Confronting Evil

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 18, 20197

Again … and Again, and Again

San Bernardino, Parkland, Charleston, Strasbourg, Paris, Orlando, Boston, Ft. Hood, Marrakesh, Pittsburg, Peshawar, Las Vegas, Jolo, Christchurch, … And so it goes.

Another shooting, another heartrending list of names and life stories, another series of funerals, another set of demands for solutions, another chorus of angry denunciations against “those people” who are responsible for the despicable actions of the perpetrator. 

It has become a tragic, heartbreaking routine. And it will continue, as long as we ignore the real cause — which we assiduously, incessantly refuse to do.

We are eager to attribute the motivations for these unconscionable acts to specific belief systems, cultures, or communities; thus establishing an identifiable villain, an “enemy of the people,” to blame. It’s a very workable system, enabling us to believe that all of our troubles will be resolved if only we were rid of: the NRA, racists, radical Islamists, fundamentalist Christians, drug cartels, white supremacists, illegal immigrants, international bankers ….. or whatever group we currently love to hate. They are responsible; they are the guilty ones; they cause all the trouble; if it weren’t for those people, everything would be great.

We’re also perfectly willing to assign someone we’ve never met to one or more of these categories, and ascribe the most destructive and diabolical goals of that group to this person. He or she may be none of those things — but it’s simpler and more comforting to assume the worst. Because… well, because it isn’t us. We, of course, are not like them. But that other person is probably guilty of something.

We are on the side of the angels: we are able to point out the sins of those others. We, with our unblemished hands, can sit in the judgment seat and despise and condemn all of those horrible, utterly other people — of whom we know nothing, other than the attitudes and beliefs we attribute to them: primarily mindless prejudice, and, of course, insensible, insatiable hatred.

An odd accusation, coming from a culture that is consumed by hatred and division.

Them!

“Them!” “Those people!” Thoughtless, unsubstantiated labels are handy devices to affix to a person or group, effectively dismissing and discounting all that they say, all that they care about, all that they are. Individuality is erased with a single word; people are turned into mere caricatures serving to further our prejudices.

Because “it sells” (= is what we want to believe), the media have produced vast assemblages of prejudicial material, further inculcating and inflaming this hatred of “the other.” Whenever the interest in one group begins to fade, another one is raised up: “Look! Over there! A new group we can despise and hate and dehumanize. Another group that isn’t us, another group we can feel superior to, another group to blame for the raging hatred in our world.”

As we are repeatedly told how evil, despicable, deplorable, are those “others,” we grow convinced that they seek only to hurt, kill, and destroy; they are a danger to society. Considering these “facts,” eliminating these threats begins to seem … reasonable. Not merely reasonable, but necessary.

And then Christchurch happens. Or Orlando. Or any of a hundred other tragic events driven by hatred and fear and self-certainty.

Radical Hatred

Recently commentators have begun to use the term “radicalize” to describe those whose belief turns into an obsession. It is the development of a focus so narrow that all that can be seen is the “evil” that is blocking the achievement of the desired goal — which is, invariably, to make the world a better place (in their view). Those so radicalized believe that the destruction of this evil will be a good thing. And so they act accordingly.

The victims are not human beings to these murderers, they are enemies; they have no reality beyond their status as an evil to be eradicated. The overarching cause isn’t an “ism,” but an attitude. It is hatred and a conviction of irresolvable “otherness”: it is the ultimate form of “not us.”

These terrible acts are an extreme reaction to the “radicalizing” to which we’ve all been subjected, and in which we have all willingly participated. It all begins with “the other-ing” of one another. It begins when we cease to see one another as human beings. It begins when we categorize and condemn and hate people we do not know.

And it will continue, for as long as we continue to fuel the fires.

Original Sin

This does not mean we ought to accept as “normal” these terrible, unspeakably tragic killing sprees; murder must always be condemned in the strongest terms. What it does mean is that we need to admit our complicity in the spread of hatred, prejudice, and “othering.” 

The common thread in of all these tragedies is humanity. Human beings are murdering other human beings. People just like us are murdering people just like us. And the impulse to do so exists inside every one of us.

When we are tempted to think that the world would be improved if only “those others” were eliminated, we are murdering them in our hearts. Wholesale slaughter takes place in our imagination every time we divide and despise and condemn; each time we set ourselves as worthy of judging who deserves to exist.

The original sin remains as it always was — nothing to do with sex or nakedness or communing with snakes. It is the deep, distorted desire “to be as gods.” We yearn to be different from the rest of mere humanity: we want to be special, separate, apart; and, above all else, we want ultimate control over the world: that we might give life and take it away.

The Way Forward

The situation cannot be more clear: our world is being destroyed by hatred and division. 

And as for us, what shall we do? What should we say, how should we act, what should we hope for, pray for, work for, and believe in? 

