)

 

*************************************************

So, my two dozen references are just that….references.  Seeds.  Bread crumbs…suggesting the path…not a loaf to be my whole meal.  I will trust.  The lesson is in the living of life.  The next stepping stone will appear beneath my reaching foot and I will know where I am going…when I get there.

And so, as my friend suggested that I ask Jesus, I now do…

Clemson Culture at Work in the NFL

The culture that is instilled and nurtured within the Clemson Football program is able to spread throughout the NFL (and everywhere else in the world) because it is a living thing and is backed and supported by The living thing…Christ.

Deshaun Watson is a student of that culture and continues to study and do the work of that culture because it lives in him.

Christ lives in Deshaun.  Christ was instilled in Deshaun probably before he was born. Christ has been kept involved in Deshaun’s life through the love of Deshaun’s mother and the coaching of Dabo Swinney.  Christ is invited, welcomed, and received in all aspects of the Clemson Football program and is recognized and acknowledged at each step of the way.  Christ spreads through the Clemson Nation.

If I have any sway, I will keep Christ involved in Dashaun’s life and the Clemson program through my prayers because that’s how it is done.

By the way, another word used for this presence is Love.  It is spread and emmanates through the love shared among the players and coaches and in the way the young men are taught, advised, and coached along.  In truth, this Love is The Reason for the coaching, in the first place.

The battles and challenges in life are for spiritual growth; it is for all of us.  Young men can learn this and can face these battles on the streets…or they can make this spiritual journey on the football field.  I’ll take pads and helmets and the risk of injury over guns and drugs with the risk of so much worse, any day.

This is what the Clemson Culture is about:  winning the game.

In that winning, these young men win the battles and challenges that strengthen their souls, hone their skills in facing obstacles and hardships, and clarify their vision and practice of Fierce Love.

The love instilled and nurtured in these young men might look soft at times…like in the gentle and tender way Deshaun gave his income to the cafeteria workers, but make no mistake:  The Love of the Clemson Culture is Fierce…and that is the nature of the love which is required in our world today.

 

“I am a Recovering Racist”

After the Mother Emmanuel shooting, I posted a sign-up sheet in my church explaining how I am a recovering racist; I was born in deeply segregated Charleston, SC, and was raised to see “colored people” as less than ‘us.’ I have worked hard to reverse that perspective. The sign-up sheet was to give others an opportunity to promise, “I Don’t Do Hate.”

I am now 62 years old and my job is to demonstrate every day, every opportunity, to every person different from me that there is more for them in this life than hate from people like me.

My fervent prayer is that we can soon stop all need to talk about ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It’s just ‘we.’

I responded to a Sojourner article not long ago that any suggestion to reverse trends or make the pendulum swing back the other way is misguided; the pendulum must stop. We are all on the same side…the side of humanity seeking fulfillment of its purpose. Jesus told us how to do that: Love God. Love your neighbor… because your neighbor IS yourself.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who met recently with the president, apparently found a President Trump who has thought better of his initial comments concerning Charlottesville. Senator Scott made some sober and important suggestions to the president (like get to know some black people) and I feel we should give prayerful support because prophets are the only ones effective in making change because they are speaking from within. Tim Scott is a respected member of the Senate and he also knows what it feels like to be summarily discredited for irrelevant reasons… i.e., skin shade.

Those of us who believe in and follow Christ can be the ambassadors we are called to be by behaving as He did:  When the crowd wished to stone the woman found in adultery, Jesus did Not have her throw stones back at them; He diffused the anger completely by pointing out how we are ALL guilty. All of us have hated; None of us is guiltless.

Those of us with faith and the strength of spiritual conviction can find love in our hearts for those who claim allegiance with a hate group; we can love those who hate. If we do not love those who are fearful and are resorting to hurting others, what example do we set? What are we asking them to do if we cannot do it ourselves? Racists, neo-Nazis, Antifas, etc., are acting out of fear. We are to hold them in love until their fear subsides. That is what is meant by loving our enemies. That is how we follow Jesus.

 

Racism by any other name is Fear.

I live in a community (neighborhood, county, state,…) where closed-mindedness is the norm.  I would say racism is the norm but the attitudes and fiercely-held beliefs are not limited to preferences in the shade of skin or ethnic group or even ancestry…although those are very strongly separated classifications.

People around here are deeply resistant to changing how they think but then so are people all over the world.  If it is not what they grew up with, if it is not what they are familiar with, if he is not like me in (you name it: dialect, clothing style, vehicle type, licence plate, food preference,…) then it is wrong and therefore to be condemned, resisted, and (if possible) destroyed.

Two years ago, Lawrence Krauss, “Humanist of 2015,” was quoted as saying Organized religion, wielding power over the community, is antithetical to the process of what modern democracy should define as liberty. The sooner we are without it, the better.”  I won’t venture (right now) into all that is scary with that sentiment, but he demonstrates my point beautifully; Lawrence Krauss rejects everything about organized religion because it is not what he knows, is not what he is familiar with, and people who participate in organized religion don’t sound like the people he associates with…or him.

