A Christmas Meditation

A Christmas meditation

I have a confession to make, I don’t much like Advent or Christmas.  Oh, I like the liturgy and ritual, those remind me of why I believe as I do. I just don’t like all the other stuff: insipid Christmas movies, gift giving, Christmas cards, all of the socializing, and the commercials. Don’t get me started on the commercials!  Such things all seem to be totally unimportant and not in keeping with why we have this time of remembrance.

The thing of it is, all of the stuff people do at this time of the year has little to do with remembering the birth of God in human flesh.  I don’t mean the ridiculous little memes or signs that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” those have nothing to do with God’s rebellious act of an immigrant baby  who claims the title of King and Son of God. That birth is revolutionary, that is prophetic, that is miraculous.  The stupid memes that spout Jesus are really all about the gift giving Santa God that people hope will bring them ponies, or cars, or that one gift that will make them popular.

This Son of God wasn’t born to ensure that anyone got that fancy new Lexus, rather Jesus was born because the world needed the reminder of who they are, the Children of God. Two thousand years later we still haven’t remembered. Two thousand years later we still haven’t absorbed the message of the miracle that began with the announcement to a young woman and the birth of her baby. We still haven’t learned the lessons taught by the Man the baby became. Listening has never been a strong trait in us humans.

History has shown that the excessive acquisition of material goods, hoarding of monetary resources, and the desire to rule, intimidate, demean, abuse and destroy the weak, and to see ourselves as gods leads to the destruction of our very being and as a result whatever society we create. Notice I said ‘we’ as in you, me and the gatepost not as in you, me, and God. Throughout history when leaders of societies forget who the real societal creators are, when leaders feel they are entitled to benefits they have not worked for, the collapse is inevitable. When enslaving the population becomes the means of economic reward, when we, the citizens, allow  leaders to deflect their responsibility for the failures of government and social welfare away from themselves and place it on the most vulnerable, and when we citizens fail to accept our part in the deception, then the culture and society we humans created becomes toxic and unable to sustain itself for very long.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Well, the birth of Jesus was supposed to signal a new age where the covenant with God would rule our lives. Every year we have the opportunity to renew our covenant and learn to live with God, however we define God.  Yet the ‘good will’ we profess never seems to last through Christmas Day let alone a year. Every Christmas I see people donating to charities in a spirit of good will, yet on January 1st the demeaning and dehumanizing of the most vulnerable continues as if Christmas never happened. Food banks will again have to beg for food donations, men, women, and children will still be homeless and hungry. We will continue to let our government put babies in concentration camps where they are abused physically and sexually and allowed to die. All as if Christmas never happen.

I am not sure how, or if, any of this can be changed. I certainly cannot change how people feel or change how they behave. I do try to give all year round, instead of at years end, to charities that feed the poor, care for the homeless, and fight injustice. But I am only one person, and an old woman, who tries to do her small bit. The tears I shed only feed my frustration at the lack of humanity I see in our political, social, and so-called religious leaders, but I can’t change them either.

I am heartened by the stand of young women world-wide who are fighting an uphill battle against ignorance, climate destruction, and injustice. I am placing my hope in them, praying they have the strength to fend off the assaults they have, and will continue to, experience because they speak out against the established rulers of our day. I pray they will not become discouraged; they will continue to voice the truth and continue to call to account those who would destroy us.  They are the new voices in the wilderness, the new voices of reason, and the new voices of truth. I pray they will not lose heart, that they will not be deflected from their chosen path by those who would marginalize them. May the light of whatever God they follow be with them.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 19, 2019

Cooking with the Holy Spirit

I stayed home from church today.  I stayed to make soup with the Holy Spirit. Not just any soup mind you, but my own Vegetable Soup. You know the kind, soup filled with chopped fresh potatoes, celery, carrots, turnips, garlic and shallot and fresh herbs.  All of them carefully chopped up into bit sized pieces.   

There is something comforting about chopping vegetables, watching the pile grow. Each vegetable adding their own special color, fragrance, and appeal to the pile.  Shallots and garlic add their pungent scents, while potatoes add earthiness and carrots and tomatoes add a bit of sweetness. I did notice that the carrot coins kept rolling around the counter as if they wanted to escape. Celery’s spiciness is always appealing to me. I love the color contrast between the red pepper and the parsley it always makes me smile and HS, that’s Holy Spirit for those of you not on speaking terms, said, “my favorite is the hot banana pepper you add in just the right amount to give a bit of heat to the soup. Please don’t tell Jesus that he thinks I’m weird.”  

