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For a long time, I didn’t understand Original Sin. Adam and Eve ate an apple from the wrong tree. (Although, of course, it was clearly Eve’s fault. Women! And yes, the sarcasm meter is on.) So? How is that enough to cause God to oust them from Eden, saddle them with the burdens of humanity (again, women getting the brunt of it — another purported mark of guilt), and send them to scratch and scrape for the rest of eternity?

Sure, it was disobedient. Yet disobedience never seemed an adequate explanation to me. God created us with free will. He had to know what that entailed — if you give someone a choice, he or she is bound to choose incorrectly, at least sometimes. Why punish humankind for the gift that defines us? The punishment is simply not proportional to the crime.

So here’s what makes sense to me: The Original Sin was not disobedience; it was selfishness. It was that instinct in all of us that says, “You can’t tell me what to do. I know better. I’m going to do what I want to do and damn the consequences.” It is a shade darker than simple disobedience; it is the same itch that overwhelms a child who sees another child with a desirable new toy: I want that. I will take that. It doesn’t matter what he feels; it only matters what I feel. It’s the way sociopaths live their lives. It is the worst of us.

The opposite, of course, is unselfishness — the giving, altruistic spirit of sharing, of making sure everyone has a part and is cared for equally. Jesus embodied it, including everyone, rich and poor, male and female, equally into His circle of love. We have the chance to embody it too, when we decide whether to stretch out a hand to those in need or “stick to our own kind” and “take care of number one.”

I don’t believe that the stain of Original Sin washes away entirely with baptism. Its shadow remains. We can grow it or curtail it based on our openness and willingness to live our lives in the ways of love, mercy and justice. This means accepting all people, no matter what their race, creed, religion or sexual preference. It means an equitable allotment of goods and resources. It means getting over our petty grievances with one another and realizing that Original Sin is original to us all. We are forever connected. What we do with that knowledge is the ultimate test.

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Last week, Pastor Helen preached on Joseph and his fantastic coat. She pointed out that not only was it most likely a range of vibrant colors, it was also long and full. This was not a coat for working. This was a coat for being seen, but it was also the coat Joseph wore on a regular basis. She explained this to the children before we read the scripture.

During the scripture reading, something that I had never noticed jumped out at me. Check out verse 2. We have a boy on our hands who runs off and tattles to Daddy whenever the older boys do something he doesn’t like. He leaves his work to carry tales. Yet, he is his father’s favorite.

Whoa. No wonder his brothers didn’t like him. He got to wear a coat that was too nice to work in and go back and forth between them working with the flocks and their father. Now, I’m not saying that the older boys did the right thing when they sold him off, but seriously? Can’t you see how his actions, and his father’s actions, fed into this?

Of course, without all of this taking place, Joseph would not have been in a place to tell Pharaoh what his dreams meant. The Egyptians wouldn’t have had the stores built up that they needed to survive the famine and they certainly wouldn’t have had any extra to sell to Joseph’s father and brothers.

To be the man who could truly serve his family, Joseph had to find out who he was and what he could do. He couldn’t do that with his father making his life as easy as possible.

As a parent myself, I know how hard it can be to let my son take the lumps for his actions. Letting him make his own way in this world makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. But I know it is what God wants me to do.

What do you do when the time comes to let your son take on a new challenge? I hope that, like me, you have a supportive friend who reassures you even while helping your turn to Our Father for love and support.

–SueBE

1Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.

2 These are the generations of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.[c] 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Grandfather, Great Mysterious One,
You have been always and before You nothing has been.
There is nothing to pray to but You.
The star nations all over the universe are Yours,
and Yours are the grasses of the earth.
Day in and day out You are the life of things.
You are older than all need,
older than all pain and prayer.
Grandfather, all over the world the faces of the living ones are alike.
In tenderness they have come up out of the ground.
Look upon Your children with children in their arms,
that they may face the winds,
and walk the good road to the day of quiet.
Teach me to walk the soft earth,
a relative to all that live.
Sweeten my heart and fill me with light,
and give me the strength to understand and the eyes to see.
Help me, for without You I am nothing.

Years ago, there was an ad campaign directed at teenagers.  On the screen there was an image of an egg.  A somber voice said, “This is your brain.”  Then a pair of hands cracked the egg into a sizzling frying pan, and the voice intoned, “This is your brain on drugs.”

I think there’s a change as profound as this that happens when you find faith.  This is your soul.  This is your soul on God.  Only instead of feeling like you’re a scrambled egg in a frying pan, you feel like you’ve been put back together.  Your soul feels whole.

The thing is, there are so many people who claim to speak for God.  As we’ve seen throughout history, faith can be used as an instrument of healing, but also as a weapon of warfare.

So, how do you know which “way” is the right way?  Is there only one true religion?

On a more day-to-day level, how do you discern “God’s leading?”  For example, I’m waiting for God’s leading in terms of finding a church home, but what He seems to be saying in this case (as in so many others) is that I need to use my own best judgment.

If I’d grown up in a church (like Lori, who’s Catholic) and as I got older, found I disagreed with some of its tenets, it would be possible to find a way to change the church from within and voice my disagreements respectfully but firmly, the way Lori does.

But since I’m an adult (most of the time, anyway), I can’t bring myself to join a religion that I don’t fully agree with.  For a time, I attended Unitarian Universalist services but realized that having no creed is a problem as well.

