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When I first saw the original version of the movie, “The Stepford Wives,” I found it chilling.  Over the years, as I’ve met certain people of faith, it has occurred to me that they come across in the same way.  Everybody must act the same.  Dress conservatively.  Quote the Bible all the time.

I always wondered what was going on underneath the veneer.  Didn’t any of these people ask questions? Was this what they really believed?  If they had doubt, what would their recourse be?

This is how I feel when believers come to my door to spread the word of their gospel.  I feel like I’m being enticed with promises of fellowship and community, but when I listen carefully, I’m actually hearing judgment and negativity.  We want you just the way you are, but once we get you, we’re going to change you completely.  The few times I’ve actually opened my door, it has occurred to me to try to be gentle with them, because in their universe, they are doing me a favor.

What is so important to you that it’s the first thing you’ll try to discuss with someone you’ve just met?

The idea for this topic came from my son – a shy boy who doesn’t initiate conversations often – who asked someone online, “Do you Kraft?” He’s not talking about practicing witchcraft; “Kraft” refers to playing an online game called “Minecraft.”  The game seems to be a slow-moving, uneventful endeavor in which players dig caves.  Not much happens, as I see it.  But to my son and his friends, it’s engaging and entertaining, and it’s the first thing they do when they come home from school.

After watching him “Kraft” a few times, I realized it’s a metaphor for life.  With “creepers” and spiders that come out of nowhere, it can be a rather dark world.  You never know what’s around the corner, so you’d better be sure you’ve built your cave well.

My ministry is about encouraging others along the path of life, and trying to meet them where they are.  When I first saw my son playing Minecraft, I thought, isn’t there a “lighter, brighter” game he could be playing?  Why is it always so dark?  Why must there be monsters?

I’ve asked the same questions of God.  Why must life be so dark sometimes?  Why are there challenges so big they might consume us altogether?  Since I don’t know the answer to these questions, I’ll just try to share what I do know with my son, hope he’ll listen, and allow him to find his own way in the world.  Extending that philosophy to everyone I meet has made it possible to really get to know people, not just to make assumptions. Because really, there’s no lonelier cave than a closed mind.

I once had a friend who called me “Lorax,” a play on my name and the fact that I stuck up for the little guy: In this case, copywriters. My friend and I worked epically long hours; we even won an award for the best catalog copy in America…only to be told by our department manager, “Anyone can write.” Yep. I spent thousands of dollars and years of skill-building to be little more than a monkey with a typewriter. Someone had to stand up for us.

And I guess that’s become my ministry: Speaking up for those who are not heard or cannot speak. For example, I live in a Dog Town; that is, a town that loves its pups and thinks very little of those of the feline persuasion. I like dogs, too. But I love and care for stray cats because there are so few of us who will. (And I mean truly care for, not hoard. Hoarders are collectors, not caretakers.) I’ve never met a dog-hater, but cat-haters are a dime a dozen. So I speak for the cats.

I also speak for those who tend to be left out, short-changed, under-represented — women. I ask the Church to listen to us and let us lead. I demand equable wages. I represent, in my small, computer-bound way, a majority that, alas, is still treated like a minority.

This puts me on the surprising end of certain controversies. For instance, I don’t like the fact that human beings seem to be more important before they’re born than after. Where are all the Right To Lifers when it comes to children of color who need homes? Where are they when it comes to preventing violence against women? What responsibility does the Catholic Church take for its stance on birth control? What do all those cardinals and bishops think when they see women dying in childbirth or children starving to death because of their exhortations?

I am the Lorax. I would like to live quietly inside my tree, but I can’t. Not when I look around me. There are too many who need me to speak.

* The Lorax, a Dr. Seuss character, was a wizened little creature who spoke against the exploitation and destruction of nature.

Holy God,

You love us
as you have made us,
short and tall,
men and women,
singers, plumbers, farmers,
speakers of a multitude of languages.

Help us to see each other
as you see us.
Your children,
Your creation,
Your variety.
Capable of love
and light
and learning
whenever and wherever
we have the freedom to grow.

Amen.

 

I’ve been noodling this question over since Ruth asked it several weeks ago.  What is my ministry?  The message that I carry with me out into the world?  I’m not sure why it has been so difficult for me to articulate but this is attempt #3.

If I had to put it on a t-shirt it would say “Let Them Be Who They Are.”

My favorite Bible verse is Psalm 100:3.  “Know Ye that the Lord is God,It is He that hath made us,And not we ourselves,We are His peopleand the sheep of his pasture.”

Then there is this from the Holy Quran.

