by Steve Mason
I am me and I am not you. We are finite beings. We are each bound by the context of our own lives and I cannot get over how important context is. This morning of November 15th, 2011 I woke up in my temperature controlled apartment, getting ready to drive in my car to go to a good-paying job that satisfies both my material needs as well as my spiritual and emotional needs. But from the time I watched an episode of “Mad Men” on my computer before drifting off to a comfortable sleep until my morning drive; much has happened in the world, according to the radio. I hear many stories on NPR on other realities of how that time was spent. I hear about how police forcibly removed peaceful protesters from a NYC park, some protesters returned to Oakland’s Occupy space and the largest death toll in Syrian protests against their government happened—all while I snoozed under layers of blankets and a lazily rotating ceiling fan.
It boggles my mind to think that such events—not to mention many other life-shattering or world-altering things—have happened that are so foreign from my world. I would like to think that I am in solidarity to these people who have suffered—people who have faced such physical and emotional threat from their governments or from other individuals. I would like to believe that I actively support economic justice and political freedom and responsibility, but I honestly have no plans to join an Occupy movement as a protester—assuming that with this night raid by the NYPD that the movement as a whole doesn’t sputter out—instead I will continue my pattern of work, three meals a day and a comfortable sleep with my wife.
So, can this gap of different lives and vastly different experiences be bridged? I don’t know. I used to scoff if people would say that prayer is the answer. I am a person of action, I need to DO something and prayer just feels so…well, passive. But as I’m continuing on in growing my prayer life, I have learned about the many types of prayer. Some are quiet, some are loud, some are personal, some are universal, some involve withdrawing from the world…and some require directly placing yourself in the midst of the messy, complex world that we live in. For me, it is this kind of prayer that I need right now. To connect me with my brothers and sisters protesting corruption and greed around the world, part of what I need is to learn as much as I can about the people I seek to be in solidarity with. In the midst of this super sleuthing and fact-finding, I need to engage in the conscious act of mentally imagining the lives—the sights, smells, sounds, motivations, etc—of all those engaged in direct peace-making. With their lives (or at least what I can imagine of them) in my mind, I pray to God to be with those people, that their message of equality and peace be heard by the power brokers of the world and that their hearts be resolved by the good vibes I’m throwing out their way. I need to do things to remind myself to be in prayer for them, to see their counterparts in the world around me and support the aims that they are seeking in my own world by altering my behavior in my own life.
None of us will ever escape the fact that we are each individuals. But one of the amazing—and constantly mystifying—aspects of a life of faith is that the God proclaimed in the Bible and sought in our faith communities desires that we remember in the midst of our separate and busy lives that we are still connected through the familial bonds of humanity. There is an opportunity to express that bond in our daily relationships with others, in our cultural and economic lives and sometimes…prayer.
What’s the WoG?
A reflection on the Gospel of Matthew
-by Matt Harris-Gloyer
In ancient Jewish culture, as may be said for many peoples of today, connection to family was and is important. So, I can imagine that it must have been painful for the gospel writer (‘Matthew’) to become isolated or estranged from his synagogue family. All the more difficult to bear considering that Matthew’s synagogue family may have overlapped his biological family, not to mention the loss of cultural and spiritual/religious connection. Some commentaries suggest that a rift was indeed forming in the synagogue between Jews and Jewish followers of Jesus in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Jews of that time must have been thinking, ‘how could this happen to us again?’ ‘If God was on our side, how did we lose?’ ‘Something must have gone wrong.’ ‘Did we do something wrong?’ Some of us today may ask similar questions when bad things happen to good people. If this is a topic of interest for you, then I would recommend a helpful book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner.
So, when the gospel of Matthew was written (approximately 80-90 CE), the Jewish community is trying to figure out and to make sense of their situation as a people who are occupied by the Roman Empire. Quite humanly, there is a fair amount of blame within Matthew’s gospel, such as, the Pharisees are responsible, or the Jewish political and religious leaders are responsible. Matthew couches the responsibility within the storyline of Jesus’ crucifixion/resurrection and it follows that because X group killed Jesus, God has decided to punish the people through the destruction of the Temple and the Roman occupation. It is a theological explanation that does not work for most people today and we do well to remember that only one party is responsible for the destruction of the Temple, the resulting occupation and the political assassination of Jesus: the Romans. Even if this theology does not work for you now, the point is that this is how Matthew’s community was making sense of their world. We do not have to make sense of our world in the same way. We decide our theology and philosophy.
