2016 trump clinton election banner

Trump Politics of Hate Vs the Table of Love

This election cycle has been filled with hatred. Donald Trump plays on people’s fears about the still-struggling economy in so many parts of the country. He blames people’s struggles to find work, any work, on immigrants and Muslims. He makes light of comments like rounding up all the Muslims to register them, and killing all the family members of terrorists. Us versus them. And he found an audience eating up all this hate speech.

I understand fear and joblessness. I have walked that terrible path. But I never blamed my Muslim and immigrant neighbors and friends. People’s struggles to find work and housing have so much more to do with bad decisions and wars under the Bush administration. Also, advancing technology independent of any administration is simply taking over jobs. We are united in our struggles, not divided.

Trump says the invisible enemy is our neighbor and friend of a different color, different culture, different religion. Plenty of people believe him. Tragically.

We have heard this same rhetoric before. Taken to its end, the hate speech leads to death. The Holocaust. The Rwandan genocide. The Bosnian genocide. Blaming the “other” for a bad economy or a country’s racial and nationalist/political divides. It’s terrifying.

Amazingly, Trump calls himself a Christian. Even more amazingly, many American Christians follow him. Endorse him. Cheer for him. Call Trump, “God’s man.” Excuse his horrible comments toward women as “boys will be boys” or “locker room talk.” As if every man treats women as objects. Evangelicals cheer, while satan laughs.

Have these people ever opened their Bible? Do they know Jesus at all? Do they even know about Jesus? When did Jesus ever scapegoat and hate entire groups of people? When did Jesus disrespect women? Instead, Jesus lifted up the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritan was born of hated foreigner group in Israel, she was a “sinner” according to Jewish culture because of her multiple marriages, and she was a woman. But Jesus lifted her up and shared with her the mystical secret of living water, something he never shared with the big important male religious leaders.

Trump wants to build a wall to exclude everyone who is the “other.” Jesus turns that wall into a table. He invites everyone, the rejects of the world, the poor, the homeless, the broken, the sick, the immigrant, the follower-of-another-religion who seeks the truth. Jesus feasts with everyone who seeks the truth of love, healing, and understanding. The table of the feast is the table of love.

There is no room at this table for people who hate others. The popular people of the world, the ego-driven people, the hateful people, are stuck behind a wall. They create their own walls of self-righteousness, and they reject the invitation to the feast of heaven.

Here’s news for you, Trump and all your followers, everyone who excuses and condones all your hatred. The people you reject and hate are the people who populate heaven. I’ve always wondered about those Christians who want to carpet-bomb Muslim nations, brutally maim and destroy innocent children and families and violently tear families apart through deportations, and detention centers. What would think if they found one of these precious Muslim or immigrant children in heaven, crying in the arms of Jesus?

The invitation to heaven’s wedding feast is going forward around the earth. Jesus has built his table, and he sends his sons and daughters to find the guests. These Jesus followers are often poor and hungry, thirsty, in prison, in war refugee camps, in the world’s lowliest places, looking for human love and kindness. The guests at the table are invited after they show their love by housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, visiting the prison, working in the legal system to set the innocent captives free.

After the results of the election last night, I cry over this nation and its values. They are certainly not the values of the table of Jesus, the gospel of love.

Matthew 22

Matthew 25:31-46

grace, works, mercy, picture of hand on the Bible

Grace Works and the Journey of Mercy

God’s grace. A wonderful Christian teaching. If you are trying to serve, if you have mercy for the hurting but you make mistakes, God has abundant grace.

The journey to the kingdom of heaven is paved by works of the Spirit. We all fall down in the journey of loving others. We stumble as we learn to embrace humbleness over power and selflessness over greed. Grace covers our fall and gently helps us back on the path.

But the American evangelical church has twisted the definition of grace into a selfish, Me-first mentality.

Grace, grace, God’s grace…

Grace. As a young child in church, I was taught to sing about grace. I learned from American evangelical pastors to claim grace over every part of my life. Every time I was greedy or selfish, I learned that I could excuse my behavior with some platitude about grace. But I was not taught about works or about mercy. On my spiritual path beyond the church, Jesus has taught me that grace covers mistakes, but grace does not cover willful disobedience to the promptings and the works of the Holy Spirit.

How can grace exist without works? Many American evangelicals have recited the salvation prayer. They ask for God’s grace, and the blood of Jesus, to cover their sins. Then they turn around and stomp on that blood through their harshness to the poor and hurting. They show no grace to their brothers and sisters.

Zaccheus the tax collector understood grace. He climbed the tree to meet Jesus. He was ecstatic when Jesus asked to visit his house. Jesus gave him holy grace to cover all his sins. Zaccheus immediately vowed to do works and return all the taxes he had harshly demanded from the poor.

