Weekly Devotional: Don’t Believe the Bad Stuff

godyouregood“It’s just easier to believe the bad stuff.”         – Vivian Ward, Pretty Woman

 So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them.               – Genesis 1:27

I love the movie Pretty Woman, and I particularly love the insight that Vivian Ward shares with her client, Edward Lewis, when he inquires as to how she got into the “oldest profession.” Her transparently honest answer is one that I think many of us could echo, “It’s just easier to believe the bad stuff.” And it doesn’t matter if you believe the “bad stuff” about yourself or if you believe the “bad stuff” about others. Yes, it would seem that many of us believe the bad stuff.

Internalizing bad thoughts about ourselves and others causes us to live our lives in broken places. When we indulge in self-hatred we risk falling into depression and self-destructive behaviors and separate from our own best selves. When we project hatred onto others we cause the destruction of relationships—sometimes our closest relationships with family and friends. It is also why we find ourselves, at this time in history, at vitriolic odds with people in our communities, states and nation and is ultimately the cause of destructive ideas, such as racism, homophobia, and thoughts and actions that lead to violence and war.

The interesting thing about all of this is that it runs counter to what we have heard across the centuries from our wise women and men. It runs counter to what all the benevolent faith traditions teach us. It is certainly the case of my own faith tradition, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Our ancient story of creation tells us that we are created in the “image of God.” That story reminds us that God looks upon creation and blesses all of creation, including all of us, you and me, our friends and our enemies, and calls us “good.”

I wonder, then, why it is that we gravitate to the place of believing the “bad stuff.” Perhaps it is because seeing the good in others actually takes work and requires risk. It requires first believing that one’s own essence is essentially good and that the essence of others is essentially good, even when behavior is bad. It also requires risking feelings and sometimes one’s life in order to see the goodness in someone, particularly if that someone has harmed you or someone you love. In short, it is easier to believe the bad stuff.

But what if we didn’t?

What if we believed the good stuff instead, that we are created in the image of God, that we are good? What a difference it might make, in you, in me and in our world.

Holy One, help me to hear again that you look upon all of your creation and call us good. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Fear and Trust In Violent Times

fearnotOne night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you.”            Acts 18: 9, 10a

If you’re like me, some of the events taking place in the world and in our own country, our own neighborhoods, are likely producing a rising sense of fear within you. The list seems to grow each day: floods/storms/earthquakes/volcanoes, ISIS, Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Hamas, racism, poverty, hunger, gun violence and the list goes on and on. Sometimes, I just want to turn off the television, radio and Internet and pretend none of this exists. But these things do exist. The question is, “How are we going to live in the face of such violence and destruction?”

The Apostle Paul came face to face with the violence of his day as he sought to spread the good news of his faith in God through the revelation and resurrection of Jesus. Soon to be faced with violence and threats of death Paul received a vision of Jesus who said, “Do not be afraid.”

Did you know that the words, “Do not be afraid” appear more than 70 times in the Bible? I think there is a reason for that and I believe it has to do with a couple of things. I believe that God wants us to always and in ever circumstance place our trust in God. So the instruction to “not be afraid” is actually a call to faith. The second is that the emotion of fear can do strange things to us. It can cause us to imagine things that are not real or true. It can cause us to lose sight of what is really important. And it can cause us to act out towards others in words or actions thus perpetuating a culture of fear.

The other thing that is important to notice is that Paul’s vision of Jesus included the words, “speak and do not be silent, for I am with you.” This is so very important. It is important to speak about injustice and peace and to speak about our faith that tells us that God loves all of God’s creation and all of God’s children. Perhaps if we do that, we will find the courage to live faithfully in these fear-filled times. Neill Q. Hamilton, writing about being a witness said this, “In our times, in contrast to the classic periods of persecution, it will be the manner of our lives rather than the manner of our deaths that counts for witness.” (Recovery of the Protestant Adventure - Hamilton)

As we turn to face the fears of this present age, may our lives speak.

Holy One, may we live our lives unafraid, ever trusting in you. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Keeping Faith

brotherThen the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” -Genesis 4.9

Perhaps one of the most poignant passages of scripture is that moment when, having killed his brother, Cain is confronted by God who inquires about his murdered brother, Able. Cain has just killed his brother out of jealousy because he perceived that God loved Able more than him.

While Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is specific to this circumstance of his murder of Able, it is a question that we all need to ponder. It is so easy for us to read or listen to the news about things happening in the Middle East, on the continent of Africa, in Ferguson, Missouri, or the U.S./Mexico border and then just turn back to our affairs. We, after all, have busy lives full of work, family, church, and social gatherings. So, are we? Are we our brother’s keepers?