HS, and I discussed the value of each vegetable and whether or not it was suitable for such a wonderful soup. We pared and peeled when needed and over-all we decided I had picked good vegetables from the market. HS also reminded me that I had some fresh tomatoes that would add a nice bit of freshness. These were the last from my garden, so I offered a prayer and HS blessed them. I mean you can’t have too many prayers or too many blessings, can you?

I then went out into my garden and HS and I picked rosemary, sage and fennel. Thanking each one for their contribution to the soup.  We only took a little of the thyme because it needs to grow a bit more, it’s a bit over picked, and HS said the basil was just too tired and needs to go live with her now. 

HS asked if I had any frozen or canned vegetables available and looking through the freezer, I found a packet of squash and peas adding them to my growing pile of vegetables. In the pantry, I found corn, beans, and garbanzo beans which when rinsed to remove excess salt (who wants that in their soup) added them to the bowl. 

After browning the shallot and garlic, adding chopped fresh turmeric and a couple strands of saffron (yes. I use saffron) I dumped all of the chopped, frozen, and canned veg’s into the pot along with vegetable broth, water, and all of the chopped herbs.  HS asked me “will you be adding the secret ingredient” and I said “Shhh, If I tell it wouldn’t be a secret.”  HS blessed our efforts and our soup is now simmering to wonderful goodness.  We are currently considering baking a loaf of bread.

I suppose you think I am weird, imagining I am cooking alongside the Holy Spirit. Well one, I don’t care what you think, and two, how do you know I wasn’t.  You see I often feel I am not alone, that someone walks beside me, or sits with me as I read. I guess I could be insane, but I rather think that it doesn’t matter.  I sit and meditate, I offer prayers, and they must go somewhere don’t they. So why couldn’t the Holy Spirit come and spend time with me as I cook?

I’m not one to run around and brag or tell people “Jesus saves” (he doesn’t by the way, but I’ll save that thought for later). I rather let what I do and say inform people. I will share this soup with others, guests, (Luke hint, hint) and of course my husband will enjoy our efforts.  I have been known to take soup to those who need it because feeding others always brings a smile to their faces, and mine, besides it is a mandate of the Holy Spirit. 

To create something that will nourishes others is such a wonderful feeling.  To feel the vegetable in your hand, pick it from the ground or vine gives me a connection with all creation. I know where my food comes from, how it was grown I watched the sun shine on the baby plants and the rain water it. I watched as the bees pollinated my tomato blossoms and herb blossoms and we shook the dirt off of potatoes, carrots, and onions, so yes, I know where my food comes from and who to thank. I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with the HS to offer my thanks for food that feeds my body as her presence feeds my spirit.  So, if I think the Holy Spirit is right there with me in the kitchen it means I know who to thank for all I have received. 

“Ah, Ruth”

“Yes HS”

“Why not share your recipe and a prayer, now that you have made everyone hungry?”

“What a wonderful idea.”

“Ok, here is my Basic Vegetable soup recipe for you to change up and make your own.”

My prayer for you is:

Holy Spirit, we ask you to bless the ground that nourished our vegetables, the sun that shone upon them, and the rain that watered them. Bless the hands that harvested and carried them to us and bless the hands that prepared them.  May this soup bless our bodies as you bless our souls. AMEN

Ruth’s Vegetable Soup
(This recipe freezes well)

4 cups vegetable broth or 2 cups broth and 2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

Vegetables: (all vegetables are optional, add meat if you wish)

Potatoes, diced
Turnips, diced
Carrots (diced), Peas, Corn either Fresh, frozen, or canned
Celery, diced
½ of a small to medium shallot, diced
1-3 garlic cloves, minced,
1 15oz. Can diced tomatoes
1 or 2 medium fresh tomatoes, diced
½ to 1 red pepper, diced
Either 1-3 small hot banana Peppers, or 2 chipotle peppers, (+1 to 2 tsps. adobe sauce), Diced

Spices and Herbs: (change up the herbs to your taste)

1 teaspoon dry Turmeric or 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh Turmeric
few threads of saffron
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Melt the oil and butter in a large soup pot, add the onions and garlic. Add the turmeric and saffron, cook until the onions are soft and golden.  Add the celery and peppers to the pot stir until covered in the turmeric liquid.  Add the rest of the vegetables, broth (or broth/water), herbs and spices.  Simmer for 1 to 2 hours until all vegetables are “al dente.”  Serve hot with fresh bread. If you wish top with sharp cheddar cheese and chives.  