Today’s bill collectors and bankers pray for grace on Sunday, then turn around and destroy the poor on Monday. Today’s police officers and judges ask for grace on Sunday, then extend harsh judgments to petty criminals or innocent victims of the justice system on Monday. Today’s employers receive grace on Sunday, then fire their minimum wage employees on Monday because of a broken car or a sick child. How can society’s powerful people expect to receive grace when they do not extend grace to the society’s weak and vulnerable people?

Zaccheus had incredible wealth and power as a Jewish tax collector. He embraced grace for his own sins, mistakes, and failures, and then immediately extended grace to those underneath him. The powerful in today’s society claim Jesus’ grace for their own sins, mistakes, and failures, and then destroy the lives of those underneath them. They do not understand grace at all.

Zaccheus did works by returning money he had wrongfully collected. He gave back to the poor eight times what he had taken from them. Could you imagine a prosecutor, police officer, or manager today giving back eight times the money and life they steal from the wrongfully convicted, wrongfully arrested, wrongfully fired? God’s heavenly system of grace and works is so far removed from this earthly system of little mercy and great selfishness.

If you want to receive grace, you must give grace. To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

If you want to understand grace, you must understand works. There is no grace without works. If you want to understand works, you must understand mercy. Mercy is compassion, walking a mile in another person’s shoes, and doing everything in your power to help them on the journey. Mercy and works is the kingdom of Jesus.

I have heard some Protestants go so far as saying “doing works is evil.” I am boggled by the mental and theological gymnastics required to reach that statement. In the Bible, God tells us over and over to help the poor, take care of the least of these, and visit the prisoners and the sick. How are these things evil? These are selfless works of the faith.

I have also heard many people, most grievously some American Christians, who declare that the poor are lazy, and the prisoners are sinful. Who are you to judge? Many poor people work multiple jobs. Many prisoners are innocent victims of poverty, place, or the broken justice system. Only God knows the heart. God has immense grace for the poor, the humble, the broken, the repentant. There is no grace for the proud and judgmental.

The Pharisees acted the same way, judging everyone around them and stealing the poor widow’s very last mite. They did not see a need for grace or mercy. Jesus rebuked them many times for their sinful attitude.

Protestant Christians often say that the cross of Jesus, accessed by a “salvation prayer” and dependence on “God’s grace,” is the only way to heaven. All other religions, they say, are damned to hell because they do good works and try to “work” their way to God. But this argument makes no sense.

How could grace exist without works? If a simple prayer is all that’s needed for salvation, then how is grace needed at all? Doesn’t grace mean a covering for mistakes, permission to try and try again as we perfect our heavenly walk?

Saying the name of Jesus is not some magic spell that equals for some “Christian” social club. If you are not trying to do works, you are not covered by grace. Just as faith without works is dead grace without works is dead.

James 2: 14-16

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

The cross is a bridge to heaven. God’s grace covers us as we follow Jesus and take up our own cross, our works, to grasp heaven. Grace, and salvation, is not a one time event. The Protestant church has last its understanding of grace. We desperately need grace in this fallen world. If you are actively trying to help others, as you have the power to do, and you sometimes slip up, God has abundant grace for you.

Thank God for his grace as we practice the works of the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of Jesus.

Syrian Escape from Terror

Aleyah held her three-year-old son’s hand. She tried to not feel the terror, tried to steady the tremor. Please hands, stop shaking. He’s seen enough already. Don’t let him feel your fear.

She tried to erase the images from her own mind. Bullet shattered buildings. Blood torn bodies. The gruesome products of greed, hatred, and terror. They would be forever embedded in Amir’s impressionable mind.

Aleyah shifted the weight of her baby daughter sleeping strapped to her chest. Soon Faiza would be old enough to see and understand the horror around her. She had to get them out of here, away from this terror. How could Aleyah teach her children about this war?

War in the name of Allah.

War that twisted her beloved religion.

Aleyah thought back to her childhood. Happy memories. Religion entwined her life, surrounded by family and love. The mosque was a place of peace, learning, help. A place where neighbors helped each other, families commemorated birthdays and grieved together over deaths. A place to try to approach the Holy, bowing down in reverence. Bowing to the mystery. Jihad was a foreign word, a whispered black nightmare of twisted souls. Jihad could never exist among the Holy.

She had met Rafiq at the mosque. He was studying to be a doctor. Many of his family members were doctors, some still in Syria, some overseas. Rafiq told her stories of visiting his family in the United States. “There is so much freedom there, so many opportunities. They love doctors and treat them with so much respect. My uncles could help us settle in Los Angeles. There are so many Syrians there, and so many immigrants. Americans are friendly and welcoming.”

Aleyah was not so sure. She loved Syria, loved the desert, loved her people. She aspired to be a teacher. She had always loved children, and she came from a large family with plenty of siblings and cousins to watch over. “But, Rafiq, what about our family here. Won’t you miss them?”

“Yes, my dear, but the opportunities in America. Really, you need to visit there. You will love it.”

