The Unmasking

UnmaskingScripture Passage:  2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So what does that mean to no longer look at others or even Christ from a human point of view?  I mean, how can we do anything different?  We ARE human.  And we are meant to be human, human as Christ was human, fully human. It means that, once again, we are called not to jump away from this world but to look at things differently, to bring this perspective of this “new creation” into not only our lives but the lives of others as well.  We have been reconciled with God through Christ, according to Paul.  The Divine presence of God has come to dwell with humanity for all.  We have been given that which will sustain us beyond what we perceive as our wants, our desires, and even our needs.

I think that most of us sort of pretend to be human.  We know what is right and good and we try but fear and our need for security seeps in when we least expect it.  So we once again don our masks so that we will look faithful and righteous and more put together.  But we read here that we are called to look at everything with a different point of view, something other than a “human” point of view.  It’s about a change in perception.  That’s what this journey does.  It changes our perspective.  Where we once believed in Jesus as the one to emulate, the one who came to bring us eternal life, we now view Christ as the Savior of the world, the one that has ushered the Kingdom of God into everything, even our humanness.  It changes not only the way we view Christ, but also the way we view the world.  We live as if the Kingdom of God is in our very midst–because it is. Our change in perception means that we unmask, that we find our real self, that self that sees Christ’s presence even now and sees all of God’s children as part of that Presence.

Andre Berthiame once said that “we all wear masks and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”  In other words, sometimes it is hard and perhaps a little painful, but it is the way to reveal who we are called to be.  No longer do we live our lives with some faint vision of a “someday” or a “somewhere” that is out there and to which we’re trying to journey.  God’s Presence, God’s Kingdom, is here, now.  And as God’s new creation, we see that the air is thick with its presence.  And as God’s children, our very lives are so full with God’s Presence that we can do nothing else but journey with it.

In his book, “Simply Christian“, N.T. Wright contends that “Christians are those who are already living “after death,” since Christ has raised us from the grave.  We ought more properly to speak of the world to come as “life after life after death.”  This is the change in perception.  It is looking beyond, living “as if” the Kingdom of God is here in its fullness, because that is how it will be.  It means that we live open to what God is showing us rather than walking through life with our eyes masked because we already know the way.  There is a story from the tradition of the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers that tells of a judge who goes into the desert looking for Abba Moses, who could provide him spiritual direction.  But he returned disappointed, complaining that the only person he met was an old man, tall and dark, wearing old clothes.  And he was told, “that was Abba Moses.”  He had been so affected by his perceptions, his view of what he should find through his human view–perhaps looking for a more “cleaned up, appropriate teacher”, that he wasn’t open to all that the Kingdom held for him to learn.  That is what we are called to do on this Lenten journey–change our perceptions, unmask, begin to view our life “as if”, as if the Kingdom of God were already in our midst (because it is.)

There is no creature, regardless creature, regardless of its apparent insignificance that fails to show us something of God’s goodness. (Thomas A’Kempis)

As you journey through this Lenten season, begin to look at things differently.  Rather than limiting yourself to a human view with your pre-conceived perceptions, open yourself to what God is showing you and begin to live “as if”.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Re-Patterned

RoundaboutScripture Passage:  Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17 (Lent 2A)

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness…For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

We are creatures of habit.  We cling to our patterns of life sometimes for our very identity.  And it is no different with our faith.  Our ways of believing, our ways of worship, our ways of practicing our faith are, for most of us, virtually untouchable.  (If any of you have ever tried to make any changes in a worship service, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about!)  We are open to change as long as WE don’t have to be the ones that change.  We are open to doing things differently as long as it doesn’t affect us.  Does that sound a little bit uncomfortably familiar?

The audience to whom Paul was probably writing were really no different.  They had grown up with norms of what was “right” and “righteous”, what made them acceptable before God and as people of faith.  For them, their revered patriarch Abraham was blessed because he followed God and did the right things (which also happened to of course be the things that they were doing or at least thought they were doing).  And now here is Paul daring to write that that’s not what it meant at all, that it had nothing to do with what Abraham did or whether he lived and practiced his faith in the right way but that he had faith in a God that freely offered relationship, in a God that freely and maybe even a little haphazardly offered this relationship to everyone (whether or not it’s actually deserved–go figure!).  Faith is not something that you define or check of your list of “to do’s”; faith is something that you live.