My own beloved college-educated, successful business-man brother threw out hundreds of dollars worth of organic food from my sister’s house because he “didn’t recognize any of it; I don’t eat that stuff.”

The short-cut suggestion to remedy this issue is ‘education.’  Doctors in hospitals all over the world struggle with patients’ refusals to follow prescribed improvements in diet and lifestyle and have thought the solution was education.  Pamphlets and discharge instructions with pictures and pleas have done little.  Helps and therapies seem to have no sizable impact.  My next door neighbor was hospitalized for 10 weeks last year for complications from surgery.  During this time he was given patches and drugs to help him withdraw from his addiction to smoking.  He lived smoke free among others who were smoke free for several weeks and he even admitted he felt great off the cigarrettes. On the drive home he stopped and bought a carton and lit up before he got to the front door.

These people are not willing to face their fears of the unknown.  “You sound wierd!”  “I don’t eat that stuff!”  “I don’t think my nerves could take it.”

Some fears are huge.  “What if there is not enough to go around?  Somebody has to go without.  Why does it have to be me?”  “If we let them have their way, they are going to take over!”  “One day they are going to rise up and kill every white person they see!”

It’s fear.  That’s all it is…fear.  Fear of deprivation; fear of the unknown; fear of unbearable whatever.  But it’s just fear.

So what’s the solution?  How do you help people who have unreasonable fear?  You must help them one person at a time.  In the way a parent helps a child who is fearful of the monster under the bed, you show them over and over that there is nothing there to be afraid of.  You show the person different from you that there is nothing for them to fear from you.  You demonstrate that there is more for them from people like you than hate. You demonstrate that different is okay…and safe…and sometimes good.

I have two neighbors…brothers…who were both raised in this closed-minded community.  One went into the Navy and worked beside people of a different color and national origin.  His brother did not leave home and has never worked beside people different from himself.  One is not fearful of people who are different; the other one is …but it looks like hate, not fear.

There are specific things we can do that help get through to people who have closed minds, fierce preferences, and fear.  First, be gentle with them; they will not listen if you are forceful or you are yelling.  Second, get to a point where you see things at their level …so that you can understand why they are fearful.  Third, allow them to vent.  Hold them in a safe environment so that they will be open to revealing what causes them to be fearful,  (Sometimes, that’s all they need.)  Their venting might be scary for you but you are the stronger one here.  They need to know…to see proof…that the resolution is stronger than their fear.  In other words, you need to love them.

If you have ever been a parent and you were faced with a child who cried out, “I HATE YOU!” then you know the dynamic I am describing:  you allowed the child to cry out the unthinkable…and then you assured the child that everything between you was still okay; you still love the child ‘the whole thing…all of it…without end.’  (Yes, I’ve been there.)

One more suggestion:  use words that are not usually used in these discussions.  Avoid the cliches and button words; you know what they are.

This is how loving is done.  This is how healing begins.  This is the work of Jesus.

 

By the way, I commend Senator Tim Scott in the way he met with President Trump; Scott introduced Trump to himself….in all of the aspects with which Trump is unfamiliar and that is what is necessary for a change of thinking…

When the Heart is Ready

Sometimes I read something and there is no purchase.  Know what I mean?  The hooks aren’t in place or I have yet to have ‘taken the prerequisite?”

Last night I started rereading The Meaning of Mary Magdalene by Cynthia Bourgeault. In Chapter 4 of TM3, “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” I ‘got it’ at a level I hadn’t before. Here are some notes I took and my thoughts on them:

p.46 (bottom) – Jesus: “find contentment at the level of the heart, and if you are discouraged, take heart in the presence of the Image of your true nature.”  I receive that as instruction…and as significant as if it were one of Jesus’ commandments.  A few thoughts:  1) it reminds me of something my priest said at the beginning of my desire to ‘return’ to God.  I had said, “I’m not sure I believe,” and he replied, “For now, just know that your friends and I believe enough for you.” In other words, trust that there is more connecting you and securing you than just your sense of your faith.

2) It points out the REASON for habitual contemplation and centering prayer…to reinforce one’s dwelling at the level of the heart.  Abide there and find contentment there.  (Again…my profound grasp of the obvious.) and 3) Back in 1979, several things happened: I graduated from college, my sister suffered her stroke in Germany and was moved to DC after her surgery, I chose to go to DC to help care for her rather than go to grad school.  While in DC, I became interested in Christian faith and theology.  I read a lot of CS Lewis, at first.  I also read some deeper theologians (Karl Barth, was one) but I’m not sure who I was reading that addressed this same concept of the presence of one’s Image in another realm and the importance of being aligned with it.  I recall waking in the wee hours because I heard the ‘heavenly host’ singing; they were rejoicing in my spiritual ‘turning’ or arriving or in-turning.  I’ve always referred to that experience as my ‘being saved,’ if I was ever asked about being ‘saved.’

p.47 Jesus: “the Son of Humanity already exists within you.  Follow him, for those who seek him there will find him.”  I wrote in the word “in” after the instruction to “Follow him” because it behooves me (and might behoove others) to realize that He is not saying to walk the paths of the Holy Lands or even my neighborhood, but to follow Him inward because I will find Him there…within me.  It is not so much ‘What would Jesus DO?’ as it is ‘How did Jesus BE ?’  He, too, went inward.  He dwelt inward.  He abided inward.

p.47 Jesus: “do not lay down any further rules.”  I don’t think the “lest you…” is even necessary.