The mosque hosted their wedding. All of their family and friends packed the small space. Everyone was so happy, proclaiming a bright future for the young couple.

They became pregnant shortly after. “Allah has blessed us,” Rafiq proclaimed, his eyes twinkling.

“I don’t know, Rafiq. Syria seems to be in trouble. People are hurting so much. They can’t find work. Haven’t you seen the news? They blame the imams, they blame the government. What if war…”

“Shh, shh, my dear,” Rafiq whispered as he caressed her pregnant belly. “Think of this little one, our little Amir, our beautiful prince. Someday I will take you both to America, far from this violence. You will find opportunities there. We all will.”

They applied for visas the day after Rafiq graduated from medical school. Amir was only a few months old. “People in America are so kind hearted,” Rafiq said. “It won’t take long. They like doctors over there. Plus my family will vouch for us. They will never turn away a baby.”

The bombs started flying in other cities. Bullet holes riddled the buildings, but spared their house. Still, it was too close for comfort. It took a year to sell their house. They sold it for below its worth. So far below. They were lucky to get any money for it.

They moved in with friends in a tiny apartment crammed with four families. They had to save every precious bit for the journey ahead. But they were happy. Amir had plenty of playmates, and a soft carpet to learn to walk. They could wait here. They knew the visas were coming.

Soon they found out Aleyah was pregnant with her second child. They named her Faiza.

Abundance.

They dreamed of the abundance they would find in the United States. Aleyah was sad to leave her friends, but this bombed-out fearful existence was nothing like the beautiful Syria she remembered growing up.

Faiza came in the summer. The visas did not. The news showed angry Americans protesting. “We will not allow jihadists into our country. They have refugee camps. We can’t help them more than that.”

Rafiq kissed his wife and children to bed one night. “My sweetest Aleyah, I must go to America without the visas. They’re saying they will only grant asylum to people already in the country. I will get to my family and send for you. I love you more than anything.”

It had been three months since she heard anything from her husband. Had he made it across the border? Was he wounded, forgotten among the masses in the refugee camp? Had his body been swallowed in an unforgiving ocean of hatred? People in the camp told stories about their loved ones lost and dead in the journey. Not enough money to pay the bribes. Guides who stole everything. Boats that capsized. Countries that turned them back at the borders.

Aleyah held her five-year-old son’s hand. She tried to steady the tremor. Please hands, stop shaking. He’s seen enough already. Allah, please help me to be strong for these little ones you gave to me.

She fought back the tears gathering in her eyes. She had to be strong. Faiza yawned and stretched her feet, protesting the confines of a too-small pouch. She wanted to get out and practice walking.

But there was no more safe carpet for her to toddle and fall. No more green grass and bright sunshine to welcome the children. The park had been destroyed several years ago, collateral damage of the government against the rebels, or maybe the other way around. The house was now just a pocketful of change.

The apartment had been bombed. Nobody knew if it was rebel air strikes, ISIS jihadists, or Western air strikes. All they could do was run into the terrible, bomb-lit night.

Aleyah bounced Faiza to calm her. She squeezed Amir’s hand a little tighter. “I’m hungry,” he whined. There was so little food in the refugee camp. She had to go. She had to be brave for the little ones. For Rafiq.

“Shh… We must go now.” She looked out over the black ocean. She prayed to Allah that the boat would make the journey. Prayed that people would be kind. Prayed that people would understand she was not a terrorist.

Then she stepped into the ocean of terror between her family and America.

***

My story is partly based on a powerful web site, Syrian Journey: Choose your own escape route. I highly recommend every reader of my blog, every American use this tool. It brings humanity to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Syrian refugees are living in terror under the violence and chaos of a corrupt regime. They are losing their lives to war and terrorism.

The pain is real and the solutions are complicated. But we have people like Ben Carson saying refugee camps are nice places to live. We have Americans protesting and saying that Syrian refugee families harbor jihadists. We have violence in Paris and San Bernadino that people and politicians want to paint as the fault of Syrian refugees, without any real evidence.

And we have Donald Trump. He paints every world problem as easily solvable. Us versus them. Register and black list the Muslims. Everyday people with families, loved ones. People with dreams and hopes just like us. We must imagine their lives of horror and terror. We must find room in our hearts for love.

Muslims are not the enemy. Hate is the enemy.

Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who as a young child had to escape persecution in his homeland. Little Amir. Faiza. Aleyah and Rafiq could be Mary and Joseph.

Jesus taught us the path of love. Loving everyone. Loving people the same and different than us. Walking a mile in their shoes. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth this season, can we find it in our hearts to love today’s Middle Eastern refugee families?

***
I would also like to further mention the image I used above. It is a beautiful piece I found on Flickr. The artist, Alexander Mueller, calls it Don’t look away when peace is @ risk. He states,

"We regard Muslim people as pure evil by default. We have to stop that behaviour - not them. We have to face them with respect and accept that we are not God only because we were born in a western country like France, Germany or the US....