“[35:27] Do you not realize that GOD sends down from the sky water, whereby we produce fruits of various colors? Even the mountains have different colors; the peaks are white, or red, or some other color. And the ravens are black.

“[35:28] Also, the people, the animals, and the livestock come in various colors. This is why the people who truly reverence GOD are those who are knowledgeable. GOD is Almighty, Forgiving.”

God loves us in our variety — our variety of cultures, our variety of languages, the various ways we approach him, and the various traits that we all possess.   Why?  Because that is the way that God made us, each and every one.

I spent summers in West Texas where my grandfather worked in the mercury mines.  When we were at the mines, I was very often related to every English speaker there.  Everyone else spoke Spanish.   The language flowed around me like the mountain air.  Sometimes they spoke to me, bending down to look me in the eye, speaking slowly before showing me whatever wonder they had found to share with Susita.

In college, I worked the campus pow wow.  The beat of the drum pulsed through the ground.  Tents, pulled from trunks and pick up beds, sprouted up around the drum circle.  I hauled supplies and ran errands until the women pulled me into the circle to join them in the women’s dance.

Thai spring festivals, wiccan weddings and more.  Maybe it was because of my childhood, often among people who spoke another language.  Maybe it is my Faith that God truly did make us all and we all carry a bit of that goodness within us.  Maybe it is just my insatiable curiosity that drives me to be around people who aren’t just like me.

But I truly believe that everyone has the right to be who they are.  To speak their language.  To love who they love.  To approach God down the path on which they have been placed.

Doing what I can do to see that they retain this right is my mission.  To you, it may look like I’m simply keeping the beat with a group of women as we circle the drum one more time before dinner.  On another day, you would only see me serving dinner to a couple who cannot legally marry in my state, but who have chosen to raise children together none-the-less.  But I am seeing them for who they are – children of God who loves us in our variety.

–SueBE

In advertising, it’s always important to remember the law of supply and demand.  In religion, truth is the product, and supplies are, apparently, unlimited.

There are so many different brands of “the truth” that anyone seeking wisdom would be hard-pressed to separate the wheat from the chaff.  If there was a Library of Great Wisdom, what books would be housed there?

Since I don’t belong to a specific religion, I think I’m exempt from being sacrilegious, so forgive me my brash theories:  maybe it’s possible that great wisdom was parsed out in parcels to every major religious leader, and that each “holy book” has at least modest amounts of spiritual nutrients designed to feed the starving soul.

But aren’t there also passages in holy books that incite violence or foment unrest?

In New York City right now, Representative Peter King has convened a McCarthy Hearing of sorts, ostensibly to root out Muslim extremism; actually, it’s an un-American indictment of everyone practicing Islam.  Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was called to testify – in a way, to justify his own beliefs.  Bill Maher interviewed Ellison later, and Maher said that he feels that the Koran is a hate-filled holy book.

Most of the value of holy books comes from the importance we ascribe to them, and if we’re so inclined to receive a good word, we can find encouragement from any holy book.  By the same token, if you are inclined to believe in vengeance and destruction, you will also find what you’re looking for in almost any holy book.  It’s not so much that the words are taken out of context, but that they resonate differently, since all of life leads toward death in the mind of an extremist.

I’m not sure there is one holy book that contains all of the secrets of life, so I say, take what you can from all of the great writings and discard the rest.  Find truth along the path of life, and allow for the fact that other people have their own opinions.  In this Library of Great Wisdom, all are welcome, and no one is ever turned away.

If you ask most anyone, God is a He. Hey, I go with it too, most of the time. It’s easier to give Him a simple pronoun. And the image of God as father is one of the most comforting things imaginable. But the truth is that God is more complicated than gender.

Those who would refer to God as masculine get this conceit from the Bible. But what is the Bible if not a book? That’s what the name “Bible” means. And all books have an audience. The Bible’s audience — spoiler alert! — was not meant to be women. At the time the Bible was written, women couldn’t read. They couldn’t participate in religious ceremonies on the same footing as men. Even today, women aren’t given equal place in the hierarchy of some faiths (I’m looking at you, Catholic church). So guess what? The Bible wasn’t written for women. Also, it wasn’t written in English. Who translated it? More men. No wonder God looks like a “He” in the Good Book.

Only…is that even true? A wise woman of faith who devoted her lifetime to reading the Bible in its original language once told me otherwise. God is referred to in feminine terms throughout the Bible. In Job 10:16 (and at least four other places in the Old Testament alone), God is called a “lioness.” Not a lion. It would have been just as easy to write “lion,” but they didn’t. Why? God is also seen drawing his people to Him “like a hen with her chicks.” Sounds pretty motherly to me.