I began teaching this week at Perkins School of Theology. One of my students is from Nigeria, and suddenly the Ebola crisis comes very close. During our introductions he shared that he learned this week that two of his family members have died. It is heartbreaking. I realize that there are only a few things that we as individuals can do to address these crises, but shouldn’t we try? Shouldn’t we say, “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. Yes, I am my sister’s keeper?”

I wonder what would happen if we all spent a few minutes each morning in silence lifting up all of these crises to God. I wonder what would happen if we all tried to do one thing that would care for someone or a group of some ones in the midst of one of these crises. A few of our dollars, a click on a website, a letter to a political leader, a decision to invite others to join us might well change the future for these who suffer. The work of easing suffering is hard work, just ask Jesus, but it is essential work for those who receive as well as those who give.

Loving God, turn your face to this island Earth, your creation. Turn your face to us and especially to our sisters and brothers who are suffering. Show us the way and give us the courage to do something to make a difference. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: In Love, We Are All The Same

Howard“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”                                                               -Matthew 22. 36-40

Much has been said and written about the shooting of Michael Brown, and hopefully, as the news cycle begins to pick up other stories, we will not turn away and forget this. The issue of racism has been raised, yet again, as has the militarization of our local police forces. The problem is that we do not delve deeply enough into the rampant racism still holding our culture and our country hostage. We protest, we post on Facebook, we write blogs and preach sermons, but rooting out racism will require a major shift in the thinking of white America.

White Americans are going to have to look carefully at ourselves and ask the questions we don’t want to ask. What are the privileges that I have simply because I am Euro-American and my skin is fair?   What are the benefits that I have as a white/Euro-American that are not afforded my sisters and brothers who are people of color and who are ethnic, national and religious minorities? What am I going to do to shift this unspoken privilege so that all can be treated with respect and honored as children of God?

In short, this work of shifting our culture to one of radical inclusion is going to require effort on the part of all of us: personal reflection, personal commitment, personal courage.

Richard Rohr offers what I think is an important insight from his book, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer. He writes, “The soul defines itself by expansion and inclusion—not by saying ‘no,’ but by offering a kind of courageous, risky ‘yes’: ‘Yes, I am like everybody else, capable of the same good and the same bad. They are all my brothers and sisters.’ The soul knows that we are all equally naked underneath our clothes. Can you feel the scariness in that? When you allow the face of the other, the opinion of the other, the worldview of the other, to break through your barriers and boundaries, there is always a bit of fear, as in the first moments of nakedness or intimacy.” (pp. 23-24)

We are going to have to face our fears of encountering the “other,” and seeing them as children of God, for their sakes and for ours.

So, I invite you to take seriously the instruction of Jesus that the first and most important things we do are love God and love neighbor. How are you going to do that today? Where will you stand? I offer for your first step this picture of the student body of Howard University. Look closely at the faces of those students and remember that they are our neighbors, not a statistic, not just a picture. They are our neighbors.

Now, take moment and listen to this interview that was aired yesterday on National Public Radio: file:///Users/johudson/Desktop/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue.html

Let us begin today. Let us not forget. Let us say the courageous, risky “yes, yes I am like everybody else.”

Holy One, receive our brother, Michael Brown, into your heavenly realm, into the saints of light, and receive our feeble efforts to live as people who love you and seek to love our neighbors. Help us not to sit by complacently, watching the news, posting on Facebook, writing blogs. Instead, give us courage to look at ourselves and ask important questions. Give us courage to stand with those who are marginalized and oppressed. Give us courage to act. Remind us that all of us are your children. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: Minding the Gaps in the World of Facebook

Facebook_like_thumbIf it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

–(Romans 12.18 NRSV)

Recently, a friend of mine took her Facebook page down. When we asked her why, she just said that she was taking a break. Then, a few weeks later there she was on Facebook again. The post that announced her return stated something to the effect that she had gotten sucked into all the politicking and positioning about everything. She found herself being opinionated and didn’t like it. She expressed a desire to reclaim Facebook as a fun place where she could connect with friends and share stories and hopes and dreams.

Her post hit home with me and I realized that I, too, have been part of the social media opinion machine. I realized that too often we slip into blame-placing, name-calling and the judgment game and then “click,” that one’s gone.