Start developing own thoughts and opinions instead of consuming the news. Inform yourself why the current situation of Syria, Iraq and IS is like it is. Learn from the past. We already made all possible mistakes. Stop repeating it!

Don't judge over people before you had the chance to get in contact and getting to know them.

But what might even be the most important thing: Be friendly. To as many people as possible but especially towards those who have a lower position than you!"
holding hands in interfaith peace

Beauty in Interfaith Peace

Beauty in Interfaith Peace:

Wedding Feast of the World

We can find interfaith peace as brothers and sisters of all religious paths, even in the haunted memory of extremist religious terror.

During his U.S. visit, Pope Francis participated in an interfaith ceremony at Ground Zero. The prayers and songs of all the faiths were beautiful and haunting. They revealed and respected the healing love of the Holy Spirit amidst human tragedy. This ceremony was true worship, worthy of the holiest throne in heaven. It touched the heart of God.

Interfaith peace teaches us about the many faces of God. There are infinite ways of knowing and experiencing divinity.

Jesus showed us the path of love. He spoke often of the Father’s heart, taking care of the poor and least of the world. Love is the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Buddha showed us how to know God through meditation. To deny the ego is to know Love.

Judaism teaches us how to respect and approach the Holy.

Hinduism contemplates our personal battles with light and darkness. The world, and cosmic, battles of good and evil begin with me and you.

Each religion, each culture, and each person’s individual spiritual paths are unique and valuable. We all have things to teach each other.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells about a wedding feast. This feast of the ages, heaven’s biggest party, includes invitees of every nation and tongue. I grew up in Evangelical Christianity. I learned that “every nation and tongue” meant we must go to all the nations and turn everyone else into Protestant Christians. (Yes, in this tradition, even Catholics are condemned to hell.)

But God has spoken to me many times and challenged me to look beyond this narrow viewpoint. The good news of Jesus is the kingdom of God, hope for the hopeless, love for the lonely. There are no tears at the wedding feast. The guests at the feast are devout followers of God from every religion.

Look at this passage:

Revelation 7:9, 15-17 NIV

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.  ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’  nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’  ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”

This multitude before the throne includes every person who searched for God with his/her full heart. People of every religion who have embraced the palm branch of interfaith peace. People who took up their cross to find the Lamb. No matter their nation or cultural religious path, these people endured the cross of hunger, thirst, homelessness, and persecution of all forms. Through their tears and their love, they find the Shepherd. They drink deeply the living water.

The feast of heaven is the ultimate interfaith celebration.

There is no place at this feast for religious hatred. A religious egoist cannot put on the wedding garments of humility. An extremist cannot hold the holy palm branch. My own sister claims to be an “extremist” for Jesus. Where is the love? Jesus doesn’t want Christian (or Muslim or Hindu) extremists. He wants humble, merciful lovers and peacemakers.

Jesus told us:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are the merciful,for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:5, 7-7, 9 NIV

Jesus told us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children. Children innately know peace and mercy. Pope Francis’ earthly interfaith ceremony ended with children singing. These children sang while holding hands. Beautiful hands of every color.

So it will be in heaven’s feast. We will all hold hands of every color. Hands of every faith. Hands of love.

Beautiful hands of interfaith peace.

Shalom.

4th of July Working Poor

4th of July 2015

On this 4th of July holiday, I am deep in thought about being American. The holiday celebrates the “greatness” of the United States, the land of the free and home of the brave.

But I am troubled about what I teach my son. Is there a place for him, for us? Will our mixed-race family be accepted among the sea of white families wearing red, white, and blue, waving the stars and stripes, driving nice cars to nice picnics and nice fireworks shows? Is this nice? Is this the picture of greatness?

The Working Poor on the 4th of July

My husband just started a new job. He desperately needs this work after a long period of unemployment. But his boss called and unexpectedly required him to work a shift from 8:00 pm to 3:00 am for the 4th of July. The job was over the river and Oregon state line in Vancouver, Washington. It is very difficult to take the bus there during peak times, and there are simply no buses that run there in the middle of the night. When he told his boss this fact, she accused him of lying. She has never taken a bus, but she says she “knows” that they run all the time.

So now we must choose between paying for an $80 taxi ride, jeopardizing our rent this month, or refusing the assignment and jeopardizing his new job. (He will also be basically working for free because he won’t make much more than $80 on the shift).

Of course we choose to pay for his job, because we do not want to struggle again with unemployment, and the job is good in the long run. But it is so sad that in the land of the free, we, and so many others, must worry constantly about rent.

Oh, the irony. This scenario must be happening to millions of low wage workers around the country on this holiday celebrating the independence of this “great” nation. My husband will be working an event that costs hundreds of dollars to attend. He must give up his few dollars and his own holiday to make sure the rich people have a nice time on their holiday.

I guess in the land of the brave, the low wage workers are the bravest people, sacrificing their own holiday, and their own money, so that others can have a nice holiday.

