Remembering

Remembering

We remember
the chill silence
as quiet as a snowfall,
when unyielding footsteps
crunched softly
as though across thin ice.

We remember
the steady
drip
drip
drip
of dark venom
spreading
down ink-filled gutters.

We remember
the drawn curtains,
the shuttered windows,
the slammed doors,
the invitations
retracted;
the positions closed,
the jobs lost,
the friends
who disappeared.

We remember
the bitter cold
as neighbor avoided neighbor;
eyes downcast,
shoulders slumped,
smiles erased,
speechless,
shivering,
frozen in our terror. 

We remember
when suspicion
became certainty;
when chanted slogans
became shrieks for vengeance,
when indignation
became ignition
for the fires of hate.

We remember
when excited crowds
became angry mobs
fueled with resentment,
hot with rage,
shattering the night
with their stamping feet
like the crackling leaves
of an autumn bonfire.

We remember
when distrust
and fear
fell upon the land
like an ash-gray dust,
transforming every face
into a death mask.  

We remember
how many
died for their belief.

May we never forget.

Deborah Beach Giordano
On the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht,
the Night of Broken Glass
November 9, 2018

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All that she had …

Deborah Beach Giordano
© November 12, 2018

Mark 12:38-44 ~ told by Deborah

While he was teaching, the Lord said, “Don’t be dazzled by the big shots who swan around in fancy clothes, eat in the best restaurants, and are favored and fawned over wherever they go. They talk a good game, but their words mean nothing; it’s just so much hot air. Their time is coming.”

He sat down across from the treasury, and watched as people put in their offerings. Many of the rich put in vast sums.

Then a poor widow came up and put in two small copper coins, which are worth about a twenty cents.

Jesus pointed her out to his disciples, “I’m telling you: this poor widow gave more than anyone else. The others gave from their surplus; but she gave from what was essential: she gave everything; all she had to live on.”

Perspective

We’re only human: creatures readily entranced and distracted by flashy colors and shiny objects. It’s no wonder that we are impressed by the “beautiful people” with their designer clothing, expensive jewelry, and exotic cars. They’re clearly different from the rest of us; possessed of unique qualities, quite unlike our own. They are somehow special. It was the same in Jesus’ day; those with money and power were looked upon as special: their words admired, their conduct unquestioned, their generosity celebrated. 

And who can fault the others, those without, for standing in awe of the enormous sums of money that fell so abundantly from those elegantly manicured fingertips? Imagine a day laborer’s reaction upon seeing a rich man put twenty or thirty denarii into the offering box — a sum that represented a month’s salary to the worker. Surely the rich man was a marvel: blessed by God and cherished by humankind for his generosity. And yet, for the man of wealth, it was mere pocket change; in truth, it “cost” him almost nothing. 

The situation was very different, as Jesus pointed out, for the poor widow. Her offering was genuinely costly: it was all that she had to live on. She gave everything.

Wait a minute…

Now I know — or at least I think I know — that we are meant to admire, respect, and perhaps emulate the poor widow. But I just can’t go there. It seems the purest madness to give away your last dime, “all you have to live on.” We aren’t told what happened next, and I’ve always worried about her. Did she starve? Was she forced to beg on the street, or rely on handouts, or …? 

This is a text that the “Prosperity Gospel” preachers are known to cite as proof that we are to give “in faith,” and we will be rewarded. With stuff. But that assumes two things: 1) that the widow was provided for afterward; and 2) that there is no such thing as charity. In this interpretation, we aren’t really giving, but investing: if I give God some money, then God will pay me back in goods and services.

That whole Prosperity Gospel business is … well, simply a business. As Christian theology, it is baseless, deceptive, and, to be blunt, blasphemous. And yet, there’s that poor widow, standing over there where we left her, having given away her last dime. What is she doing there; why did Jesus point her out? Certainly she is faithful, and generous. Her giving definitely cost her something. 

But now she is not merely a poor widow, but one in dire straits; at risk of starvation, possibly homeless, vulnerable, defenseless. Her status as a widow means there is no one to provide for her or protect her. It’s not a position any of us wants to be in.

What Kind of Example?

But what if we’re not supposed to put ourselves in her place? What if the poor widow is not meant to serve as an exemplar; what if she’s not as a model to follow, but an example of those who need our charity? Maybe Jesus pointed to the poor widow in the hopes that one of the disciples would stand up and say, “What will happen to her? We can’t let her starve.” Perhaps the lesson is that, instead of being impressed by big donors, we should be concerned for those who have nothing left to give. It isn’t about the giving, but about the needs.

Our charity is to be directed toward others, not for our own enrichment. Giving isn’t a form of reciprocity; we aren’t to give in order to get, but in order to care for one another. 