I have always conveniently blamed the television and a 24-hour news cycle for the cause of the deep polarization of our society. However, after reading my friend’s post and examining my own social media behavior, I realized that each of us, you and I, have some responsibility in this growing chasm. So, taking a page from my friend, I am going to challenge myself, and hopefully you will as well, to be more intentional about how we use this miracle called the Internet. Let’s ask ourselves about what we are saying and how we are saying it. Can we develop the discipline of being thoughtful about the issues we weigh in on and consider those who may hold differing opinions before we hit “post?”

Lastly, I invite us to take breaks from our social media lives. What about taking some time to refocus our lives on family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, people we can see and touch and speak to, those we can offer healing and hope through our words and actions?

I ran across the video below several months ago. Every time I watch it I find myself smiling. I know it’s an advertisement for a life insurance company, but it’s also filled with the truth about life and how we live it. Watch it and see if you feel the same. Then won’t you join me in committing to relationships and civil discourse, whether they are face-to-face or via social media? Let us make the world more beautiful through our actions and our words, and so far as it depends on you and me, live peaceably with all. Then perhaps our God, who loves us, will be smiling as well.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/uaWA2GbcnJU

Holy One, on this day remind me that all your children, even those with whom I disagree, are yours, made in your image. Let me live today in ways that honor them. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: On the Island of Earth, We’re All Children of God

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.                                                                                                13-earth-from-space-artwork-detlev-van-ravenswaayPsalm 24.1

Let me point out the obvious. No doubt we are living in a time in which violence around our globe is escalating. In addition, it seems that our political and religious leaders are determined to stand on opposite sides of any issue simply to “win” the day. They see no value in learning to listen to each other or finding other ways, other solutions, or as some suggest, “a third way” that recognizes and honors the positions of each.

Every now and then you get to see something that really makes you stop and think. That’s what happened to me this morning as I stopped for a moment in going through my inbox and watched this video someone sent me. I invite you to watch it and see if it doesn’t impact you in the same way, causing you to stop and think about this island earth on which we live.

https://www.youtube.com/v/923jxZY2NPI

Perhaps one of the ways we can see through all the violence, fighting, and political and religious posturing would be to consider that this earth, the only place where all people for all time have ever lived, belongs to God. Moreover, perhaps it would equally benefit us to consider that all people who have ever lived, are living, and will live on this island earth are children of God.

Maybe if we pondered these two thoughts for a while we might discover a passage through to a new way of living, one in which people love their neighbors as themselves. What a concept. We ought to try it, don’t you think?

Holy One, as I look at the stars help me to remember that we live on a small blue dot, and it is the only home we and all who have come before and all who will come after will ever have. Help me to honor this miracle of your creation and live peacefully with all. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: In the Stillness, Find Time to Know…

be_still_and_know_wall_decal_single“Be still, and know that I am God!”

-Psalm 46.10

I don’t know about you, but I for one am discouraged with the state of affairs across our globe. Israel continues to bomb Gaza, causing the death toll to rise, including the death of children. Russia is amassing troops along its boarder with Ukraine after Malaysian Airlines MH-17, carrying civilians from many different countries, was blown out of the air. Civil wars continue in Syria and Iraq, and a new group that is seemingly more violent than Al Qaeda, ISIS, is continuing its threats and destruction. We still haven’t learned the fate of the girls of Nigeria, and that is just a list of global issues.

Our country has its own set of problems: unaccompanied children crossing the southern borders of our country and a split opinion on how to address their needs, gun violence continuing unabated as each week it seems that we hear of another shooting rampage, violence against women for being women and gays for being gays. When you add to all of this personal and family challenges, well, it’s enough to keep you up at night.

It is here that you might expect me to launch into an appeal to “do something, anything that will advance love and peace in the world.” That’s not a bad idea, but I have another. I believe it is essential for us to connect to God and each other in order to stem the fear that the circumstances of our world, our country and our personal lives can give rise to. One of the ways I think we do that is to make room in our lives to be still. It is in the “still place” that we can have time to think, to reflect, to notice the miracle of the world around us and to notice each other. It is in the “still place” that we are able to encounter God, what is holy, what is mystery.

Years ago I had a wonderful yoga teacher use Psalm 46 about stillness and encountering God as a meditation. Here is how she taught me to pray the verse:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

I wonder what would happen in our world if we would all take some time from our hectic lives and be still, even for a moment. I believe it is in that stillness that we find the strength to “do something” about the challenges we face, because it is in that stillness that we encounter God. So take a moment, won’t you, and listen to this beautiful song, “Still,” a prayer and a reminder about the Holy Presence and Mystery that is God.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n01-5SQFa8

Amen.