Teaching my son about the 4th of July and bombs bursting in air

While my husband is at work, I need to decide how, or if, I will celebrate with my son. He is five and beginning to understand social studies, fairness, and a world far beyond his family and friends. Right now he is interested in the civil rights movement. At the library he checked out kids books about sit-ins and Martin Luther King, as well as books about peace.

What do I teach him about celebrating a nation that still judges people on the color of their skin and the content of their bank account? How do I explain to him the meaning of peace in a holiday glorifying “bombs bursting in air,” in a country that has been in almost continuous war since its founding?

WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

Jesus never celebrated Roman holidays although he lived in a Roman land. Jesus celebrated God’s miracles on the Jewish holidays. Jesus never talked about celebrating countries and earthly independence. Jesus preached often about God’s heavenly kingdom and the importance of  human interdependence.

Jesus celebrated Peace. Love. Caring for one another. The poorest on earth are the richest in heaven.

The brave path of Jesus means sacrificing greed and power to welcome God’s kingdom on earth. If the United States will embrace peace and compassion, rather than bombs and power, we will truly be a great nation.

A 4th of July Prayer

On this 4th of July, I bless the least of these. I pray for all the low wage workers forced to choose between their families and their jobs.

I pray for a nation that engages in peace and love, rather than racial and class warfare. I pray for a nation that practices greatness by leading in compassion and world peace. I pray for a nation where someday everyone will be free of fear of homelessness and hunger.

I pray for a nation that will someday follow the brave path of Jesus, sacrificing greed and power to welcome God’s kingdom on earth.

Father, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen

Be blessed, American friends, on this 4th of July.

 

fruits of the spirit

God Wants Religious Fruits, Not Religious Nuts

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

On my Facebook feed recently, I saw a church sign that proclaimed, “God wants religious fruits, not religious nuts.” This is so true. The fruits of the Spirit are things such as love, peace, and gentleness. But there are many religious nuts who lead lives of selfishness at best, and lives of dark, deadly hatred at worst.

Fruits of the Spirit

There are people of faith, following many different religious paths, who live and grow in the fruits of the spirit. They find seeking God and the heavenly kingdom. They practice forbearance by giving up the rat race of earthly power and possessions. They follow a simple life of love for others and love for God’s beautiful creation.

These people of faith practice kindness, goodness, and gentleness toward others. They show special concern for the poor, bruised, and broken. They fight oppression in the world and in their neighborhood. By following Jesus’ path of holy justice, they gain the fruits of the spirit. The fruits ripen and grow during the seasons of a lifelong journey with the Holy Spirit.

Take another look at the Apostle Paul’s writing on the fruits of the Spirit, this time translated in the Message Bible:

Galatians 5:22-23 MSG

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

A simple life of holiness. A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. A life pursuing the fruits of the spirit.

Fruitcake of the Spirit

I have been publicly called a “fruitcake” for my writings on this website. I am proud of that. I want to pursue the fruits of the Spirit until they are so full and alive in my life that they make a cake.

The ingredients in my cake are a heaping cup of love, another cup of peace through justice for the oppressed, sprinkles of gentleness and kindness, and fruits of every kind. Let it bake through the spiritual journey of a life. But I won’t add any nuts. There are already too many religious nuts in the world.

So Many Religious Nuts

There are people who call themselves faithful, but who do not follow the fruits of the spirit. These people are religious nuts who use their faith as an excuse to bring harm to the world.

So many religious nuts want war and destruction. So many religious nuts crow out, “my way is the only way.” They battle against each other in words and weapons. Denomination against denomination. Religion against religion.

So many religious nuts battle against the poor. They call for cutting off medical and food support, harsh austerity they term “responsibility.” They love to preach, “God helps those who help themselves,” a saying found nowhere in the Bible.

When people think of religions nuts, often the first image to come to mind is a jihadist Muslim, like the shooting in a Sydney cafe, or the violence against Charlie Hebdo. Or they think of religious wars, the Catholic crusades of old, or the Muslims and Christians still killing each other in Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps they picture a Christian bombing an abortion clinic. These acts of terror are the most tragic fruits of a “my way is the only way” attitude.

These killings and violence are so horrible. So are less deadly acts of violence, like Christians who hold up signs saying “God hates gays.” The Holy Spirit is the mother of love, compassion, and understanding, the religious fruits of a wise spiritual path. God is so far from human hatred.

But these international news-making acts of religious violence are not the only forms of religious nuttery. There are Christians who build their kingdoms on earth at the expense of the poor. They are religious nuts. Jesus said, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) Yet some Christians say,”Don’t build those low-income apartments in my neighborhood, it will lower my property values.” They are religious nuts.

Jesus freely healed people and fed the crowd of 5000 people, even when he was exhausted from teaching all day (Matthew 14:13-21). Conservative political religious people say, “Cut back food stamps. He who shall not work shall not eat!” They are religious nuts.