Note: This is an easily modified recipe.  You can add squash, or other vegetables, or change herbs or spices (I use Turmeric because of its anti-cancer properties). Fresh Parsley is lovely.  You can add meat to this but I am a vegetarian so that is problematic for me.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 13, 2019

God’s Prayer

Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets, M.S. Burrows & J.M. Sweeney
Hampton Roads Publishing, 2019, pg. 70

Yesterday I received my copy of Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets and with some excitement opened the book, to this random page. It took me only a moment to read the few lines of the poem, but a lot longer for the shock to quiet, and the wonder set in. You see there have been more moments in my life than I care to admit that God has offered this prayer for me. This 7-line poem, inspired by Eckhart’s Selected Writings, was an unlooked-for blessing in a moment of need. Because today, you see, I needed to be reminded that God prays for me, that God wants me.

In the hours since I read the poem, I have thought of the many different ways I’ve answered Gods prayer and how many times I’ve ignored it. Over the years I’ve spent time talking to God asking why God would want to be born in me, me, a not so good, not so joyful, not so loving human.  A human filled with anger, frustration, confusion and, I’m just going to say this, hate. What would the Divine Being find worthy in me, despite my constantly ignoring the gift?

I’m afraid, even to this day, I haven’t found a whole lot of answers to my questions for God. Unfortunately, God can be quite silent on the reasons why, but persistent in praying. I guess I will have to be satisfied with knowing God wants me to have grace, especially since I remember many of the strange, wonderful, and mystical moments I have experienced. Before I offer a story that illustrates this, let me digress for just a bit.

The idea that God wants the Spirits grace to belong to me, us, that God prays we will want grace given, full abundant grace, without strings attached, has always felt just a little odd. God’s grace is a gift fit for royal/holy beings, and it is being given to you and me! Why wouldn’t any of us want such a gift? As humans we are used to knowing that nothing in this life is free. There are always strings attached, we may not see them, may not even be aware of them, but they are there. Yet here is the Divine just handing it out, for free.

God says the gift of grace is freely, abundantly given and without the necessity of paying back. To me that means in God’s eyes you and I are royal, holy beings, all we have to do is accept the gift. More importantly God wants to be born within us, to become part of us, and that means you and I become part of God. Now that is an offer we cannot turn down, right. Well we can and do turn it down for many reasons such as stubbornness, stupidity, or more likely fear. To be part of God, part of the creator, means we are partners in creation, and that means we are responsible for the care and wellbeing of creation and each other. That means we are to care for the weak, the young, the elderly, the stranger whether they are like us or not. So, yes all of us have turned God down, repeatably. The thing is God keeps asking, God never gives up on us. That is the God I know, a God who keeps trying, and keeps asking no matter how scared, stubborn, or stupid we might be.

Pride can be both a good and a bad trait, unfortunately for me pride is not always the best trait to have. Thirty or so years ago I thought I knew it all, I didn’t need God in my life, I didn’t need anyone, and, in my arrogance, I chose to do some things I’m now not very proud of. I didn’t break the law, but I hurt people who had trusted me. When I came to my senses, I realized somethings had to change but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Life can be funny sometimes and in one of those moments I had an experience that changed how I saw myself, my relationship with the Divine, and my relationship with the rest of creation. So, here is the first time I found God’s grace freely given.

As a graduate student at the University of Houston School of Public Health I often had the opportunity to go along with the biologists on bird banding trips in the Gulf of Mexico. We would band baby gulls and terns in the morning and then spend a couple of hours swimming in the gulf before returning to school. On this occasion I was floating along, I don’t swim so I was simply bobbing along while wearing a life vest, I was enjoying the warm water and the sun when I felt something brush against my leg. I looked down into the water and couldn’t see anything, so I thought I was imagining it when I felt it again.  My friend called from the boat and told me to be very still and hold my hand out at the surface of the water.  I didn’t know why I should, but I did.

To my amazement a fin appeared under my hand and a dolphin rose up and pulled me along in the water. I looked into the water and there were 3 or 4 dolphins swimming around me. At first, they moved me away from the boat and just let me “ride” against them. I could hear clicks and squeaks and they seemed to want to talk to me.  So, I talked to them, I was told later for about 15 to 20 minutes, which seemed to pass like seconds. For some unknown reason I told them about my fears, how confused I was, and how unkind I’d been. Amazingly they moved in closer and seemed to “hug” me, the air around me took on a golden color and I felt something within I had never felt before. Slowly they guided me back to our boat and sank into the gulf. Before I knew it, I was being pulled from the water. My friends told me they had never seen anything like it before. I, on the hand, seemed to be in this bubble of serenity. For the rest of the trip friends told me I had this rather goofy smile on my face.