The commentary suggests that the gospel attributed to Matthew enters this time of occupation (after 70) with two possible solutions embedded within the gospel. For our purposes, I will focus on one of the solutions that is a reinterpreted vision of family. file://localhost/Users/michelleharris/Desktop/Monkey%20family.jpg
The crux of this vision is doing the WoG (‘will of God’). Family is no longer solely determined by biology or culture or religion. One is included in the family of God by doing the will of God. I acknowledge that this can be a little problematic in that it makes the love of God conditional, but I ask that we put that aside for now to be addressed on another day. This new vision of family follows a theme that appears often in the Hebrew scriptures (‘Old Testament’): the ever-expanding notion of the family of God. Matthew, and the Jesus presented in Matthew, follows in this great Jewish tradition. It seems that for Matthew’s community, the most important part of faith was family. By doing the will of God, one is family. Dietary restrictions, language, culture, race, employment status, class, societal standing, past transgressions, right belief, right practice and so forth are not so much discarded with, but rather become secondary to doing the will of God.
The next obvious question may then become, ‘What is the will of God?’ Looking to the gospel again, we find a possible answer in Matthew 22:37-39: “You shall love the Lord your Go with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 for the first part and then in classic rabbi form he offers an expanding of the tradition with verse 39.
For many of us contemporary readers, this is a difficult pill to swallow. We want a definitive answer to our question. The question was, ‘what is the will of God?’ And we find ourselves (or at least I find myself) frustrated by the apparent dodge. Jesus’ answer is a dodging of the question because it leaves unsaid how exactly the greatest commandment is to be carried out. Furthermore, it leaves unsaid what exactly the will of God is. I offer that the ball is in our court, so to speak, to determine and discern, to figure and to wrestle with what the will of God is in our own time and in our own situation. Admittedly, it is not easy to discover how we should live in our places of distance from family and in a culture of confusion. Many of us cobble together a community of varied parts and parcels as we stumble along the blurry paths of right and wrong. When our vision clears, perhaps we see that the path is not necessarily one right path and one wrong path. Perhaps, we see that life is complex as we discover how to love people who are not like us. For me it becomes confounding when I consider how I am to love my neighbor who very well may do harm to my family. How do I love that neighbor? If you have the answer, please do let me know. Until then, I move forward in loving as many people as I can, as often I can, in as many ways that I can and take comfort in knowing that God is there beside to encourage and to comfort, to urge a stumbling towards love while also rooting myself in justice.
May God bless your path as you work to love this week.
My Internal GPS
by Steve Mason
I don’t know if, in the history of Rueben sandwiches, anyone has ever savored a Rueben longer or in more detail than I recently did. The other night I went to visit my friend, Ryan, up in Smithville. As is our usual indulgence, we went to the Justus Drugstore where I had a Rueben, a salad and a Missouri version of an old New Orleans cocktail. In case you aren’t familiar, the Justus Drugstore is a restaurant housed in the chef’s family’s old drugstore. We sat out on the patio, enjoying the lovely evening, surrounded by planter’s boxes full of herbs that would be used in the cuisine and fancy mixed drinks (their bartenders are freakin’ botanists!!) and occasionally we would see workers come out and prune or pick at the herbs.
The style of dining at Justus is decidedly slow-paced, meant for conversations and savoring every bite of food. Often times two or three hours can pass before we call it a night because the purposeful concept of the restaurant is farm-to-table dining that honors all the ingredients and creates community. The menu lists all the local partnerships the restaurant has developed with local farms. Everything from the pork to the wheat in the pasta is local. Even the cherry wood that forms the edges on the tables and the pecan shells that are used to shelter plant beds all come from around the Smithville area. This is a part of what builds a community, naming those who have helped you become what you are and being invested in their good too – but the community-creating efforts go beyond that. The slow pace really allows (forces, depending on how comfortable you are) patrons to converse with each other in a way that most of our hurried, multi-tasking meals don’t foster. The executive chef, Jonathon Justus, even makes sure to make his way around, getting to know first-timers as well as catching up with the regulars.