I even knew someone who was proud to proclaim that she was an “extremist for Jesus.” When I told her that her words could be hurtful to people who have experienced the terror of religious extremism, she defriended me on Facebook. Where is the love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? God weeps over all this destruction in his name.

God Wants Religious Fruits, Not Religious Nuts

As people of faith, we should strive for fruits of peace and gentleness. Christians should join Jesus in following the way of the good Samaritan. We should tell our Muslim neighbors, “I’ll ride with you.” The fruits bloom and mature in holding hands with our neighbors of other religions. We must fight for justice for the poor and oppressed, the wrongfully incarcerated and the hungry. The fight for social justice creates peace and kindness.

Shabbat Shalom this beautiful Friday. Peace on your journey. Make a decision today to follow the journey of the fruits of the Spirit.

peace in portland

Peace in Portland: Create your own sunshine

Today is a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon. I am finding peace in Portland. I am so happy that we moved back to the Pacific Northwest, escaping the cold, heartache, and cruelty we experienced in Minnesota. We met a few friends in Minnesota, but we also met many people who hurt us.

Minnesota, like much of the Midwest, is majority conservative Protestant Christian. We met Minnesotans with cold, cold hearts who went to church on Sunday, thanking God for all their blessings. They then cursed me and my family during the week, honking their car horns and mocking us as we struggled to push our stroller in the snow. They laughed as the snowflakes fell around us, holy tears from heaven. The brutal cold in weather and spirit crushed my body and soul.

I love Jesus, and I can’t ever see him laughing at a young family trying their hardest to make it in the snow, to raise a child in cold society. Jesus will not crush a bruised reed, but his conservative “followers” are often quick to do so.

Now we are back in Oregon, place of our son’s birth, and place I have adopted as home. I will never have to brave the face-ripping, heart-crushing cold again. The trees, the mountains, the ocean, all speak healing over me. The people are less Christian here, and much more accepting of the poor. Portlanders care more about people, and are less motivated by money than the Twin Cities retail culture. Portland culture is laid back, live-and-let-live.

Portland has also grown far more diverse since we left three years ago. This is a welcome change because Oregon has its own ghosts of racism.

Right now it is a gorgeous, peaceful Portland weekend afternoon. The sun is shining, and the weather is warm, a peek into the coming summer months. I am playing at the park with my son. I daydream in his imagination, and in the joy of all the children playing under the gaze of ancient pine trees. I feel happy and at peace. For this moment, life is good.

Create your own Sunshine

This week is supposed to be rainy and cool, typical Portland. The Pacific Northwest is a temperate rainforest, full of cloudy, misty days. I love the rain, the introspective, cloudy yin balancing the bold, sunny yang. Some people in Portland, especially those who have moved north here from California, find it hard to deal with all the rain.

I saw a little girl at the park wearing a shirt that said,”Create your own sunshine.” What a message. When the rain keeps falling, and life seems too hard, create your own sunshine. Find your peace in the Spirit. Let the Son’s light shine over your pain.

It has rained so much in my life over the last five years. Christian persecution. Unemployment. Employed, then laid off. Poverty. Disability. Loss.

All these experiences created a storm that felt like it would never end. Each experience stretched my heart to the breaking and the blessing. My heart for the oppressed has grown with God’s heart.

God’s heart is on the oppressed, Jesus guides the poor with tenderness and love. Spiritual protection is all we have to cling onto amidst the hurricane of human greed and selfishness.

I am learning to create my own sunshine. The Holy Spirit is teaching me the wisdom of patience in persecution. She is teaching me to love my body as a vehicle for my spirit to enjoy life. I play in the park, splash in the water, take walks in the woods, run with my son in this body.

People may judge me, but God created me in beauty and light. I am a daughter of heaven. This body struggles with pain, war wounds from the journey on earth, but, someday, I will be completely whole. I create sunshine through the rain. How would I know the meaning of joy if I didn’t also know the meaning of pain?

I have found a new season of peace in Portland.

shabbat and lent, statue of Jesus

Shabbat and Lent: Religious Intersection

Shabbat shalom, friends.

As we approach sundown on Friday evening, Shabbat, of the first week of Lent, I am struck by the intersection of two great religions. Judaism and Catholicism. Shabbat and Lent.

Jesus lived in the intersection. He walked the holiness and healing of the ancient paths of Judaism. He showed us the sorrows and joy of the way of the cross and kingdom living. His followers of the cross were later called Christians.

My Personal Journey Into Lent

This is the first year I have ever celebrated Lent. Growing up evangelical, my church and family never taught the ways of Lent. They told me that Lent was a tradition of “evil” Catholics who are trying to earn their way to heaven. My heart breaks as I think back on the hateful words of people at my church saying that Catholics “work their way into hell.”

This is wrong. Evangelicals sometimes pride themselves of moving beyond tradition, but there is beauty, and holiness, in religious tradition.