Jeff Foster, in his podcast with Sounds True, described how to discover one’s true nature by honoring what ‘comes up’…what one feels (pain, fear, anger,…).  By allowing and respecting one’s feelings and reactions, one opens them to the elements and one’s clutching of them dissipates.  You own it….and that’s all.  It goes.  No struggle, no force, no clutch, not really any striving.  When the cap is released and the fumes dissipate, one’s true nature is all that remains and one is able to ‘rest,’ as he put it.  This…sans fumes…is one’s true nature…one’s origin or at least one’s transmitted or analogue Image.  ..how one is.

p.48  CB relates: “…ignorance of one’s true nature, is to blame for the suffering of this world.  Acting in ways that are ‘adulterous in nature’ (stems from) a failure to stay in alignment with origin…with the ‘root’ of one’s nature.”  …again, the REASON for frequent and habitual contemplation and the regular practice of centering prayer.

My thoughts on tonight’s National Championship

Is the world ready for an affirmation of how Dabo Swinney is raising these young men and starting them off on their lives?

Yes, I know…this is about football.  It’s a game.

It’s all a game.  The key point is how you play the game.  And not just that; it’s how you prepare for the game, respond to the winning and losing of the game, and deal with every play.

Clemson Tigers are taught about life…and football is the language they are taught in.

Dabo Swinney, beloved inspirational speaker, has opened his heart to God and dedicates his presence, his words, and his actions to communicating to players, coaches, fans, spectators, and even people from Alabama, what it means to align oneself…one’s life…with God.

Bless him.

And God bless the Clemson Tigers.

Go Tigers!  I’m ALL IN.

“We still control our destiny”

After Clemson’s heartbreaking loss last Saturday night, I looked forward to hearing some wisdom from a most beloved inspirational speaker, Dabo Swinney.  But when I heard Dabo remind his audience that “We still control our destiny,” I thought, what about God?

I have seen Dabo and the team members acknowledge God when entering the stadium and after making a touch down. I knew Dabo was known for his faith, so I did some research.

I will direct you to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 24, 2013, in which the author describes the spiritual climate at Clemson, particularly as it is fed by the faith of Dabo Swinney and other members of the staff. I quote from the article, With God on Our Side,

At Clemson, God is everywhere. The team’s chaplain leads a Bible study for coaches every Monday and Thursday. Another three times a week, the staff gathers for devotionals. Nearly every player shows up at a voluntary chapel service the night before each game.

The players all know the coach’s favorite Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 9:24-25: “Run your race to win, don’t just run the race.”

“I’m a Christian,” Coach Swinney tells Clemson recruits. “If you have a problem with that, you don’t have to be here.”

The article goes on to describe how players have been baptized on the field, dedicating their lives to Christ, with team mates as witnesses.  Coaches and staff members address all aspects of a player’s character, not just the player’s catching or running skills. Dabo and the rest of the staff and team turn to Christ not just to thank Him for a win, but also for wisdom when they lose. After a painful loss, Dabo prayed, “Lord, help us learn from this. We take glory in everything You do, win or lose.”

In my introduction to this blog, I describe what I mean by a teachable moment and I point out that athletic coaches have a unique opportunity to make an impact on a young person’s life; athletic events are teachable moments by their very crisis nature. By setting the focus of each athletic competition and the focus of life, as a whole, as being a spiritual race run with Christ, Dabo demonstrates how one controls one’s destiny. Setting one’s life to be Christ-centered, Christ-focused, and Christ-worthy is the best possible strategy for one’s life and one’s destiny…temporal and eternal.

Ebenezer (Ebo) Ogundeko, a freshman from Brooklyn, N.Y., picked the Tigers over Alabama, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and other programs. One of his reasons: “I felt like coming to Clemson would bring me closer to Jesus,” he told The Chronicle. “Most dudes on the team, they take their religion very seriously, and their relationship with Jesus Christ. They’ve encouraged me to move closer and closer to God.”

I believe that what our Creator wants is our reconciliation with Him. To encourage a young person to move closer and closer to God…through dedication, through prayer, through sharing, through outward demonstration…affects one’s destiny, in the best possible way.

Dabo was right. We all control our destiny.