Later, I when I do my weekly phone call check-in with my parents, I tell them about the dining experience. Then they ask how much it cost and when I respond, they say, “How much????” Now, part of the reason for this is that my parents rarely spend money on anything, much less something like food. I think generational differences also play into things—dining out was reserved for rare occasions in my parents’ generation. My mother, bless her heart, chided me when she asked me, “Do you eat to live or live to eat?” and without skipping a beat, I answered, “live to eat.” My food fascination did not make sense to her and she took it as misplaced values.
But I believe the reason why experiences like dinner at Justus and locally-sourced food are so important to me is that they give me a sense of place, a sense of home. I have grown up in an age when bananas and strawberries are available year-round and Kansas City is about the 15th place I’ve lived in my 29 years. I don’t have a place that I can define as different than other places. I could eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same department stores and go to the same-owned movie theaters in Kansas City as when I lived in New York and Nashville. But at places like Justus, I get grounded. I know this is Missouri, and I am forced to stop texting and look at and talk with my friends. That awareness that allows me to claim this place, this food and these people as my world (no matter how temporary) is something so valuable to me that it’s worth spending more on dinner than I would normally.
Dining at places like the Justus Drugstore helps my internal GPS navigate my often-changing world by giving me connection to my friends, to a flavor profile and to local food producers. While it may still be an extravagance my mother would never seek for herself, my lens for viewing my location is through food and I need places like Justus to slow me down enough to focus my sight, to encourage me to breathe deeply and to listen carefully to the wonderful people and experiences God has placed in my life. So…what connects you to your place right now?
God time for the busy mind
By Chuck Pickrel
I am one of what is said to be 1 in 4 adult Americans (the actual number is probably much higher) who has ADHD. You know, that thing that gets blamed for a kid who refuses to pay attention or sit still without setting something on fire… This means that I have never once in my life known what it feels like to have a mind that is at rest. If you have ADHD you know exactly what I am talking about, and if you don’t…imagine that your brain is a T.V. with the volume all the way and someone is changing the channel every few seconds.
As you might imagine, this makes personal time with God somewhat difficult. The spiritual practices that bring others comfort and insight are all but lost on a mind that cannot slow down. Meditation, reading and prayer look much different to a person with ADHD, especially when you try to fit them in with all of the other 37,000 things you are trying to do that day.
Now, ADHD is not the only thing that makes time with God difficult. Some people are just plain busy, others haven’t found a way to communicate with God and others feel they lost that connection long ago. Here is the good news: God loves you no matter what and God is with you no matter what. All you have to do is find a way let God in. Simple right?
Here is what I do:
Exercise: This can be as simple as walking for thirty minutes. Listen to music and think about your joys and concerns or leave the tunes at home and have an open dialogue with God. You will feel better physically and spiritually.
Play and instrument: Okay, so this isn’t for everyone… But if you have the ability then you have been blessed with a wonderful spiritual gift! Play music for God. Don’t worry, God loves everything from Miles Davis to Cake, U2 to Metallica… I think you get the idea.
Play video games: Most people don’t agree with me on this one… Here’s the thing, playing video games keeps my hands busy and let’s my mind focus on one thing. That one thing can be whatever I want it to be. Granted God is not always on my mind, but if I’m really having trouble focusing nothing works better.
Driving: This is great if you have a long commute. Make your car a sanctuary! Talk to god instead of yelling at the jerk who cut you off. Pray out loud (with your eyes open of course), listen to music that puts you in a spiritual place (Mumford and sons works for me) and just be with God.
These are just a few of the things that allow my stormy mind to be at peace (however brief that peace may be) with God. Will they work for you? You won’t know until you try. Do not be afraid to discover now ways to be with God… God will be there, no matter what.