Seen from this perspective, the widow’s story utterly repudiates the prosperity gospel. We give, not for ourselves, but for others. We give with no thought of self; we are charitable not in order to be admired or honored, nor for a “return on our investment.” We give because there are people in need; people who have given everything.

About “Everything”

We tend to equate the idea of having nothing left to live on with homelessness or hunger; with ragged clothing or an empty cupboard: with things. This overlooks the costs of physical and psychological exhaustion: when people are impoverished — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically — because of what they have endured. PTSD; chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus; severe illnesses, injuries, and addictions can drain energy and hope from a person’s life: they may have given all that they had. Poverty can take many forms, and our charity and compassion cannot be limited to only one sort. 

Veterans Day

The annual recognition of Veterans Day reminds us to take a closer look at those who have given “all that they had” through their service in the Armed Forces. Some men and women gave of themselves for a single enlistment, some for several years, some for their entire career and some gave all that they had — their very lives. 

All gave some. Some gave all.
~ Howard William Osterkamp, Korean War veteran

Many who returned paid a heavy price; those who lost limbs, hearing, vision; those who lost friends, who witnessed suffering and death; and the loss of innocence that drained life out of all who were there. For some the experience cost them all that they had to give. Some lost their minds, others lost the ability to return to “life as it was,” becoming permanently estranged from the society that sent them off to fight.

And there is the price paid by the families: those who wait through long silences; lonely, worried, fearful, stressed beyond imagining; those who are reunited with a stranger; and those whose lasting reminder is a neatly folded flag and a permanently broken heart. Poverty can take many forms, and our charity and compassion cannot be limited to only one sort. 

Throughout this Season may we be guided and inspired to give, generously — for others, with no thought for ourselves.

May Christ’s grace and peace abide in us and our world,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Where do you see the greatest poverty?

How might you alleviate different sorts of poverty? (Hint: it’s not always about money!)

Veteran Information/assistance

There are approximately 20 million veterans in the U.S. In 2014 an average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day. Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults, while veterans constituted 8.5% of the US population.

Resource listing: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/support/shareable-materials

Immediate assistance: http://www.veteranscrisisline.net or 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections | Tagged , , , , ,

The God We Believe In

Deborah Beach Giordano
© September 10, 2018

Psalm 146 ~ as told by Deborah

Praise God, our gracious God; praise God, O my soul!

I will praise God as long as I live; I will put my faith in the Holy One — and no other.

Do not put your trust in princes, politicians, pundits, products, or parties, they won’t help you. When they have no further need of you they depart; on that very day their promises perish.

Happy are those who rely on the Lord. Look to the Eternal, the Beloved, who sets the people free; at whose word creation arose, in whose compassion all abide.

Those who follow the way of holy Wisdom will see a world of healing and hope; they will build up and not tear down; they will bless and not curse; they will act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God.

The Lord watches over the lost and the lonely, the weak and the weary, but those who pursue the path of wickedness will be led to ruin.

The Lord reigns from everlasting to everlasting; our God, the Lover of our souls. Praise God, our gracious God. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

What Happens Next?

Somewhere, within in my eclectic theological explorations, I came across a conjecture regarding our afterlife that has challenged my thinking ever since: “Perhaps we get the God we believe in.”

It certainly gives one pause. 

Would that be the best possible heaven? I guess that rather depends on the God we’ve been worshipping. 

How many of those who pay homage to a fierce and demanding Judge will have an unerringly neat and tidy life history to offer at its conclusion? And what if they don’t? What if they generally meant to do what was right, but failed, on more than one occasion — perhaps failed spectacularly? (We all make mistakes, after all, we’re only human.) If the God they believe in is scrupulously just, rather than merciful, what would happen then?

Those who believe that the God who made dogs must have a similarly loving, forgiving, and effusively accepting nature would slip through the heavenly Gates to be greeted by a chorus of joyful barking. Meanwhile, others who may have done much greater good and strived to follow Christ much more earnestly would be facing a Divine Adversary — if that’s who they worshipped.

The mind boggles and the heart is troubled. It certainly wouldn’t be fair — which is a divine attribute most of us do believe in. 

The God We Worship

Perhaps a wiser statement would be, not that we get the God we believe in, but that others do. Every day, whether knowingly or blithely unaware, we proclaim our faith and belief to those we meet — through our attitude, our outlook, our behavior, our words and deeds, cares and concerns. 

Perhaps that is another way of interpreting the saying “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” And the one we daily summon may not be the One we say it is.

We proclaim ourselves to be Christians, and yet … whose teachings do we actually follow? Do we abide in the law of “love of God and love of neighbor,” or “every man for himself”? Do we preach peace, while waging war against our enemies? Do we show forth compassion or plot vengeance? Do we build up or tear down? 