I can’t say that everything was wonderful following that experience but, inside I felt a wall come down and the Divine stepping in. Life is still life, and not all events are perfect, but I found that letting go and letting someone else lead me gave me a new perspective on how to live my life. God’s prayer that I would want the grace given, that I would welcome the birth of God within had been answered that day. There have been other moments when I have forgotten the God within. But after going my own way and needing to be reminded as to who I am, who I belonged to, I would renew my relationship with God. I have found this is an ongoing process for me and suspect it is for everyone. But that moment in the Gulf of Mexico was the first time, and a special moment that has helped me recognize God’s presence, and God’s reminders.

When I opened my copy of this book of poems and saw this prayer it made me smile, it made my memories smile, it made me open my arms and once again welcome God. If nothing else this little prayer has made the whole book worthwhile. I desired God’s grace. I opened my heart and God has moved in. I am part of God, God is part of me, I am God’s partner in this amazing creative universe. I pray I am a good part (at least most of the time). Now my prayer for you:

May you desire God’s grace,
grace freely, abundantly, given,
so that God will be born within you.
Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©September 25, 2019

Thomas

Thomas where were you when Jesus came?
What was so important
you couldn’t stay for a while longer?

Did you have to do that all important
laundry, or groceries, or maybe clean a closet?
What could have drawn you away?
I know how it is to have all those tasks
to always have no time to finish those all important tasks.

I understand you Thomas
I am like you, . . .
to busy to stop
to busy to listen
to busy to wait

You won’t believe unless you see
you must feel the wounds to have faith
Oh so like you am I . . .
I too wasn’t there to see and touch the master
and sometimes I find it hard to believe,
to just have faith.

It took you the touch of the Master to believe
I have the words he spoke to my heart to believe
It took you putting your hands in his wounds to believe
I have his love warming my spirit to believe
I have not seen the Master as you have done
But I have seen the Master in the face of a newborn child,
in the morning sunrise and evening sunset,
Yes I’ve seen the Master, for the he is all around me
If you weren’t so busy you would see the Master too

Ruth Jewell, ©April 23, 2019

Doubting Thomas, 1634
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669, Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Grief

Tiko Giorgadz, unsplash

She sat in the corner
eyes dry, there are no more tears
her heart ached for her baby boy
the world so bright now dark
“my baby, my son”

“A sword will pierce your soul,” he said
he came to die they said
but, . . . .
I carried him under my heart
I cradled him in  my arms
he was my son, my first born

~Ruth Jewell, ©April 20, 2019

It Is Time

I have reached my limit for lies, hate, and violence.  I have reached my limit for the whining of so-called “men with fragile masculinity” who can’t accept women having just as much right to succeed at work and leadership as they do. I have reached my limit for white men, and women, who think they are the only ones who have rights and privileges. I have also reached my limit for “so called evangelical Christians” who have hijacked my faith to feed their power, position, and greed.

I am disgusted with the so-called Christians who deny services to people who are LGBQ, they refuse to welcome the immigrant, or care for the hungry, homeless, or ill. They profess to be “Pro-Life” but don’t support child health care programs or food programs to keep children healthy, which has led to an infant mortality rate in the US that is 19th out of the 20 wealthiest countries. (CNN: Among 20 wealthy nations, US child mortality ranks worst, study finds, By Jacqueline Howard, January 8, 2018) All practices taught by Jesus of Nazareth.

Despite what they call themselves the evangelicals they have nothing in common with the carpenter from Nazareth.  And, it is time we stopped them from using the title of Christianity to promote laws removing safeguards for the most vulnerable in our country. It is time to stop people, like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnel, from using religion as an excuse to hord the wealth of our country as they seek to persecute the poor, immigrants, people of color and push middle income Americans into poverty.

It is time to take back the moral high ground from people who have no morals.  Lying, bigotry, hate, greed, and selfishness have no place in our country where there are enough resources to care for all. Providing for the welfare of our citizens is mandated in our constitution and in the scriptures of every major religion. To do otherwise is a crime against humanity, a crime against the Divine.

I have had it with the lies and false information coming out of the mouths of elected officials. I am tired of their denial of climate change, their love of firearms, and their refusal to accept firearm regulations. I am tired of destructive international polices and the relations with dictators that has put our country at risk. I am tired of people who manipulate our political and legal systems in order to fill their pockets with money they don’t need and satisfy the need for power.  I am tired of the theft of our electoral systems to consolidate power and money in the hands of the few. All of it done with the approval of evangelicals.  I am tired of . . .  all of it. 