Peace and blessings friends!
by Lara Blackwood Pickrel
On a good day, I wholeheartedly believe that God loves everyone. And not just a little bit – on those good days I believe God loves every single person the whole world ’round with the sort of passion that can only be hinted at in our often-clumsy languages, the sort of fervor that needs metaphor and holy imagination to come close to capturing it, the sort of intensity and unconditional-ity that we yearn for but rarely hope for out loud. Down to the bones, I believe that – and not just because it’s my job to believe what I preach.
But that’s on a good day.
On those other days, well…sometimes I lose sight of what I believe. It’s not that I forget God’s love on the bad days – it’s that my vision gets narrower: on the bad days I still believe that God loves the people I know, but sometimes I’m not so sure about everyone else.
Do you know that feeling? The one that creeps up into your throat while you’re stuck in rush hour traffic and makes you certain that every other car on the road is piloted by an idiot? Or the feeling that works its way through the muscles in your shoulders and neck, stiffening and complaining that every moron in the county must be in line at WalMart? Of course God loves my friends and family, but those people?!? No matter the situation, on bad days I struggle with the sheer size and scope of God’s love for ALL the world.
You might be a much better person than me. But if you’re not, here’s an exercise I’ve stumbled upon that might be of use:
People Watching Prayer
For me at least, this works best in incredibly crowded places: airports, stadiums, public parks on bright and breezy Saturdays…
Find a seat somewhere in the thick of things. Eat a light but filling meal before you sit so that you aren’t interrupted by a growling or upset stomach. Bring a cup of coffee, water, soda, or whatever. Be sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes and be sure your location is on the cozy side – you’re going to be here for a while.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable and settled in, start to take in your surroundings (especially the people). Slowly sweep the whole of the place with your eyes once or twice, and then select a person or group of people that grabs your attention. Notice the details of that person or group: Does he/she look happy, stressed out, or lonely? Do they appear to be enjoying one another, or do they really seem to know each other at all? Is she/he dressed professionally, casually or in a manner that might suggest poverty? Take it all in, and as you do, begin to pray for this/these strangers.
After a few minutes, make the scope a bit larger. Imagine a circle widening around the folks you first prayed for, and begin to notice details about the people within the circle. Ponder, imagine, wonder about these people and their lives. Where do they work? Who do they love? What makes them laugh or cry? What do they hope for themselves or their families and friends? As you notice, turn your attention into prayer.
As time slips by, continue widening the circle and scope of your attention and prayer. Ring by imaginary ring, continue to watch and pray until, eventually, you find yourself taking in the entire crowd. Depending upon the size of the venue, you may not be able to notice individual details of the crowd – but there is still much to notice (pockets of color as fans of a team sit in the same area, areas of similar movement as one part of the crowd moves through security and another bustles around the Starbucks, etc.).
When you get to the large scale, think to yourself: “These are God’s children, and God loves them all. God loves and knows each individual, each family unit, each group of friends or co-workers. These are God’s children, and God loves them all. And, in the middle of this huge crowd, God loves and knows me. This is what it is like to one of God’s children.”
Then smile to yourself, and say “Amen”.
by Kassie Smith
Last week, I had to help out in my church’s Child Development Center. It was the first week of “school” for these little one to four year-olds. Some of them were there just for part-time care while others were there for our morning preschool program. Some of them had never been away from their mommies and daddies like this before. It was all very overwhelming those first few days (for them, but especially for me!).
I was called in because we were full to capacity for the first time in years. It was a relief to have such a problem! We have a great program, run by a great director and I’m so happy that the word has gotten out to the community of Mission, KS that we have something wonderful happening for these little guys. But this meant that we were a little short on staff for all of these amazing kids. So I came in as a substitute until we could get another person hired.
Now, I’ve worked in daycares and preschools before, but it’s been a few years. These last few years I’ve mainly been working with older elementary aged kids and teenagers (ya know, the potty-trained ones!) so this was an eye-opener to me. I was struck by how hard it seemed for so many of the kids to adjust to “school” — even if they had been there last year. I spent most of the time in the three and four year-old classroom to help with the preschool program and I noticed a few ways these kids handled the adjustment back to school: some of them wandered around aimlessly, just taking in their surroundings, while others sat in corner and cried, completely overcome by separation anxiety. After we got everyone focused on a project or playing in the centers with some new friends, every once in a while a few of them would relapse into separation anxiety mode. Over the course of the morning, I kept hearing random outbursts of “MOOOOOOMMMMMMMYYYYYYYY!” followed by crying. Honestly, it broke my heart how a few of the children would be happily playing with their little friends and then all of a sudden realize that they were missing something very important — a connection with the most important person in their world: Mommy.