Ideally, I’d like to create a church of my own.   As I said in a previous post, my beliefs are a hodge-podge of “the Zen Buddhist idea that we are all connected, the Native American focus on nature, and the notion that all prayer, in any tongue, reaches God,” so that’s what my church would focus on.  I’d also make it an inclusive faith that doesn’t just “tolerate” gays (and women, for that matter) and one that doesn’t regard science as the opposite of faith.

So even though I haven’t found my faith home yet, I do find spiritual sustenance in great books and prayer blogs (like this one) and my virtual network of fellow believers populate the pews in my mind.  Until then, I’ll keep my brain on positive things (so it doesn’t feel fried up and dried up) and I’ll keep my soul on God (so I’m still and serene even in the eye of a storm.)

When I was a little girl, I had to wear a hat to Mass on Sunday. I hated wearing a hat. In the balmy California weather, a hat only trapped heat that might have dispersed from my uncovered head. The elastic strap bit into my chin. It was all so…uncomfortable. Of course, my sister was in the same boat. My mother covered her head with a lace veil, which was pretty, but not as pretty as her hair, which made her look like Jackie Kennedy.

Why, I asked, did I have to wear a hat when my brother and father did not? My mother tried to make the experience positive: We GOT to wear hats. Hats are cute! She refrained from the truth, which was that the Church saw women as lesser beings, who needed to cover their “crowning glory” for modesty’s sake. Modesty was apparently desperately required of a four-year-old girl in the Catholic Church.

I also wondered why the word “men” came up so often in Mass. In the Profession of Faith, for example, we said, “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.” I wasn’t a man. What was up with that? “‘Men’ means all of us,” my mother explained. “It includes women.” Then why didn’t we say “people”? I wondered. I had no idea just how openly sexist the Church really was.

Back in those days, a woman couldn’t even set foot on the altar. Things changed with Vatican II, but the real changes came out of desperation: Not enough male volunteers? Well, it was probably okay for women to read the readings and act as Cantors. A serious lack of altar boys? Okay, girls can serve, too. But they never changed the language. Christ still came for “men’s” salvation.

Not long ago, a new translation of the Mass was put into place. It’s supposed to be a good thing, this new translation, as it brings us back in line with the original Latin. That’s fine. All well and good. Only now women aren’t the only ones being left out. During the consecration, the line that used to speak of Christ’s sacrifice, his blood poured out for “you and for all” now says: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Notice: It’s no longer “all”…just “many.” Not even “most.” Salvation just keeps getting more and more exclusive. With so many people falling away from the Church, you’d think inclusivity would be on the menu. You’d think it would be a priority, in fact. Instead, the Church — my Church — continues to suffer from the same hubris that put a Borgia in the Pope’s robes.

It’s time to address inclusivity in the Body of Christ, not just of women or the fallen-away, but also of the divorced, of gays and lesbians, of those who do not wish to retreat to the “good old days” of Latin and veils but want to forge ahead into the future. The faith of many hangs in the balance.

Judge not. It’s a pretty basic rule but its one we violate all the time, especially when we have too much time on our hands.

For the past two summers, my son has been on the city swim team. Every morning as he does lap after lap of freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke and butterfly, I chat with the other moms. We discuss home improvements and we watch each other’s kids swim, run and play soccer.

You know how it is – when you have 100+ kids together you are going to see a full range of behaviors from the kids and hear a full range of comments from the moms.  “They just aren’t like we were.”

Maybe not, but sometimes they are a whole lot better than anyone I knew as a teen.  At our first regular swim meet, a swimmer I’ll call Alex drove this point home.

Working as a scribe, I was at the edge of the pool all night. Up close to the action – both the good and the bad. I hate watching a young swimmer struggle and that night I had to fight not to go in the water. One of the little bitties (some as young as 4 years) panicked as he dove in. Instead of swimming down the lane, he clung to the rope in hysterics. The coaches could not get him to move.

The next thing I knew, Alex was in the water heading straight for the little guy.* First, he repositioned the boy’s goggles. Then he started talking. “Come on. Just a few strokes. You can do it. I know you can.” He never did get the boy to swim but Alex tried and he was in the water right along side him. Later he stopped one of the moms and told her how badly it hurt him to see the younger swimmer so scared.

Wow.

Sure, there are teens out there who are serious players – into and out of all kinds of trouble. But there are also great kids like Alex, kids that other kids are drawn to, not for all of the wrong reasons, but because they reflect His light into the world.

If only we will let ourselves see it.

–SueBE

*No, you can’t do this without the other swimmer being disqualified, but because he was hanging on the rope, he was already DQ’ed.

Heavenly Father,
When I pray
for our troubled world,
help me to see
that you truly do hear
and answer prayers.

Help me to recognize
those around me
who do your work
and spread your love.

They’re here.

I simply need to learn
to recognize them.

Amen

When I was a child, I knew nothing of You.
Others spoke of You.
Old as time.
Inscrutable as infinity.
And I came to think of You as an antique.

Now that I am of a “certain age,”
I see us both as vintage.

It wasn’t until I’d lived a long time
that I came to what now seems
an obvious conclusion.

God doesn’t make mistakes.

You said it all with Your name.
I am that I am.

If I am Yours, I’ll ride the tide of years
and wear it all proudly:
grey hair, bi-focals, crow’s feet.

This is where the journey gets interesting.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

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