In this Season of Lent, we talk a lot about giving up old ways and taking on new patterns in life.  Lent is a season of re-patterning who we are and how we live.  Maybe it’s a time to let go of the things that we assume, those habits that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize that they are there, things that have somehow become so much a part of our lives that they have by their nature changed who we are.  Think of Lent as the season that asks us to drive on the other side of the road.  I remember the first time I did that.  It was in New Zealand.  Now if you’ve been to New Zealand, you understand that the miles and miles of rolling hills patterned only by sheep farms is a good place to learn to drive on the other side.  There is lots of room for “correction”, shall we say.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was the more heavily populated areas where we had to deal with other people’s habits and ways of being.  (As in when you had to worry about other people on the road, all of whom were driving on the “wrong” side of the road!)  And in the middle of every town was what they call a “round-about”.  It was sort of fun to get on but getting off was a completely different story.  My brain did not work that way.  I couldn’t make myself turn the right way (or the wrong way) while I was driving on what was to me the “wrong” side of the road.  (So, needless to say, we would just drive around that circle several times until I just took a breath and sort of went for it!)  It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

Paul was trying to get people to look at things differently, to think differently, perhaps even to drive on the other side of the road.  “Leave the old patterns and the old rules and the old ways of thinking behind,” he was saying, and get on.  It’s a little scary and you might have to drive around it a few times just to re-pattern your brain.  But just do it.  Open your eyes and look at things differently.  Open your lives to faith.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, our rules and our patterns can help us at times.  They give us foundations, sort of a tangible guide to support us on this journey.  They are necessary.  They are a means of grace.  But the passage reminds us that these rules and foundation are just that.  They are not an end unto themselves.  It takes faith to breathe life into them, to make them come alive.  It takes faith to give us the ability to back away from ourselves sometimes and figure out in what ways our life needs to be re-patterned.  (Otherwise, we just keep driving around in circles!)  Lent calls us to look at all of our life with a critical eye, to discern what is purely habit and what is truly a way of living out our faith.  Lent calls us to look at things differently, to really see rather than just assume.  Lent calls us to have enough faith to drive on the other side of the road.  So, just take a breath and go for it!

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal)

As we continue on this Lenten journey, take a look at your habits, at those things that you just take for granted.  Which ones are life-giving?  Which ones hinder faith and openness?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Unmasking

UnmaskingScripture Passage:  2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So what does that mean to no longer look at others or even Christ from a human point of view?  I mean, how can we do anything different?  We ARE human.  And we are meant to be human, human as Christ was human, fully human. It means that, once again, we are called not to jump away from this world but to look at things differently, to bring this perspective of this “new creation” into not only our lives but the lives of others as well.  We have been reconciled with God through Christ, according to Paul.  The Divine presence of God has come to dwell with humanity for all.  We have been given that which will sustain us beyond what we perceive as our wants, our desires, and even our needs.

I think that most of us sort of pretend to be human.  We know what is right and good and we try but fear and our need for security seeps in when we least expect it.  So we once again don our masks so that we will look faithful and righteous.  But we read here that we are called to look at everything with a different point of view, something other than a “human” point of view.  It’s about a change in perception.  That’s what this journey does.  It changes our perspective.  Where we once believed in Jesus as the one to emulate, the one who came to bring us eternal life, we now view Christ as the Savior of the world, the one that has ushered the Kingdom of God into everything, even our humanness.  It changes not only the way we view Christ, but also the way we view the world.  We live as if the Kingdom of God is in our very midst–because it is. Our change in perception means that we unmask, that we find our real self, that self that sees Christ’s presence even now and sees all of God’s children as part of that Presence.

Andre Berthiame once said that “we all wear masks and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of own skin.”  In other words, sometimes it is hard and perhaps a little painful, but it is the way to reveal who we are called to be.  No longer do we live our lives with some faint vision of a “someday” or a “somewhere” that is out there and to which we’re trying to journey.  God’s Presence, God’s Kingdom, is here, now.  And as God’s new creation, we see that the air is thick with its presence.  And as God’s children, our very lives are so full with God’s Presence that we can do nothing else but journey with it.

In his book, “Simply Christian“, N.T. Wright contends that “Christians are those who are already living “after death,” since Christ has raised us from the grave.  We ought more properly to speak of the world to come as “life after life after death.”  This is the change in perception.  It is looking beyond, living “as if” the Kingdom of God is here in its fullness, because that is how it will be.  It means that we live open to what God is showing us rather than walking through life with our eyes masked because we already know the way.  There is a story from the tradition of the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers that tells of a judge who goes into the desert looking for Abba Moses, who could provide him spiritual direction.  But he returned disappointed, complaining that the only person he met was an old man, tall and dark, wearing old clothes.  And he was told, “that was Abba Moses.”  He had been so affected by his perceptions, his view of what he should find through his human view, that he wasn’t open to all that the Kingdom held for him to learn.  That is what we are called to do on this Lenten journey–change our perceptions, unmask, begin to view our life “as if”, as if the Kingdom of God were already in our midst (because it is.)