As a Christian, a person who follows the teachings of Jesus, I can no longer stand by and not speak out.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:

“When societies grow affluent, when the burden of law-abidingness falls on the state and institutions, when people define right and wrong in terms of externalities – punishments and rewards – and in terms of what other people do and are seen to get away with . . . on immediate benefits not long-term sustainability, then society begins to erode from within and there is little anyone can do to halt it.” (The Great Partnership, Schocken Books, New York, 2011, pg 161)

Faith has traditionally held our society in a cohesive unit. Whether or not people attend or claim a religious background the basic rules of a civilized society that are learned and kept comes from religious practices. The ideas of right vs wrong, that might does not make right, that it is better for everyone when all people have what they need to survive and thrive are lessons learned and kept.

Our country once had the reputation for altruism. While we have never had or needed a state religion, we still helped those in need of shelter, food, health care, clothing, all without the expectation of return. Individuals and in concert with our elected bodies we helped people.  We provided a beacon of giving light in a world where there were men who wanted to extinguish that light. Compassion, mercy, and kindness were traits we valued in our society.  So, what happened to us? I have asked myself that question many times and I have no answers. I am sure the “experts” have one, but, I do not. What I do know is the only ones who can put a stop to the madness sweeping America, is us.

 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Speaking out is an obligation, a duty, of being a Christian, as are all members of Judeo/Christian/Islamic faith, when injustice occurs. Speaking through Prophets, God repeatedly extoled the Hebrew people to care for the widow, young, elderly, and the ill, and welcome the stranger. Through the prophet Micah, God tells the people of Judah:

Jesus also tells us

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Such lessons from our faith are being twisted by people we normally would trust, our own leaders, nation, state, and local. Instead of honoring the commands of God, and Jesus, they have assimilated the values of ancient Romans and Greeks who held self interest as the most valuable ideal. For today’s leaders the ideals of compassion, mercy, and justice only applies to them.  Their actions display anti‑Christian beliefs so why do allow them to demean our faith, our good name. 

It is time to call them out, for Christians to standup and speak out about their abuses. We have been way too silent, letting people like Paul Ryan claim to be a good Christian while working to dismantle all of the work of the last 50 years to support the welfare of Americans. Donald Trump proudly tells his thuggish supporters to beat up, and attack those who he doesn’t agree with, where in scripture do you find that?

Because of people like Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump who favor racist, bigoted, and violent speech there has been a loosening of violence across this country. More people are afraid of those who follow these people than they do ISIS! I am not saying to copy the actions of the followers of Trump or GOP, no, there are ways to resist them that are not violent or contrary to the teachings of scripture. 

  1. Do not endorse, by your silence, racist, bigoted, violent, or abusive religious statements.  Speak up and demand it to stop.
  2. Become involved in some way with the Poor Peoples Campaign, https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/.  This is a National Call for Moral Revival uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.  This is a non-violent group that provides many avenues and opportunities to challenge those who would destroy us.
  3. Identify Anti-Racist groups and organizations in your local area and work to change our communities
  4. Write, e-mail, or phone your congressmen, senators, state and local representatives that racial discrimination, bigotry, and violence must end.
  5. Write letters to the editors
  6. Do as I am right now writing a blog.
  7. Last but not the least (and this may be the most powerful) use social media to support anti-racism, anti-bigotry, anti-violence in speech and actions.

There is something for everyone to do to resist and challenge those who would see the end of the United States.  We must never become a dictatorship, we must repel the tyranny of the religious few who have desecrated the name of Jesus and of our Judeo/Christian/Islamic God. Only we can do this.  The fate of who governs this country, what we will believe is in our hands no one else’s.

Ruth Jewell, © February 14, 2019

New Years’ Day Prayer

Circle us, Lord, on this New Year’s Day
Circle us with the light of your presence, bright in a world going dark
Enable us to overcomer fear and temptation
Enable us to have courage to overcome despair and apathy
Enable us to become that which you would desire
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle us with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord, each day of the New Year
Circle our families within the shelter of your outstretched arms
Protect them in each moment of their daily lives
Guide them in the decisions they face
Protect their homes and relationships
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle our families with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord, each day of the New Year
Circle this nation, with your unconditional love and hope,
Create a desire to listen to each other
Create a willingness to understand and respond
Create a need to reach out to you, Lord, for strength and courage
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle our nation with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord, each day of the New Year
Circle this world with the joy of your Salvation
Where there is sickness and disease bring healing
Where there is hunger and despair bring hope
Where there is torture and oppression bring release
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle this world with the light of your presence

Ruth Jewell, ©January 1, 2019

To Take Up the Cross

DSCF4353

Mark 8:34-38
34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This passage in Mark, is one of my favorites. I have mulled it over for many years, coming to different interpretations as I have grown in my ability to understand scripture and matured in my spiritual life. As a result, I have come to the belief it is an important passage because in it lies a key to understanding our veneration of the cross and what Jesus has called us to be.