In the last few years, I have been on a spiritual pilgrimage to find truth. God has led me on a fast from earthly success while I discovered depth of spirituality. I found beauty in Jewish holidays and traditions. I found new understanding of Jesus in Catholic mysticism and charity.

The Catholic church dates directly back to Jesus’ disciples, the early church out of which all reformed and evangelical Protestant churches later came. There was holiness in the early church. There is holiness in Catholic religious tradition. There is holiness in Lent. I want to learn more about this.

Holiness of Lent

I knew that my Catholic friends gave up various things for Lent. But Lent is more than self-denial. I am learning about Lent, fasting, and the repentance of excess, especially in a wealthy culture like ours.

Before beginning his ministry, Jesus went through 40 days of fasting. His self-denial of basic needs allowed him to focus on his spiritual needs, and to gain his Father’s heavenly wisdom for the earthly journey. By fasting something for Lent, we too can identify with Jesus and open our hearts in a new way to the provision of the Father.

Jesus talked often about provision. To the crowds, Jesus preached that the Father knows all of our needs and will provide us our daily bread, just as He provides for the lowly sparrows. To his disciples, Jesus told them only to take the clothes on their back for the journey, don’t worry about money, let the Father provide as He led them from town to town.

Many Christians in America today live in a home of plenty with no need to worry about daily bread. They forget their homeless brothers and hungry sisters, hidden away from the eyes of privilege. Lent is a perfect time to focus inwardly on the great riches we take for granted and to renew our hearts to work for a more just society.

During Lent, I want to meditate on how I can be Jesus’ hands and feet to the hurting and downtrodden of my neighborhood, my influence. Can I fast privilege to understand oppression? Do I need to repent from any attitudes or assumptions I hold against those different from me?

Jesus gave up all the privileges and riches of heaven to come to our dirty, poor, fallen human world. What have I ever given up that comes close to this?

Jesus inhabited a land under brutal Roman oppression. He was a great teacher, learned in Torah, and divine in understanding. I am sure he was offered a high Rabbi position in the temple. But he chose to live among the people, to befriend the least of these.

And of course Jesus celebrated Shabbat.

Jesus, Shabbat, and Lent

In my childhood church, I was also taught that all Jews must be converted. Nobody ever talked about the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples. By studying the Bible, I have learned that we gentiles are only grafted into that great Tree of Life. The Jews are the root. Shabbat is holy.

Yahweh gave us Shabbat as a time of rest, a pausing of work to renew our spirits. The Jewish greeting of Shabbat shalom means peace to you on Shabbat. This peace also has a nuance of reconciliation, making peace with any person with whom you hold a grudge.

Shalom. What a beautiful picture of Lent. Jesus came and made peace with a world full of darkness and hatred. Jesus fasted and gave up heaven to die on a cross, to show us the way to the Father’s kingdom.

Shabbat shalom, friends. The peace of the Jewish Sabbath be on you and your house. May the awe of Jesus’ love for us on the cross fill your heart, and repentance and spiritual renewal fill your mind this season of Lent.

dangerous love, two peace doves on Valentine's Day

A Dangerous Love: Valentine’s Day Message

On this Valentine’s Day 2015, I am meditating on the love of Jesus. The love of Jesus is a holy love, a love of astounding grace, a love that intimately knows all our sins, all our failures, all our darkness.

Two days ago, I read an article about Christians and Valentine’s Day. “No, Jesus isn’t my boy friend,” Juliet Vedral blogs in the Sojourner. She is speaking of the boyfriend Jesus, a popular saying in many of today’s “seeker sensitive” and Charismatic churches. I agree with her.

The love of Jesus is not a boyfriend love. The love of Jesus is a perfect and dangerous love.

A Perfect Love

Jesus gave up everything in his love for us. We must give up everything in our own pursuit of holiness. We must learn to love God and others. Jesus told religious leaders that Love is the greatest law. Loving God is primary, but loving your neighbor as yourself is also required to fulfill God’s whole law.

Mark 12:28-31 (NIV)
28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Jesus preached to the crowds that anyone can love their friend, but God calls us to love our enemies. We must learn reckless love. Indiscriminate love. We must learn to love those who don’t deserve love. Love them into the kingdom. Perfect love.

Matthew 5:43-48
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A Dangerous Love

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, a man who practiced radical love. He bound up the wounds of the Jew who was bloody, beaten, and left to die on the roadside. This was a dangerous love on a dangerous road filled with violent thieves and hateful religious disputes. The Samaritans and Jews warred over doctrine and ideas of God, much like Muslims and Christians today.

The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of Jesus’ love for us. While we lay bleeding on the road, beat up by the world’s systems, not looking for God’s kingdom, dying in pride and foolishness as we built our little kingdom of wealth on earth, Jesus found us. He cleaned up our wounds, paid for our care, and took a chance on us.