There is no creature, regardless creature, regardless of its apparent insignificance that fails to show us something of God’s goodness. (Thomas A’Kempis)

As you journey through this Lenten season, begin to look at things differently.  Rather than limiting yourself to a human view with your pre-conceived perceptions, open yourself to what God is showing you and begin to live “as if”.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Re-Patterned

RoundaboutScripture Passage:  Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17 (Lent 2A)

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness…For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

We are creatures of habit.  We cling to our patterns of life sometimes for our very identity.  And it is no different with our faith.  Our ways of believing, our ways of worship, our ways of practicing our faith are, for most of us, virtually untouchable.  (If any of you have ever tried to make any changes in a worship service, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about!)  We are open to change as long as WE don’t have to change.  We are open to doing things differently as long as it doesn’t affect us.  Does that sound a little bit uncomfortably familiar?

The audience to whom Paul was probably writing were really no different.  They had grown up with norms of what was “right” and “righteous”, what made them acceptable before God and as people of faith.  For them, their revered patriarch Abraham was blessed because he followed God and did the right things (which also happened to of course be the things that they were doing).  And now here is Paul daring to write that that’s not what it meant at all, that it had nothing to do with what Abraham did or whether he lived and practiced his faith in the right way but that he had faith in a God that freely offered relationship, in a God that freely and maybe even a little haphazardly offered this relationship to everyone.  Faith is not something that you define or check of your list of “to do’s”; faith is something that you live.

In this Season of Lent, we talk a lot about giving up old ways and taking on new patterns in life.  Lent is a season of re-patterning who we are and how we live.  Maybe it’s a time to let go of the things that we assume, those habits that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize that they are there, things that have somehow become so much a part of our lives that they have by their nature changed who we are.  Think of Lent as the season that asks us to drive on the other side of the road.  I remember the first time I did that.  It was in New Zealand.  Now if you’ve been to New Zealand, you understand that the miles and miles of rolling hills patterned only by sheep farms is a good place to learn to drive on the other side.  There is lots of room for “correction”, shall we say.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was the more heavily populated areas where we had to deal with other people’s habits and ways of being.  (As in when you had to worry about other people on the road!)  And in the middle of every town was what they call a “round-about”.  It was sort of fun to get on but getting off was a completely different story.  My brain did not work that way.  I couldn’t make myself turn the right way (or the wrong way) while I was driving on what was to me the “wrong” side of the road.  (So, needless to say, we would just drive around that circle several times!)  It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

Paul was trying to get people to look at things differently, to think differently, perhaps even to drive on the other side of the road.  “Leave the old patterns and the old rules and the old ways of thinking behind,” he was saying, and get on.  It’s a little scary and you might have to drive around it a few times.  But just do it.  Open your eyes and look at things differently.  Open your lives to faith.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, our rules and our patterns can help us at times.  They give us foundations, sort of a tangible guide to support us on this journey.  They are necessary.  They are a means of grace.  But the passage reminds us that these rules and foundation are just that.  They are not an end unto themself.  It takes faith to breathe life into them, to make them come alive.  It takes faith to give us the ability to back away from ourselves sometimes and figure out in what ways our life needs to be re-patterned.  (Otherwise, we just keep driving around in circles!)  Lent calls us to look at all of our life with a critical eye, to discern what is purely habit and what is truly a way of living out our faith.  Lent calls us to look at things differently, to really see rather than just assume.  Lent calls us to have enough faith to drive on the other side of the road.

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal)

As we continue on this Lenten journey, take a look at your habits, at those things that you just take for granted.  Which ones are life-giving?  Which ones hinder faith and openness?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Heightened Awareness

Lent is depicted as a 40-day journey, a pilgrimage into the one that we are called to be.  It is a paradoxical season of pruning for growth, letting go to gain, and dying to live.  It’s sometimes dark, often difficult, and usually completely disconcerting to those of us who live in this “save yourself first”  “American Dream” that worships power and closes its eyes to greed and shuts its doors to need.  We don’t know what to do with Lent.  If we can just get through these 40 days, we can go back to life as we know it.  We can go back to a life in which we are not called to give things up or look at our shortcomings or stare helplessly into death.  Just 40 days…and it will all be over.  And we look ahead to that.

