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I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O Lord;
your saints will extol you.
They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
so that all men may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

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By the time I’m done
giving people I don’t know what-for,
my soul will be an island
and my world, so small.

Grace is grandiose.
Mercy is magnificent.
Love is life.
Make my heart bigger and broader
as I wend my way into the world.

Bring me out of my closed-in shell.
Open me to the good in all.

Life coaches.  Personal trainers.  Business mentors.  There’s always somebody trying to sell you their expertise.  But is anybody really an expert in how a life should be lived?

Case in point:  Laurie Ann Martinez, a prison psychologist in California who wanted to move to a safer neighborhood, but her husband wouldn’t agree to move.

So, one day, she and her friend, April Snyder, staged her home to look like a crime scene.  Snyder put on boxing gloves and punched Martinez in the mouth, causing her lip to bleed.  Martinez scraped her knuckles with sandpaper and urinated in her clothes to make it appear that she had been assaulted and knocked unconscious by an intruder.

A co-worker turned her in and her husband divorced her.  Now, ironically, she’ll be moving – but not necessarily to a safer location.  She’s going to jail.

As I started writing this post, it was about people who believe the end justifies the means, but then I re-read my co-writers’ posts for this week and decided to focus on grace and not the infraction.  I wondered what had led this woman – no, strike that – this child of God to leave the right path and fall into the mud.

Then it came to me.

People who feel hurt do hurtful things.

Of course, the prison psychologist had emotional issues, but it didn’t come from a vacuum.  My theory is that her marriage had been in trouble for some time.  It could also have been exacerbated by the hopeless work environment she toiled in, and the futility of trying to improve the lives of prisoners who might never again see the light of day in the real world.

I’m not sure it applies to everyone who’s done something wrong, but if pain begets pain, maybe the antidote is compassion. A small act of kindness that breaks the cycle of pain could set one solitary soul free from a lonely cage.

My friend Rosemary said something shocking the other night: Jesus didn’t die for our sins. Sounds like heresy, doesn’t it? Instead, I posit this — not only is she right, but considering the crucifixion in this light can be the most radically healing thing we can do.

As a high school teacher once told me, Bible means “book,” and like all books, the Bible was written to a specific audience: Men, obviously, as women couldn’t read, but even more so, to those of a like mind to its authors. Matthew, for instance, came from a Hebraic background and spoke in terms the Jewish would relate to and understand. Hence, we have Jesus as sacrificial lamb, an image that made sense to Matthew’s audience.

Rosemary’s theory states that Jesus died because He was a person of love, mercy and justice, hounded by those who were threatened by these qualities. I think He let down some people, too, who wanted Him to take the typically male approach to Jewish subjugation: military violence. That just wasn’t His style. Nothing makes a person madder than turning the other cheek or constantly responding with love. So Jesus made a lot of people mad. And they destroyed Him, physically anyway. He certainly wasn’t the last person of love, mercy and justice to be treated thusly.

Why do I consider this point of view a good thing? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of wallowing in my own sinfulness. I know I’m a wretch. To be told over and over again, from a tender age, that we are responsible for Christ’s death because we are sinners is to be repeatedly told that we are bad. I’m not so sure this engenders the best response.

Example: My husband and I adopted a feral cat who simply did not know how to behave toward people or other animals. He bit and scratched us viciously, chased our other cats, caused trouble. I found myself screeching, “No! Bad!” on a constant basis. This did not make the cat behave; instead, he got worse.

Then one day, I decided to do something different. I wiggled a string at the cat, and when he caught it, I said, “Good boy!” For once, instead of negativity, I concentrated on what he did right. The change in him was immediate. He sought out my lap for petting, walked away from altercations. He was a new cat, all because I started focusing on what was good about him.

What if, instead of blaming ourselves for killing Jesus, we revered Him for who He was and tried to live up to His example? What if, instead of wallowing, we raised ourselves up and did better? This is what I find so revolutionary about what my friend theorized: It encourages us, rather than breaking us down. It replaces guilt, which keeps us down, with a challenge to be Christ-like ourselves. He was human too, after all.

Let’s celebrate Jesus for what He did, not for what we didn’t do. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

I knew exactly what I was going to blog about this week, but before I finished writing my post I decided to read my e-mail. I clicked open the Daily Lectionary, five Bible passages that I get each day from the Presbyterian Church USA. It amazes me how often these passages dovetail with my life and this blog.

Among the readings was 1 Corinthians 13. Most often, you hear this passage at weddings. This time I read it with our discussion about God’s Love and being Communities of Love in mind.

Here is 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a.

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

There are so many debates going on in the church right now. What role should women have? Is it possible for gay marriage to be a sacrament? What about birth control? So often these debates contain no love. None. Instead, the Bible is used to slam people.

Think about that and read the above selection from Corinthians again.

You can claim to speak for God, but if you don’t have love, you’re just making noise.

You can have incredible Faith, but if you don’t have love, it doesn’t matter.

You can give all in the name of God, but if you do it with pride in your heart, pride that you are above someone else, you have failed.

Some people will argue that this passage refers to love for God but if you truly love God, can you justify treating others badly? (Hint: See Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

Get it?