Do we bless and not curse?

What god do we summon into our life, whose gospel do we proclaim to those with whom we come in contact? What spirit do we unleash? Do we preach Christ — or His enemy — as we make our way in the world?

Bidden or unbidden — mindfully or thoughtlessly — God is present. It’s up to us what god we represent (re-present) in the proclamation of our lives.

Back to the Future

And so … to eternity. 

As the Lord Christ said: “I go before you”; we know the Path to follow, we simply (!) have to live accordingly. We are to be a mindful, hope-fueling, love-driven people; thankful, joyful, gentle, and at peace.

And if our hearts are Gospel-shaped, so I believe, we’re well on our way to a loving, cheerful welcome Home.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

What God do you proclaim in the living of your life?

Last/ing Insights

A friend once related, in gently amused tones, that as her father lay dying, he told her that his beloved childhood pet was sitting by his bedside. She believed it to be an hallucination. I believe it was Something Else entirely. 

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures | Tagged , , , ,

Wolves among the Flock

Deborah Beach Giordano
© August 20, 2018

Ezekiel 34:1-4 ~ New International Translation

Then the word of the Lord came to me, “Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and tell them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel, who only take care of yourselves! Shepherds are to care for their flocks! You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool, and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the flock. You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays, or searched for the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty.

Christ betrayed, again

Yet again there is news of another clergy scandal: this one comes from a Grand Jury investigation of six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. The details are shameful — in the extent of the abuse and in the evidence of cover-ups on a massive scale. Evil shepherds preyed upon their flocks “with violence and cruelty” repeatedly over decades; countless innocents suffered, countless others knew and said nothing; many were in positions to stop the perpetrators and prevent further abuse but did not. What was meant to be a sanctuary was turned into a charnel house.

There is no excuse for what occurred. I pray that Pope Francis will act swiftly and meaningfully. But the harm has been done. And it affects all who follow the Lord Jesus — not just Roman Catholics. For people outside of the faith, Rome represents all of Christendom; like it or not, we are lumped together as “believers.” 

Further, we don’t have to look far to see evidence of worthless and wicked shepherds within our own denominational flocks of whatever sort we may be. They are out there. Perhaps you have encountered one or more of them yourself; I have. 

What Shall We Do?

How do we rightly respond to these outrages? What can we do to prevent abuses from recurring? How can we speak of “the Good News” in the face of such wickedness?

We can begin by speaking out against abuses — all abuses: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial — and demanding that perpetrators are held accountable. This does not mean a transfer to a different parish, or to a teaching position, or a few weeks in a cosy private “sanitarium,” or the publication of a tell-all book and author’s royalties! We have the right and responsibility to insist on genuine consequences, not rewards, for misconduct.

From those who have been given much, much will be demanded; and from those who have been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. ~ Luke 12:48b 

Too often villainous clergy receive far more forgiveness than their victims receive justice. Those who withheld absolution from others call in Christ’s name for “mercy” the instant they are apprehended — and are immediately treated as repentant sinners — and so avoid anything remotely resembling contrition; while those they exploited rarely hear an admission of wrong-doing nor receive public apologies: instead, their years of silent suffering are compounded by the ongoing silence of the “corporation.” 

Is the Church’s rush to forgive a manifestation of the spirit of generous Christianity, or a desire to sweep the dirt under the rug? Is not the granting (or withholding) of forgiveness the right of the one who was harmed? 

Official Christians

We cannot pretend that crimes have not been committed, and to do so makes us complicit: we are causing further pain and suffering to those who have been hurt. Our admission is part of the work of healing: beginning with honestly admitting what has happened.

The next step is taking responsibility for the ways in which we have, as is said in the General Confession, “failed to be an obedient church.” Have we handed over the work of Christian witness and community to “the professionals”? 

Remember that we, the people, together form The Body of Christ at work in the world. Every member is called to play a part. Yet, too often, the clergy seem to serve as the community’s Official Christians: the ones who visit the sick and the shut ins, who sit by the side of the dying, who comfort the mourners, and counsel the troubled and the seekers; salaried workers who do what the rest of the people don’t want to do. 

It becomes a pattern, this handing-over of responsibilities, and we begin to trust that all is humming along just fine “because the pastor says so.” We ignore problems, discount warnings, refuse to listen to criticism. We surrender our call to follow the Lord to paid professionals, and grow lax in our faith and forgetful of our obligations; preferring what is easy to what is right.

Until something happens. And then we are suddenly, terribly awake.