I am a member of the Westar Institute, a group of theology scholars who study the scripture to find our theological history and discover the true words of Jesus, often called the Jesus Seminar. Not that I do any of that, but I do attend meetings and follow the findings of those who are much better scholars than I am. This past March I attended a lecture by Dr. Arthur J. Dewey at Westar’s Spring Meeting. Dr. Dewey’s lecture was on how the Death of Jesus was remembered. His studies of the crucifixion added a new piece to my understanding of the paradox of the cross. In fact, it changed the way I interpret Jesus’ death on the cross.

First, we must remember Jesus was Jewish, he was not Christian, he was not a Roman, and he wasn’t a gentile of any kind. What He was, was a good, a very good, practicing Jew. And, he knew the meaning of the cross. In the Roman world the cross was a tool of execution for those who defied Rome in some way. It was an instrument of humiliation, torture, and a means to wipe the condemned-out of memory, out of history. After all who would want to admit they knew or were related to someone who died on the cross.

Jesus knew all that, because wherever he went he would have seen the cross with its victims hanging from its arms, big billboards that said; ‘stay in line or this will happen to you.’ Jesus knew if he preached a radicle way of life, a life that would completely change how we live in the world, he would die on that cross. Oh yes, Jesus understood. The Gospel writers knew because they wrote their Gospels to give courage to those who risked their lives by following The Way.

Throughout our church history we have been taught Jesus’ death on the cross is our salvation. We are saved from sin if we believe Jesus died for us on the Roman cross. We are told if we bear our troubles with bravery, confess our sins, and accept that Jesus took those sins away by dying on the cross we will be saved from Hell and its horrors. It is in the power of the cross to save us. What if I told you that is most likely not what Jesus meant?

It is believed Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke copied Mark for their Gospels. What I first found interesting in each of the versions is that Jesus is telling the disciples and the crowd if they want to follow him they must take up a cross, embrace the cross. And, if they denied him and tried to save their lives, they would end up losing their life.

My first inkling that there is more to the scripture than we have normally understood was when I realized that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus doesn’t carry his cross to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service the minute Jesus is escorted out of the Roman Garrison. In addition, there is a fifth Gospel not included in our cannon, which we have only fragments of, the Gospel of Peter. Fortunately, what did survive was the Passion of Jesus. Dewy and John Dominic Crossan both believe that the Gospel of Peter was written before Mark and represents the earliest beliefs of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They also believe Mark used the Gospel of Peter in writing his Gospel. As the Gospel of Peter tells it, when Jesus is led from the Garrison he is made to ‘run’ to the place of the cross and if he is running he could not have been carrying the heavy beam he was to be nailed to. Mark, and subsequently in Matthew and Luke, follow Peter by not having Jesus carry the cross. So, if in these 4 gospels Jesus doesn’t actually “take up” his own cross what are we supposed to do with the cross? What is the meaning Jesus is trying to make?

Jesus was a teaching a radicle way of life, one that had the power to transform peoples lives and the entire world, if only his disciples were brave enough to follow him. Charles Hambrick-Stowe says:” There is no great theological meaning in martyrdom for an ideal or in death that otherwise results from force, injustice, misunderstanding, or accident.” If the cross doesn’t mean, we will be saved because we carry our burdens like a cross or die because we believe it brings our salvation then it must mean something else.
Ched Myers, in Binding the Strong Man, a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, offers 3 meanings that have changed how I understand the cross.

1) “deny yourself;” This isn’t a call to spiritual reflection, this is a call to stand in court, accused of sedition, and not saving yourself from death. It is not denying Jesus, but our own self-denial, we willingly risk our own lives. And, to save our lives we must lose it in the name of Jesus and the Gospel.

This isn’t a self-emptying, this isn’t a spiritual awakening, it is taking up the “cross” and walking to yours and my crucifixion to right injustice. This is not a theological understanding, rather this is a radicle political stand where we put ourselves between the other and danger. It is being in a court of law and given the choice of saving your life or going to the gallows in the name of Jesus. Jesus puts this in economic terms. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul.” To renounce Jesus in or to try to redeem one’s life would be a “bad investment”; for even if it showed a ‘return’ of the whole world, it wouldn’t represent a profit; rather it would be a dead loss; double-jeopardy; fidelity to Jesus has no price.; Everyone has a ‘price,’ everyone that is except Jesus. Jesus revealed that his messiahship means political confrontation with, not rehabilitation of, the imperial state. Those who wish to follow Jesus will risk the test of loyalty under interrogation by state authorities. If self is denied, the cross will be taken up, a metaphor for capital punishment on grounds of insurgency.