Got it.

Good.

–SueBE

Here is a video of the anthem that we sang yesterday — note:  this isn’t the choir that I am part of but this is definitely one of my favorite anthems.  Listen to the lyrics with a tissue in hand!

–SueBE

Holy Father,
Your gifts to us are truly amazing.
You give us Love, Forgiveness, and Peace.
Even as You have shared them with us,
Encourage us to share
Your Love with the unloved,
Your Forgiveness with the shunned,
and Your Peace with those in turmoil.
And, in so doing,
Help us to be Your Light
in times of darkness.
With bowed heads
and humble hearts,
we pray.
Amen

 

George Carlin once joked about Dover, Delaware, calling it “The city that means well.”  I have to believe that most of the time, we all mean well.  None of us intentionally sets out to ruin anyone else’s day, do we?  Well, not unless you’re Simon Cowell or Donald Trump, that is.

So here’s the big question. Does God give credit for good intentions?

With all of the clergy abuse scandals in the news lately, many people have issues with the Catholic church.

So I give a lot of credit to the diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, for surveying a few hundred “lapsed Catholics” and publicizing the results.  It’s the latter part that really won points from me.  They gave the honest answers from former parishioners to the press and let the world into their private cloister.

One complained about a “Pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all.”  Others took issue with the focus on contraception and homosexuality. Most of the respondents were female and over fifty.

“That’s a critical demographic. If we’re losing the 53-year-old women, we risk losing their children and their grandchildren,” Charles Zech, the study’s co-author, said.

Now that they’ve released the results of this survey, the true test remains this:  what will the church do to change things?

Just as Lori said in her insightful post, “Female role models don’t exactly abound in the Catholic church.”  And as SueBE eloquently reminds us in her post, the whole point of religion is “to create communities of love.”  Maybe this outreach is a small step in the right direction.

What does it mean to a be community of love? Its something that I’ve been noodling over quite a bit this week and not just because it was the topic of Pastor Helen’s sermon last Sunday. I think that part of the reason that it has stuck in my mind so deeply is that there is such a great need in today’s world for God’s love.

Take a look at Ruth’s post this week. Two boys were thrown together as room mates. They may not have had a lot in common, but I’m sure they had some common ground. But all they saw were the differences and these differences became reasons to despise and attack.

But sometimes a lack of God’s love isn’t criminal although it is demoralizing. Take a look at Lori’s post.  Not only is there a lack of positive role models for women in the Catholic church, Catholic women are often left feeling like less than they should be. They aren’t built up. They aren’t cherished as daughters of God.

Yet Christians are called upon to create communities of love. “The Church is to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down.” (The Calling of the Church, The Book of Order, PCUSA)

This may be what we are called upon to do, but so often it isn’t what we actually do. Instead scripture is used to build dividing walls. We spat with each other. We carry grudges.

Maybe that’s something we could try giving up for Lent. Any one have a grudge they’d like to lay aside?  

–SueBE

Female role models don’t exactly abound in the Catholic Church. On the one hand, we have Mary, mother of God. Ever see a statue of Mary? Does she look like a woman who gave birth and nursed a child or does she look like a twelve-year-old boy? If you agreed with the latter, you must be a church-goer. All the statues I’ve ever seen of Mary portray her as nearly sexless, with no curves and even less femininity. Saint John is prettier. But of course, Mary was a virgin. That the Bible never says whether she had sex with Joseph (who was her husband, after all) after the birth of Jesus doesn’t keep most people from viewing her as perpetually untouched — and therefore sinless. Mary is just about the only positive role model young Catholic girls have…and she’s not portrayed as a woman in any real way — certainly not in a way that a modern woman in a loving relationship can respond to. There are few (if any) husbands or boyfriends as understanding as Joseph. One expression of human sexuality and, well, you’re not like Mary anymore.

So, whom can we look to? Let’s examine the other Mary, Mary Magdalene. Again, nowhere in the Bible does it state that Mary Magdalene was a woman of ill repute. In fact, MM’s backstory didn’t come about until Pope Gregory, in the year 591, decided that three women named Mary mentioned in the gospels were, in fact, one and the same woman. Thus began Mary Magdalene’s association with bad girls. Of course we know that she reformed. But let’s face it; what do we primarily associate her with? Prostitution. Arguably Jesus’ most faithful female disciple — she who stood by the cross while He died, she who first discovered that He had risen — has gone down in history as a common whore. Who wants to be like her?

Where does that leave all of us women of faith who are neither virgins nor whores? Who do we have to look up to, to emulate? Most female saints are of the virginal sort, many losing their lives rather than relinquish their purity to some filthy man. Then there’s St. Anne, mother of Mary, and St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine — both married ladies and mothers to boot. What do we know about them? Not much, other than they gave birth to great figures of the Church. They are prized, seemingly, mostly for being the mother of Someone. Too bad.

Catholic boys and men have a plethora of choices for role models — from firebrands like Peter and Paul to contemplatives like St. John…tough guys, like Michael the Archangel and tender guys, like Francis of Assisi. Catholic women mostly have Mary or Mary. No wonder so many of us feel lost.

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