The Search for Easy Answers

It is human nature to look for a pattern when things go wrong. Seeking to make our churches safe, we try to establish a prototype “wrong’un” and then remove all who fit that template from positions of authority. The problem is, the temptation to do evil rather than good crosses all boundaries of gender, race, color, and creed. The corrosive, corrupting influence of power can taint women as well as men, Protestants as well as Catholics, Asians as well as Anglos, black as well as white, gay as well as straight. 

In short, there is no quick and simple fix, no easily-identifiable villainous type/s that we can oust from our midst. 

A particular danger to this yearning for an easy solution has appeared in discussions regarding the clergy scandals in Pennsylvania. If the churches would just clear out all of the gay men, so one argument goes, everything would be fine. Equally it has been said that there would be no more problems if Rome would allow married clergy. Both of these simplistic solutions ignore the many infidelities and assaults perpetrated by (married) Protestant clergy, and that the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual. 

As with all crimes of sexual violence, the desire is to hurt and debase. The perpetrators exploit the weak and vulnerable, exerting a hold over their victims with shame and secrecy. The common denominator is the lust for power and control — it is never about attraction or affection.

Prevention comes from vigilance. 

Naiveté and negligence contribute directly to the types of criminal tragedies as those in Pennsylvania, as well as other wicked and wrongful conduct throughout our churches. When we hand over our work of being a Christian to anyone, we are complicit in whatever harm occurs.

Prevention

If you see something, say something.

Each time these terrible events make the news we are told that there had been long-standing reports and rumors about misconduct. Yet no one took action, no one insisted on interviews or audits or assessments — until there was a veritable avalanche of evidence, or a life was lost. It should never take that long. The whole Body of Christ must be committed to ensuring that all who come to us are safe.

This doesn’t mean we view everyone around us with suspicion, but it does mean we are alert and attentive to what goes on in our communities. It is the ministry of all believers to care for the weak and vulnerable, to work for justice, to comfort the sick and sorrowing; to seek the truth, and proclaim God’s grace. 

If we do these things, the Light of Christ will shine — and banish the darkness.

Restoration

“Repair My Church.”
~ the Divine message that inspired Saint Francis of Assisi 

But despite the most careful and wise counsel and attention, evil can often find a way, as it has done of late. We cannot undo what has happened, but we can insist on restitution and overt, obvious marks of repentance by those who committed these travesties. And the responsibility extends to all of us. 

It cannot be — it must not be — “back to business as usual” for any Christians, of whatever persuasion. We must look at our ways of doing “church;” and the ways in which each of us is called to be a member of the Body of Christ. Do we do our part, or hand the work of the Lord over to the paid professionals?

Lord Christ our Redeemer, we have been called to follow You; guide each of us to do so with wisdom, and power, and grace. Give us ears to hear unspoken cries, give us eyes to see unwept tears, make us mindful of needs and troubles close at hand, light a holy fire within us so that we will honor you not only in our words, but in the daily living of our lives. Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Who can you bless and encourage today?

Reference for Reporting: https://ovc.ncjrs.gov – United States Office of Justice Programs: Office for Victims of Crimes

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections | Tagged , ,

A Witness to God’s Goodness

Deborah Beach Giordano
© August 13, 2018

Psalm 34 ~ interpreted by Deborah

In all ways, at all times, I delight in the Lord our God; I will never cease singing God’s praises for as long as I live, sharing His glorious love and mercy with all the world.

All God’s people say: Amen!

Unsuspecting, unaware, I was found by my sweet Savior, never knowing that I had been lost. My whole world was suddenly illuminated; divine radiance filled my heart and my soul. Like Moses on the mountaintop, God’s glory shone in my face — and everyone could see. 

Rejoice in the Lord!

God heard my plea, as deep and dark and silent as the grave; and saved me from all of my troubled thoughts and fears. When those who suffer and despair hear what I have to say, they will rejoice, and we will give thanks to the Beloved together.

Their weeping will be turned into laughter!

The holy angels encircle those who love the Lord; they are lifted up, as if on eagle’s wings, their hearts light and joyful.

Fear is unknown to them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good! His Word is sweet as honey, even much fine honey; nourishing to His people, sustaining and strengthening them. 

They shall have all that they need.

Come, little ones, listen to me; I will tell you of the Lord’s abundant love and compassion that extends to the ends of the earth, to the end of all time, to all people, without exception.

Come, all who are weary and heavily burdened, and you will find rest.

Delight in the Lord and honor Him with your lips and with your lives. Shun evil and do good; speak kindly and pursue peace.

His yoke is easy, His burden is light.

God watches over the vulnerable and the despairing, the grieving and the brokenhearted, sensitive to their cries; rescuing those presumed to be lost, a good Shepherd leading the flocks safely home.