But what about Jesus? Doesn’t He call God “Father”? Actually, the word He almost always uses is a non-gender-specific word for “parent.” Makes you think, huh?

What if God is bigger than anything we can dream up with our petty gender roles and small boxes made for conveniently pigeon-holing one another? What if God is He and She and It and Them and All? To riff on the movie “Jaws,” “We’re going to need a bigger pronoun.”

Love is the Maker, and Spirit, and Son;
love is the kingdom their will has begun;
love is the pathway the saints have trod;
God is where love is, for love is of God.

 

I found this blessing on the Church of Scotland site.  If you have a few minutes, check out this information packed site.

–SueBE

 

Not my way,
but Thy way.

This is what I need to remember
as I go through my day,
as I interact with those around me,
as I study Your Word.

Your way gives
shelter to the weak,
Voice to the meek,
and knowledge to all who seek.

Not my way,
but Thy way, Lord.

–SueBE

If you read the paper or watch the news, you’ve probably heard about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests at military funerals.  Frankly, they make my skin crawl, but that’s the reaction I have to anyone who uses the Bible as an excuse for hate speech.
In part, it is because I find this level of intolerance and hatred frightening.  But I also wonder – do they not understand how open the Bible is to interpretation?

Whoa.  Interpret the Word of God?  Yes, I am one of those people who believes that Scripture, in this case specifically the Bible, is open to interpretation.

But you are also one of these people unless the Bible you are holding is written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages in which the books that make up our Bible were originally recorded.  Is it?  I didn’t think so.  Your Bible is a translation and translation requires interpretation.

The modern Bible has been translated from the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic into Latin, German, English, Spanish, Mandarin and Tagalog to name just a few of the many languages that make God’s Word accessible to humankind.   This accessibility relies on the work of translators. Even prayerful translators are human and humans are fallible, at worst, and variable, at best.  This means that when Translator X interprets a word, such as the Greek teleios, he may come up with one word while Translator Y comes up with another.

To see how much difference it can make, read Matthew 5:43-48.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

That was how Translator X interpreted teleios.  Perfect.

Now read Hebrews 5:12-14.

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

Here, I teleios becomes mature.

Perfect.  Mature.  Not the same, but both interpretations of the same Greek word.

As if this wasn’t enough to give you pause, we also run into difficulty interpreting scripture when we don’t know enough about Biblical culture.  Take, as an example, Matthew 5:39.

“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

We generally interpret this to mean that we should forgive the slight, but there is much more to it than that.  The Hebrews to whom Christ was speaking would most likely have had to worry about being smacked by a Roman.  A right-handed Roman would backhand a Hebrew across his right cheek.  If the Hebrew then turns his left cheek to also be smacked, the Roman would have to deliver the smack with the palm to the left cheek.  A slap with the palm meant acknowledging this person as an equal.  A backhanded slap would be dealt to an inferior.  Jesus was telling his listeners to force the Romans to acknowledge them as equals.

Perfect vs mature.

Forgiveness vs treatment as an equal.

That’s a pretty big difference, and one that doesn’t support hate speech or picketing a funeral. But then, I guess its all in how you interpret it.  Personally, I do my best to interpret the world through the filter of God’s love for us all.  Some days this is more challenging than others.

–SueBE

As people of faith, we are called upon to live in a godly way, to exhibit the qualities of our God. Things get a little tricky, however, when we start to contemplate which God we mean. Is it the God of the ancient Israelites, who sets foliage ablaze and washes a sinful world clean by flooding it? Or is it the compassionate God of the New Testament, personified by Jesus Christ, who tells us the most important thing we can do is to love one another? I tend to side with the latter, but in life, I often fail.

In the Bible, God is often portrayed as a lion (or lioness). There is certainly fierceness there, and fierce love. But there is also fear. On the other hand, the Bible often refers to Christ as “the lamb of God,” a much meeker presentation. And we know “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Well, that’s all good and well. But can they get things done? If we’re choosing up sides for righteous change, are the meek really going to get picked first? I don’t think so.

There is a time for meekness, and a time to roar like a lion. There are times when love must be silent and tender and comforting, and times when it must yell and fight and struggle for justice. We are not meant, I think, to be merely one or the other. In the end, the lion and lamb must lie down together, in our hearts and in our actions, rising to deal with each situation as God would have us do.

Do I pull out the lion when I ought to be lamb-like? Sure I do. It’s time for me to cultivate my inner lamb a little more. Lord, grant me patience, and quiet my roar. Unless that’s just what is needed.

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