But, alas, then we would have missed the point.  Lent is not about having 40 days of good behavior.  It’s not about proving that one has the willpower to give something up or take on something for 6 1/2 weeks.   I don’t think it’s even about repentance, although penitence and turning are part of it.  I think Lent has to do with heightening awareness of what is right there in front of us.  It has to do with learning to see–really see.  And the point is that that awareness doesn’t leave when we roll out the Easter lilies and allow ourselves once again to sing Alleluias.  We do not return to life as usual.  (At least that is the hope!)  Instead, the usual changes.  It takes on new meaning, new significance.  It changes the way we live our life.  And, more importantly, we are changed.  Our eyes have been opened.  These forty days are not temporary.  Rather, they are a journey to another place (or maybe to the place where we are!).  And at the end of the journey, at the end of all we know, when we have lost all that we have built, all that we have counted on, and all with which we are comfortable–it is then that the dawn will break and we will see it all.

Lent is not about teaching us to live for 40 days; it is about teaching us to live.  It is about opening our eyes and allowing us to see for the first time that we are not journeying toward God; rather, we are journeying into an awareness of the God who is already here and an awareness of the person that God has already created within us. Truth be told, it is never over.

And yet, I tend to move pretty fast through life.  I drive too fast, I pack my calendar too full, and I probably miss a lot of what is going on.  It’s hard to be fully aware when you’re speeding down the road.  Maybe Lent’s darkness is meant to slow us down, is meant to make us work to see, is meant to hone our other senses so that we can truly see in every way.  This is not life as usual.  Maybe we need to slow down and look at what is going by.

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this eighth day of Lent, what is it that you see for your life?  Give up the image of what you think you see.  And slow down.  Open your eyes to the encounter with God that awaits you if you are only aware. 

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli

Without

It is often said that Lent is a journey within, a pilgrimage into the very depths of oneself to reflect honestly on where we are and where we need to go.  I think that is true.  But it could also be said that Lent is about being without and doing without for this practice too is incredibly soul-exposing.  It’s also completely foreign to anything to which we are accustomed.  After all, we are a collecting and using people.  We are overfed, overfurnished, overdriven, overworked, overspent, overdressed and, often, overexposed.  We do not know how to do without.  We do not know how to be without. And so, if you’re like me, you buy more books on how to do Lent, how to do without during this wilderness season.  (Because, after all, you can never have enough books!)  But what we’re really called to do is to learn to do without.

I saw a feature on one of the morning news shows the other day about nomophobia, one of the newest phobias.  The claim is that if you can’t be without your cell phone for long periods of time, then you may possibly suffer from nomophobia.  According to a survey 70% of women and 61% of men live in fear of losing their phone or not having it available when they need it.  The survey found that people check their phones 34 times each day and 75% of those polled have used their phone while in the bathroom.  Warning signs include obsessively checking for your mobile device, worrying about losing your phone or being without it, never turning it off (you can turn it off???) , and being anxious if you lose reception.  In all seriousness, though, I have to admit that this is me.  I don’t think that I can do without my cell phone.  But, really, surely there’s an “app” for that!

But, seriously, I don’t think the message of Lent is necessarily to deprive ourselves of what we need or even what we think we need. God doesn’t necessarily call us to live some sort of stoic life that it totally devoid of things that we enjoy.  The created world holds too much beauty for that to be the case. But it is true that we surround ourselves with the things that define us.  And, hopefully, that’s more than a bunch of stuff.  So perhaps Lent is more about realizing what is important and affirming what it is in your life that you cannot do without, realizing what it is that defines you.  And all of that is within.   And I’m betting that the list is a lot shorter than any of us think it will be.  Think about it.  What could you do without?  Really?  You can’t let that go?

Richard Byrd once said that “half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”  Lent is not about adjusting what we have; it is not about deprivation; it is about perspective, about determining what it is in our life that we cannot do without and then taking it deep within.  Think of it as clearing away the clutter to make room for what is important, to make room for what it is that defines you.

OK, no one ever promised that this would be easy…continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this sixth day of Lent, think about the one material thing in your life that would be the hardest to do without.  Now take a sabbath from it.  Just a sabbath–a seventh of the day.  Go without it for, oh, about 3 1/2 hours today.  

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,

Shelli

Well, I found this very interesting…I did find the button on top of the phone that shut the whole thing off.  And when I turned it back on, there was, of course, the familiar apple logo on it.  Have you ever looked at that?  It’s an apple with a bite out of it.  And, get this, the bite is about 1/7 of the apple.  Like I said, it’s not about deprivation, just perspective.