None shall be lost!

The faithful may have many troubles, but their spirits shall not be broken, their hope will not be crushed; the Lord will hold them close.

They shall be delivered.

Goodness and mercy shall be my life and my legacy, for I walk in the Way of the Lord my God.

And I shall live in the House of the Lord forever! 

In the Beginning

“What is the cause of their hope?” 

In the early days of our faith, the Christians carried on, regardless. In the face of punishment and persecutions; despite losses of family, friends, property, and livelihood, the small communities were known for their courageous optimism. 

Others found these Christ-followers a mystery: there they were, in the midst of the worst of times: shunned and shamed and mocked, and yet, somehow, their numbers only increased. Why would this be so? 

Little documentation survives from the Christians of that era, and the material that does exist has been heavily redacted and revised, so we cannot say with certainty what the peoples’ daily lives were like. What we do know is that they continued in their faith, and that others slowly, steadily joined with them. Something happened. Something powerful.

I believe — and have experience to prove it — that it was our forebears’ joy that contributed to the growth of the early Christian communities. It is an aspect of our faith we are long-overdue to reclaim. 

I’ve seen it in person, in living persons: a calm, confidence devoid of anxiety or fear. It is a manifestation of a sort of Cosmic Giggle: barely-suppressed, bubbling delight that flows from purest love and absolute trust in God’s goodness. These “true believers” (if you will) live in the certainty that, as Julian of Norwich famously said, “All is well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” They are radiant with joy, their hearts are at peace; when we are with them we relax, we smile, we laugh. They spread a kind of holy, healthy contagion to all they meet.

A Time of Great Need

Now, more than ever, we need to listen to the testimony of the faithful: we need to hear The Good News and believe the Good News and live in the Light of the Good News. We need to regain our calm, confident joy — lest we perish from soul-sickness.

We are surrounded by predictions of death and despair, incessant enticements to hopelessness, to hubris — tempted to scorn and hate those with whom we disagree, to consider others our inferiors and ourselves “noble warriors,” rebuffing attacks, responding to alarms, constantly on edge, anxious, irritable, stressed, and always sick at heart. Something is wrong, deeply wrong, and we know it; we feel it in the depths of our souls. And it is making us and our world sick.

For the battles to cease, we must stop fighting. Our anger and outrage fuel the fires of hell on earth. There can be no healing amidst hatred, there can be peace if the only acceptable option is “winner take all” and the loser must be ground into dust. 

If there is no compassion, no concern for one another, then Nietzsche was right: God is dead, and we killed Him. In our hearts it is as if He is not there at all.

Finding Joy, Being Joy

We know the Good News — in having heard it, known it, and, for a blessed few, experienced it, face-to-face. It is up to us to live as if the Truth is True. 

We can be agents of Christ’s peace in our world, bringing comfort and encouragement to the sick and the sad; not insisting on our own way, but committed to the Way of the Lord, trusting in God’s goodness, revealers of God’s love and compassion. Utterly unafraid, calm and confident, we will find ourselves occasionally overcome with a case of the Cosmic Giggles.

As we live, so shall we become: light-bearers of gentle joy and abundant delight. We shall become what we have been called to be: “true children of our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect and rejoice in those who have shown you — in the myriad ways we can know — that God is good and gracious and so delightful that you just want to giggle. And go forth and do likewise to all the world.

Dedicated to the memory of Michelle Aaron Amirault, witness to God’s great love.
June 18, 1949 – July 31, 2018 ~ Love wins

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Poetry, Reflections | Tagged , , , ,

Bread and Circuses

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 30, 2018

John 6:2-15 ~ told by Deborah

Crowds followed Jesus everywhere he went because of the wondrous healings he performed.

After crossing the lake from Capernaum, Jesus went up on the mountain to spend a little quiet time with his disciples. But very soon the crowd caught up with them.

Seeing the mass of people heading their way, Jesus asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread to feed all these people?” (He wanted to see what Philip would say, but he already knew what he was going to do.)

Philip replied, “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a single bite!”

Andrew, another of his disciples, said, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what difference can such a small amount make?”

Jesus said, “Have everyone sit down.” In the spring the fields are filled with soft, green grass, so the people made themselves comfortable; there were about five thousand of them.

Then Jesus took the loaves, and, after giving thanks, distributed them among the people, along with the fish, too; letting them take as much as they wanted.

When everyone had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up all that remains, so that nothing may be lost.” So they collected what was left of the five barley loaves, and the scraps filled twelve baskets.

When Jesus realized that the people were preparing to seize him and declare him king, he quietly made his way back up the mountain, alone.

Performance Art?