At the end of the week (and after I took a crazy long nap) I started to think about this separation anxiety, this thing that made these otherwise happy children stop and cry out in desperation for something so important and integral in their lives. It made me think about my own life and how I’ll be wandering around, playing with my friends, learning new things and working on projects when all of a sudden I look around and realize something is missing. Something important and integral to my life: a connection with God. I don’t know what made these preschoolers realize their mommy was missing at that point in time, but I know there are things that trigger my separation anxiety with God: injustice, sadness, tragedy, etc. The good news is that just like these children’s mommies never stop loving them, even if they have to send them to preschool or daycare, our God never stops loving us no matter how separated we feel.
It struck me how odd it is that I can be twenty five years-old and still suffer from separation anxiety, even if it is with God now and not my mommy (although I do miss her a lot if I don’t see her often). I guess some things never change, no matter how old we get.
Ghostbusters, Influence and Positivity
by Matt Harris-Gloyer
I watched Ghostbusters 2 yesterday after getting the car washed, a Costco run and some reading and writing. Great flick from 1989. You should Netflix it or watch it online. Oh, I just realized that some of you reading this might not have been alive in 1989. That’s ok. Some old things can still be good. Like wine, cheese, pirate treasure, or Danish philosophers named Kierkegaard. I encourage you to google that last one.
Sorry for the tangent; I am easily distracted. Back to the movie. Aside from the obvious jokes and slapstick, I began to notice a subtle message embedded within the film. The Ghostbusters stumble across a river of slime that is a physical manifestation of the negative energy of the people of New York City. All of the malice, cruelty and avarice transforms into an actual river of this slime beneath the city. An evil magician and tyrant, Vigo, whose spirit was captured in a painting, then begins to channel this river of slime for his own purposes of becoming reincarnated in the baby of Sigourney Weaver’s character who is the love interest of Ghostbuster Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). Ghostbusters Ray and Egon discover that the slime is malleable (it reacts to positive, as well as negative, comments) and respectively animates objects or conjures vicious ghosts. In order to defeat the evil Vigo, the Ghostbusters spray the Statue of Liberty with the slime that has been infused with positive comments. While under positive influence, the slime has the property of animating objects. Thus, Lady Liberty walks through the streets of New York, engendering a parade and singing and good will throughout the city. This good will is exactly what the Ghostbusters need in order to break through the defenses of the evil of Vigo whose power is derived from the negativity of the city’s people. Essentially, it is the people of New York who save the day through caring, singing and loving-kindness.
Have you ever taken note of how messages affect your mood, your self-image, how you treat others, or how you react to stimuli? I have no doubt that what we listen to, watch and experience have an influence on our behavior. It seems to me that we are kind of like that slime in the movie. When we experience negativity, we are more likely to respond with negativity. When we experience positivity, we are more likely to respond with compassion, loving-kindness, creativity and goodness.
I guess what I’m getting to is to say that if we are affected by what we see, hear, experience and so forth, than we would do well to encourage more opportunities for experiencing the positive in life. That’s the trick, isn’t it? It has been true over the course of my journey that it can be damn hard at times to focus on what is good and life-giving in the world. There is an abundance of hatred and violence in the world that sometimes convinces me that negativity has overwhelmed blessing. Yet, there are days when I remember that hope remains. There are still places where people can gather for their mutual uplift, support, encouragement and betterment. My challenge is to place myself more often in places where I am reminded of goodness, encouraged to be my full self and inspired to discover and to be that which I am called to be.
So, dear reader, I offer you a few questions and then a blessing, if you will accept them:
- Where are a couple of places where you experience goodness and encouragement?
- How might you place yourself more often in such places?
- How will you be a blessing to others this week?
As you go about your day, may you experience joy in your being, may you remember that you are loved and cared for and may you accept that you are to be a blessing.
Good luck and God bless!