He knew the danger that once we healed from our sins, once that precious seed was planted in our soil, the cares and pleasures of this world could lure us away once again.

A Dangerous Cross

In his love for us, Jesus faced the ultimate danger. In his love for us, Jesus died on a cross. He died an excruciating death as a criminal to a world who could not understand his love.

Jesus loved the poor, the orphan, the widow, the misunderstood, the prostitute, the sinner. While I was still His enemy, Jesus loved me. Jesus died for me. Jesus showed me the radical, holy, dangerous love of God.

What is my response to this love? What is your response? We must follow Jesus in the dangerous love of the cross.

Picking up my cross to follow Jesus has been a dangerous love and a wild road. I have given all my possessions to the poor whom Jesus brought my way. I have experienced homelessness and hunger. I have been rejected by the church but accepted by my gay brothers in Christ, by my poor single mom sisters in Christ. I have seen hatred by pastors, men and women who started a good road, but whose lamps have gone dark as they disparage the poor and hurting. I have seen love by prisoners, the light and acceptance of Jesus shining in their hurt eyes.

Holy love is a dangerous love. What kind of love will you embrace today on Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love? Find Jesus, find love, find life.

Jesus and the Super Bowl, football player

Jesus and the Super Bowl: Sunday Message

Today, on the hallowed American holiday of Super Bowl Sunday, pastors are preaching sermons about the Super Bowl in churches all across America. Pastors preach about Jesus and the Super Bowl. They call their congregations to be “champions” for Jesus (well, champions of the capitalist society).

Pastors use Jesus and the Super Bowl to compare the Christian life to a cosmic football game, full of adoring Jesus fans filling rah-rah stadiums. This is not necessarily a bad picture. But these Jesus fans should not be cheering on just some game, they should be cheering on the poor and the oppressed, Jesus’ brothers and sisters. The Super Bowl for super souls.

Pastors publicly pray for their favorite team to win the Super Bowl. This I do not agree with. These pastors presume that, in a world full of suffering and pain, a callous world where children die of hunger and poverty, a violent world where adults die of human hatred and war, God somehow cares about the outcome of an American football game.

Jesus and Super Bowl Violence

American football is a game that glorifies war and violence. Yet churches uplift the game. Some churches even broadcast the Super Bowl in their sanctuaries, areas that are supposedly sanctified to holiness. The Super Bowl is far from holy.

I have also heard Christians say that if Jesus was alive today, he would certainly attend the Super Bowl.

But would he? The Roman society, which Jesus inhabited, oppressed and impoverished his people, the Jews. Roman society was violent and divided by class status, not too different from American society today. Yes, we are a little more civilized. Rome put their protestors on a cross; we put our protestors in jail. Rome killed their gladiators in Colosseum games; we give our players concussions and broken bones in football games. WWJD? What would Jesus do? Would he celebrate the violence?

Not too long after Jesus’ death, Rome decimated the Jews and destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Rome took the temple spoils and enslaved the Jews to build the Colosseum, opened in 80 AD. They used the Colosseum to murder early Christians, followers of Jesus.  The Romans set wild animals lose to create human blood baths, believers perishing as entertainment for the people in the stadium.

Yet today’s American Christians cry that they are “persecuted” when somebody says happy holidays to them, or when they are not allowed to lead Christian prayers in public schools. How far removed they are from the agonies of the cross!

I do not believe that Jesus would celebrate the spirit of the Super Bowl, a game that glorifies war strategy and violence, winners and losers, haves and have-nots. In history, rich and the poor spectators sat in separate Colosseum seats. Today, rich spectators buy Super Bowl tickets for thousands of dollars, the tickets a status symbol of wealth. Gladiator glory and multi-million dollar football player contracts are not too different.

Jesus, a Champion for the Poor

Jesus is alive today, but you won’t find him in the Super Bowl stadium or the Super Bowl pulpit. You will find him in the streets, sharing chips and dip with the hungry. You will find him in the charity hospital of sickness, healing the people and paying their bills. You will find him in the prison of hopelessness, giving a party to the lonely.

If Jesus did preach a Super Bowl Sunday message, he would tell us to give up our lives and worldly glories and become champions for social justice. He would explain the game strategy of lifting people out of poverty, freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, bringing peace and justice to a warring world. He would tell us how he resisted the political wars and violent games of his day. He would remind us what true persecution looks like, and to stay strong when society tries to destroy you.

Jesus and the Super Bowl: A Prayer for Peace

Dear Jesus,

I pray for peace today on Super Bowl Sunday. I pray for the kingdom of the Father to come to earth, and the American football stadiums to be full of intercessors for the poor and least of these. I pray that you will humble our hearts and make us champions against the powers of darkness that seek to destroy the human soul. l pray that we will stop destroying each other and playing soul-crushing games of winners and losers.

Jesus, please change hearts on Super Bowl Sunday. Help us learn to give our millions of dollars to change society, not just to win a big game.

Amen