The author of the Gospel of John tells us that the crowds followed Jesus not because they were impressed by his teachings, but in order to witness the amazing healings he performed. Some of the people must have believed in him, but others undoubtedly came to be amused and entertained, certain that it was mere performance art, like a rope trick or sawing a lady in half.

The towns of first century Palestine were frequent hosts to “miracle workers.” Arriving to great fanfare, these travelers dazzled the naive and gullible with their showmanship, and then disappeared with the takings before their “cures” were revealed to have been faked; their potions, worthless.

Who can blame those who came to see this Galilean “healer,” anticipating comic relief or obvious chicanery, and who subsequently went away unimpressed or scornful? How could they be expected to separate Jesus from the charlatans and cheats who roamed the Roman roads?

For that matter, who can blame current-day doubters? Penn & Teller and other professional entertainers have demonstrated how “magic” is accomplished by trickery; advances in medicine and psychiatry have revealed the workings of psychosomatic illnesses, hysterical blindness and paralysis, mass hypnosis, and more. Everything — all of the healing wonders that Jesus is said to have performed — can be explained away. What makes Him so special?

Loaves and Fish

Ah, but then there’s the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Surely that is an action of an entirely different magnitude; a “work of power” that must have had divine origin. It couldn’t be faked. Here was a genuine, solid, physical miracle.

Reported in all four of the canonical Gospels, it is clear that something happened on that hillside; something remarkable; an event permanently inscribed in the memories of Jesus’ followers. And it definitely made an impression on those who were there. Thousands of people were fed in a single afternoon, despite the fact that no one had prepared meals for the crowd — nor, apparently, had the attendees thought to bring food for themselves.

What’s particularly interesting, as it is reported by John’s Gospel, is that this feeding frenzy convinced those who were there that Jesus ought to be acclaimed king. Apparently the idea of an endless supply of free food was enough to buy the crowd’s loyalty. 

Bread and Circuses

Roman politicians had passed laws to retain the votes of poorer citizens by giving out cheap food and entertainment; ”bread and circuses” became the most effective way to rise to power.
~ as reported by Juvenal (who was there)

But Jesus wasn’t interested in being the Lord of bread and circuses — and so he left that place and went off by himself, away from the crowd. Perhaps this sudden popularity was a kind of awakening for him, a realization of the dangers of this fickle, readily-purchased loyalty that can change in an instant; following first one leader and then another and back again, as abruptly and unpredictably as the winds that blow across the sea of Galilee.

I’m reminded of a story. 

An old, white-haired man entered the bar leading a massive black bear on a leash. Inserting a coin into the jukebox, the man turned to the bear and said, “Dance!” and the bear, very obligingly, danced. When the music ended, the man threw a large meatball to the bear who immediately swallowed it, and, as the next song started to play, again began to dance.

“How do you do that?” an astonished patron asked, “How can you make that huge animal dance like that, and not attack you?”

“It’s easy,” the bear’s owner replied, “Just don’t run out of meatballs.”

Purchased loyalty is no loyalty at all.

And it is bad for the soul.

The Rate of Exchange

Purchased loyalty entangles us in unhealthy, even destructive, relationships, regardless of which part we play. Sellers become entrenched in servitude; doing what they’re told, lest the goody-train be halted: “Do as I say, or no more meatballs for you.” Buyers may find themselves caught up in a dangerous brand of extortion; forced to pay and pay and pay, far beyond the initial agreement: “Keep feeding me, or I will attack you.” 

It’s never (well, rarely) quite as obvious as the man and the bear. These disordered exchanges can take the form of relationships that require exacting behavior, unceasing solicitude, abject apologies, and instant attention, in exchange for an always-conditional “friendship” —  utterly devoid of reciprocity. It all depends on what we are willing to accept “in trade.”

In the larger arena, purchased loyalty becomes a commodity: an item that is marketed, advertised, and sold to/bought by the highest bidder. There is no honor in it, no nobility of purpose, no trust or sincerity. Today it is bread and circuses, tomorrow it will be cakes and ale, and the day after that whatever new desire or imagined need strikes our fancy. And we sell our souls so readily, for such paltry returns — most often, for nothing more than empty promises.

Something for Nothing

There was no “exchange” in Jesus’ actions there on the hillside that day. He wasn’t buying the crowd’s loyalty or selling his status in order to rule over them. He gave without expectation of return. The abundant food was a sign and symbol of the abundant, unconditional generosity of God.

“Your heavenly Father makes the sun shine upon the evil and upon the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
~ Matthew 5:45

But the people didn’t understand — it seemed incomprehensible then, as it still does to us, today — this divine notion of “something for nothing.” 