2) “take up the cross;” “here Mark’s subversive narrative bursts into the open.” This is a political statement, there is only one purpose for the cross and that is public execution and the total humiliation of its victims. The way Mark writes this phrase is to invite the disciples and those who follow Jesus to share the consequences of the audacity of challenging Roman authority. The Cross symbolizes shame for the convicted and his family. It served the purpose of wiping out the person from memory. Mark’s readers would have understood the implication of Jesus’ words. They would have seen people on the cross, some, if not most, would have had family members or acquaintances crucified. The cross isn’t a representation of salvation, it is symbol of resistance.

3) “follow me;” To follow Jesus means a self-denial that puts our earth-bound lives at risk while saving our souls. This isn’t by being pious, rather it is by getting down and dirty in the trenches of Justice. When we take up a cross it only appears to be a defeat, a triumph of government and their supporters, but actually it is our vindication and their Judgment. We either stand with Jesus, deny ourselves and loose our lives for his sake and the gospel’s or we stand “ashamed” before Jesus and “the angels.” By resisting our fear of losing our lives and pursuing the kingdom of God even at the cost of death, we are contributing to the shattering of the powers’ who reign death over us.

The faith we profess is not a faith of inaction, Jesus told his disciples he didn’t come to bring peace he came to bring a sword. That sword is our bodies standing for the defenseless and speaking and writing for speechless.

These passages in Mark, Matthew, and Luke are not calls of salvation, they are calls to action. We are called to stand between the victims and victimizer. We are called to defend what is right and resist injustice, hate, and cruelty all in the name of Jesus. Jesus knew death on the cross was inevitable, but he did not deny his Father, he refused to back down when it came to overcoming injustice. That is what the call of the cross means. We hold the cross up as a symbol of fighting against injustice, stand for compassion, love, and mercy. The symbol of the cross in today’s world is not passé nor is standing between the voiceless and accuser. Today people are arrested for trying to protect immigrant children and their parents. They are defending women, immigrants, members of LBGTQ community and people of color who are under attack. People are lifting up their voices in a chorus demanding that our rights be preserved. You are those people, I know many of you have marched, spoken up, and cared, for the defenseless. We are a community that has heard the call and have responded, young or old we stand up to be counted.

Today, our world continues to be torn apart by those who would have us believe that the defenseless have no rights, we must continue to choose to take up our own crosses, in whatever way we are able to. We must be willing to defend the undefended, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, provide homes for the homeless, and welcome the strangers who come to us. To spread the word that injustice has no part in our world by writing, speaking, marching, and screaming if we must. We must act despite opposition by those who in denying Jesus and his call continue to harm the defenseless and the voiceless and dismember the freedoms we have gained over in 250 years.

Jesus did not teach us a faith of only contemplation, it is also a faith of rebellion. None of this is an easy choice to make, but choosing the radicle life Jesus lays out for us has never been easy, otherwise our world would be a very different place. In the last 2000 years only a few have had the courage to accept that challenge. All of them met death knowing they were faithful to Jesus’ teachings.

We too have challenges to accept and while we won’t me hung on a cross, and hopefully not face physical death, we could be destroyed financially or socially. The good news is every time someone accepts that challenge we get closer to be the community we were meant to be. Yes, contemplation is very important, without it we would be unable to hear God and Christ give us the strength to carry on. But contemplation without action is a withdrawal from the world, of saving only ourselves and a denial of the ministry given to us.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 8, 2018, To Take Up The Cross is adapted from a Sermon I preached at Queen Anne Christian Church, July 15, 2018

Dewey, Arthur J.; Inventing the Passion, how the death of Jesus was Remembered, Polebridge Press, Salem OR, 2017
Myers, Ched; Binding the Strong Man, a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2008, 20th anniversary edition

Morning’s Lectio Divina

 

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Fire in Yosemite National Park, October 2017

It has been some time since I’ve posted something on my blog and the time away has been interesting, restful, and thoughtful. Over the last several months I have practiced three spiritual practices, Meditation, walking prayer, and Lectio Divina that have fed my soul and reawakened my imagination and inspiration, and yes, a little rebellion. Lectio Divina has been most important in raising my awareness of myself and the world around me and I have had a growing desire to share what I hear, feel, and see in scripture meditation. I claim no special expertise or knowledge only heartfelt understanding from my perspective a pericope. I pray that if you meditate on the same scriptures you will find your own insights and open doors.

Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV)

1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry!