No money changed hands when wondrous healings occurred, no admission fees were charged for Jesus’ lectures, no allegiance was demanded in exchange for a fish sandwich. Throughout his ministry the Lord Christ gave freely, abundantly, compassionately; requiring nothing in return. Imagine that!

He certainly could have used “bread and circuses” to rise to a position of authority; Jesus’ resume offers plenty of examples that could meet those qualifications. But he would not. When faced with a crowd of people willing to sell him their loyalty — to give away their sovereign power over their bodies and souls in exchange for free meals — the Lord ran away and hid himself.

Jesus was opposed to all attempts to “turn My Father’s house into a marketplace” (John 2:16), including our willingness to sell ourselves and our sacred souls — handing over our loyalty and our obedience in exchange for trifles; giving others the power to manipulate us, to command us, to tell us what to think, what to believe, what to do… And when to dance.

Ultimate Matters

While some of his disciples continued to follow Jesus faithfully, many others abandoned him, turned off by his teachings, finding them simply too hard to understand. Heavenly bread that is more important, more nourishing, than the bread on our tables (and in our stomachs)? An all-powerful Lord who doesn’t demand titles or tithes or tributes, but gives of Himself, generously, wildly, abundantly — even laying down his own life for ours? What madness! What’s in it for Him???

What was in it for Him? Nothing. The pattern of Jesus’ life was not transactional: it was not about buying and selling, there were no in-kind trades; the debts He redeemed and the gifts He gave were free and clear; they carried no obligations.

The Lord Christ was the sign and symbol and incarnation of Perfect Love. Eternally outflowing, abundant, unstinting; a showing-forth of the Divine nature, asking nothing in return, He came to teach us how to live — nothing more, nothing less.

And in those days there were doubters, cynics, and scoffers — just as there are, today; for who can imagine One who loves without conditions, One who gives without expectation of return? 

Imagine that.

Imagine being loved and sustained by God’s freely-given, boundless, limitless love and compassion. Now go forth, believing and behaving as if that Truth were true.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

In what ways have you sold your loyalty, and to whom, in exchange for what? Who commands that you dance, and how? What must you do, lest the bear/s in your life cease dancing?

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Like God?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 16, 2018

Genesis 3:1-15 ~ told by Deborah

Now the snake was more cunning than any of the other wild creatures that God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God say, ‘You mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“We can eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden,” she told him, “but God said, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden — don’t even touch it — or you will die.’”

“Oh, piffle!” the snake said, “You won’t die! It’s just that God knows that when you eat from it you’ll see how things really are — and you will be like God: knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was delicious as well as decorative, she picked some and ate it, and gave some to her husband (who was there with her), and he ate it, too.

Then they had knowledge, and cunning, and they covered their bodies, concealing themselves from God and from each other. 

They heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves among the trees.

And God called to the man, “Yoo-hoo! Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid.”

“Who told you that you were naked?” God demanded, “Have you eaten fruit from the tree that I told you to leave alone?”

The man said, “It was that woman; the one You gave to be with me — she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

Then God said to the woman, “What have you done?” 

The woman said, “It was the snake. The snake beguiled me, and I ate.”

God said to the snake, “That was a low-down dirty thing you did! From now on all creatures will despise you; you’ll slither on the ground with your face in the dirt all the days of your life, and your tongue will never utter another word. You and the woman will fear and hate each other forever; and your descendants and hers will perpetually try to destroy one another.”

The Snake in the Garden

Oh dear, the snake. I’m never quite sure how I feel about that critter. Sometimes I suspect he’s the hero of the story, other times I’m certain he’s the villain. The tale itself slides between an amusing Just-So story (“How the snake lost his legs”) and a terrible tragedy, as humanity is cast from the garden of perfect delight forever — our re-entry blocked by a sword-wielding angel.

How, exactly, does it all come about?

Apparently Snake and the human couple are already acquainted; the conversation between them begins with no introductions, just a seemingly casual inquiry: “What’s up with you and that tree?” Is Snake a friend who stopped by for a cup of tea and a bagel, just making small talk, or thinking about trying the fruit himself and curious to see what might happen? Was he bored with nothing else to do that day, an innocent bystander, or an Enemy who sought to bring them harm?

We are not told of anyone’s intentions; the events simply unfold before our eyes.

The End of the Beginning?

It’s possible that the outcome for us was inevitable. After all, Snake tells the woman that humans will be like God “when you eat from the tree,” as if it is a done deal; as if there is something in our nature — something designed in — that pushes us to test the boundaries, to challenge limits, and even to try to supplant our Creator: to “become like God.”

Did Snake hand us the key to our freedom? Was that first “disobedience” actually a revelation: demonstrating that we could choose how to act, whether to act, what to say, and who to trust? Was he a Tempter or a Teacher — or both? In discovering our abilities, we also learned of the accompanying responsibilities; in the New World of free will, there are consequences to the choices we make.