Meditation:

Reading 1: beloved; judge; righteousness;
Reading 2: break down; devoured; justice; bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry;

This pericope is about God’s justice for Judah for failing to be a people who embrace mercy, justice, peace, and compassion. I sit here and somehow feel we are in the same place now as the people of Judah in 800 BCE. I wouldn’t be surprised if God does something to today’s vineyard, actually I would find God’s action a relief from the horrendous tension.

There are many levels of interpretation to this scripture but on one level we can see how God’s plea to Judah as a plea to us today. After all this country is slipping into a pattern not that different from Judah, or Israel. We have political leaders claiming a faith in God and Christ yet fail to do justice, protect the innocent, or welcome the stranger. These men, and they are mostly men but also women, claim the Bible sanctions their actions of separating children from their parents, cutting health care to the young and the elderly, making health care to expensive for even the average citizen to have, and raising taxes to a level that will keep the poor poorer, and the wealthy wealthier. None of that is sanctioned by God or Christ.

In this passage Isaiah tells the people of Judah God’s justice will result in their destruction. I know God will eventually offer forgiveness (I’ve read ahead) but here Judah doesn’t know that. All they hear, if they are listening, is their little kingdom is going to be destroyed and God tells them why. God expected justice but saw only bloodshed, righteousness but heard only cries of despair and pain and for failing to be the fruit of God’s vineyard they will face destruction and despair.

The parallel between Judah and the United States is too close. There is little justice coming out of Washington D.C., but there is a great deal of turning away from doing good and right. There is no justifiable actions coming from the White House or Congress, only unethical, and morally bankrupt rhetoric from people who enjoy causing pain and suffering on others.

This government likes to call on the scripture to justify their actions. They take a short phrase out of context and wave it around like a sword. The truth is that scripture condemns them as apostates. They embrace the exact opposite of the teachings of God and Jesus. By their own words they have renounced a faith in God in favor of a faith in only themselves. They are their own god!

I cannot call them Christian, or a follower of The God of Abraham, no, they have no faith recognized by those who believe God’s mandate of Justice, Mercy, Compassion and Peace. Isaiah warned Judah what would happen, they didn’t listen and I doubt todays version of Judah will listen either.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 21, 2018

Confession

 

They say that the end of the year is a time to take stock of your life, and maybe that is so, but for me the end of this year is a time for a confession. So, I have a confession to make.

I do not believe God exists!

Shocking, well maybe to some, and to others maybe not so much, but well they do say confession is good for the soul.

Now don’t get me wrong I do believe in the Greater Mystery that holds us one to the other. I just do not believe in the god that has been described in so many writings. A human god created in our image. That is the god we hear so much about. The one trotted out by corrupt politicians, and egomaniac and small-minded preachers who tell us that “god is with us.” That my friends is a bunch of horse-hockey.

What I have faith in is much greater than the small boxed in god of those who would have you believe they are in personal communication with god. Those people are deluded fools who should be locked up behind asylums walls and cared for like the immature creatures they really are.

The Mystery I have faith in can not be described or named, for you cannot name or describe the un-nameable or the un-describable! What I have faith in is so much bigger than any god that I, you, or anyone else can create in their minds. I have no words that I can use to identify the Mystery that surrounds me, is within me, that I breathe in and out of my lungs, that explodes from my heart.

All I can say is the Mystery is there, always. The Mystery is what holds the atoms in my body together and forms the shape I am, my dogs shape, the shape of everything and every being, animal, sea, land, the universe. I do not know what that is, and I can’t begin to understand it, but I know it is there and I know it is sentient. It is what draws us together when crises happen or when celebration breaks out. It is also there when evil is done and when injustice is allowed to happen. It cannot stop any of us from doing evil to each other. It cannot stop us from doing good for each other as well. The paradox is mind blowing.

The Mystery is so much more than the image of a judge handing out punishment, or a Santa Claus giving out candy canes. The Mystery is you and I, the good and the bad, animal and vegetable and mineral. The Mystery is everything we are, we were, and what we could be for ill or good. The Mystery has no shape, no form. It has no voice except ours. It is what holds us together despite differences, it is what keeps us together even though we would kill each other.

The god created by human beings does not exist, never has and never will, except in the imagination of those who are afraid to reach out and touch the Mystery of life. To believe otherwise is idolatry, pure and simple. The ironic part of all this is when people bow down to those clay idols they are bowing down to the Mystery that holds that clay together, they just don’t know it. That my friend is very sad.

Yes, I confess to not believing in god, but I do confess to believing and have faith in so much more than a tiny representation of my own ego. There is more to life than small boxes on shelves. I prefer to hold my faith in the Greater Mystery.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 19, 2017