Sometimes downright unpleasant ones.

No wonder that every culture has a myth of a Perfect long ago, and that all people share a dream of an Ideal future (though the specifics vary). We yearn for a time of bliss and leisure, peace and plenty — when all the ugly end-results of our choosings and our doings are utterly cast out.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things will have passed away.”  ~ Revelation 21:4

The Blame Game

The Genesis story also reminds us of the comforting lie that persists: our human proclivity to blame God for the choices that we make, and for failing to intervene when things go amiss. In it do we not hear the oft-repeated insistence that the divine Presence ought to protect us from ourselves? “It’s Your fault: You gave the woman to me.” Why did You plant that tree there in the first place? Why didn’t You stop me? Why did You make ice cream taste so good? Why did You put that where I could reach it? 

Perhaps we’d already learned a little something at our wily teacher’s knee: what other explanation for the man’s instant, glib reply when challenged by God? How cunning he was to redirect the blame, assigning guilt to the woman — and thus degrading and denouncing the holy gift that he had been given. Not “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” but “Nothing to do with me;” willing to partake, but not to accept responsibility.

In our very denials we implicate ourselves: we know that our choices influence and affect events and situations throughout creation. We want to take charge, to claim authority, to arrange the world according to our taste; we want to decide and determine: to “be as God.” But, when things go wrong, how readily we pass on the blame to someone else! Anyone else.

True Friends?

The curious part is the apparent friendship with Snake. Does it signify that we humans have always been entranced by the ability to beguile and deceive, never dreaming that those same wiles can be turned against us? Perhaps it speaks to the death of innocence, our discovery that so-called friends can lie, mislead, and use us for their own ends. 

But the story doesn’t stop there. It shows that all of us are capable of behaving less than honorably, stooping so low as to turn against our friends in order to save our own skins. The man did so at once, attempting to use his wife as a human shield against Divine wrath, and the woman was the same, passing the blame on to their former friend and colleague. As a matter of fact, Snake is the only party who didn’t deny responsibility for what had been done. 

We see, too, how lies destroy relationships. The woman and Snake are no longer friends, but lasting enemies, each sworn to destroy the other — a vendetta which will be carried on by their descendants, down through the ages. And I wonder if the situation was not the same between the man and the woman, for, in the aftermath, God commands that she “desire” her husband — was it not spontaneous, before? It would seem that, when our relationships are out of true, laws and rules become the cause of “right conduct” rather than the desires of our hearts.

Knowing Good and Evil

Was Snake telling the truth: in our knowledge of good and evil, has humanity become “like God”? Or are we simply “beguiled” — that marvelously descriptive term! — by the notion?

There can be no question that we have accumulated vast amounts of information; we have gained the ability to do wondrous deeds — near-miracles by any valuation: curing diseases, prolonging life, repairing genomes, splitting the atom…. but we have not attained the wisdom to use them well. We possess the power to destroy our planet a thousand-times over, yet we continue to build weapons of death. We have intelligence in abundance, but very little understanding. We successfully transplant organs, giving recipients “a new heart,” while others live in heartbreak and sorrow (and others are mean-spirited and hard hearted).

Like God, humanity knows what is good and what is evil, but we aren’t grace-full enough to decide as we ought; often choosing what appeals to our ego, rather than what is healing and kind. We easily, unwittingly, succumb to the temptation to consider ourselves as gods; important, essential, authoritative; our word is the law, our judgments are swift, our decisions are final, irreversible, exact, and true. That’s how it is to be “like God,” right?

Except.

Like God?

As the ancient prophets insisted and the Lord Christ showed forth in His ministry, God is less concerned with vengeance than with mercy; anxious to save, to help, and sustain; patient and hopeful, the Eternal is a Being of infinite love and compassion who desires our greatest good. Therefore, to be “like God” would mean to be graciously self-giving, abundantly generous, and immensely caring.

Those characteristics are very different from what we ordinarily imagine “godlike” to be. 

So was Snake an enemy who beguiled us with promises of omniscience and infallibility, resulting in confusion, suffering, and pain? Or are we the authors of our own delusions? Perhaps we become so entranced by grandiose fantasies and cultural imperatives that we fail to recognize that it is the plain and simple things that truly matter.

It was not for nothing that our Lord came to us as a humble servant. 

Jesus Christ, in His infinite love, has become what we are, in order that He may make us entirely what He is.
~ St. Irenaeus of Lyons

It would seem that we are most “like God” when we are fully human. May we choose to act accordingly.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Consider:

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
~ St. Irenaeus of Lyons

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