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer should be equally clear: overcome evil with good. We are called to be compassionate, to heal, to bless, to encourage, to uplift. We affirm that all people are children of God, none are outside of the divine encirclement — there are no “others” in the eyes of God. 

It is hard — painful, in fact — to admit that the same hatred that kills multitudes, that same hard-heartedness and self-certainty, exists within all of us. In unguarded moments we succumb to the desire to eliminate our enemies. We may sugarcoat this murderous fantasy by claiming that the removal of these others would “save the world,” but the intention is the same. We want “to be as gods.” We want to set ourselves above all others; as superior beings, able to judge and condemn. 

We live in a world starved for kindness, hungering for compassion; longing for simple mercies of acceptance and understanding. It is a world in desperate need of Christ’s gospel: divine love, enacted in word and deed. This is the work we have been called to; may we be inspired and empowered to do it, gloriously.

Christ’s grace and healing love be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Make contact with a person who is different; one who is an “other” to you. Be compassionate; listen. Do not proselytize or try to convince: simply listen, and seek to learn, and to be a friend.

“Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure you use on others will be applied to you. How is that you notice the dust in your brother’s eye, but not see the log in your own?” ~ Matthew 7:1-2

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Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , , ,

It’s Perfectly Simple

Deborah Beach Giordano
© February 27, 2019

Luke 6:27-31

Jesus said,  

Love your enemies.

Do good to those who hate you.

Bless those who curse you.

Pray for those who revile you.

If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one, too.

If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt, as well.

Give to everyone who asks and, whatever they take, don’t demand its return.

As you want to be treated, treat others.

It’s That Simple

With these few words Jesus tells us how we are to live as His followers. There are no elaborate procedures or exotic rituals, no arcane laws or complex legal codes, no special initiations or secret handshakes; just a few simple rules, given in plain, straightforward language. 

The sentences are composed of basic verbs that even a child can understand: love, do good, bless, pray, turn away from anger, give. And treat others the way you want to be treated.

It’s that simple.

No conditions, no exceptions, no exclusions. 

But, what about….??

These simple, clear-cut, uncomplicated instructions describe how we are to behave as Christ’s disciples; as living embodiments of His teachings in this world. That’s it. End of story. 

Except…

Except for the fact that we humans have been endowed with great intelligence, cleverness, cunning — and a fierce determination to have our own way. So, for the last two thousand years we’ve searched diligently for work-arounds to avoid doing what our Lord Jesus told us to do. 

In the interim we’ve managed to find lots of ways to justify our unwillingness to follow Christ’s teachings. We’ve devised special circumstances, imposed restrictions, created vast categories of “exceptions” to the Lord’s clearly-defined rules. Basically, we’ve convinced ourselves that we only have to engage in Christian conduct when it suits us: when it aligns with our personal preferences and prejudices.

But woe unto those who disagree with our opinions, who hold other beliefs, have opposing views or live in other regions. Those “others” are not deserving of our compassion or care; we haughtily and heartily despise them, ignore their hurts, scorn their concerns, and refuse to engage with them. Words like love, do good, bless, pray, be generous, and turn away from anger are not in our vocabulary — not where “they” are concerned.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated”? Surely that only applies to decent people, the people we like, not just anybody and everybody — we can’t possibly be expected to extend that to those we consider loathsome. And as far as loving our enemies or doing good for them? Well, that’s just not going to happen. They’re beyond redemption; utterly in the wrong, nothing to do with us. Besides, we need to keep our distance; we don’t want to risk contamination. Ewww; they’re just nasty.

Really, there’s no way that what Jesus said can possibly apply to our time and situation; we’re different. We’re good, just the way we are, so there’s nothing more to be done.

Hold on a moment. I think I hear a rooster crowing.

Once More, with Feeling

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend without regret; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”
~ Luke 6:35-38

It isn’t up to us to determine the suitability of others: whether they “deserve” our respect or consideration; we are to conduct ourselves as true children of God, as faithful followers of the Lord Christ, with malice toward none and compassion toward all. To condemn is to write another off as of no value; to deny not merely that person — but the One who made him. We have neither the right — nor the ability — to judge the heart of another. 

We are called to compassion and to communion: if we are to be God’s own children, we will acknowledge our differences and seek our commonality. We are none of us so very different from one another: we are more alike than we are willing to admit. Our fascination with our “unique” character leads us into the temptation to believe that we are “special,” in a way that translates to “better than,” our sisters and brothers. We grow stubborn, spiteful, self-infatuated, deluded; our way becomes the only way — and we forget that it is the Lord Christ’s Way that we have been called to follow.

“If your heart is as my heart, take my hand.” ~ John Wesley

All Christians need not observe the same rituals or traditions, say the same prayers, or sing from the same hymnals, but — for the love of God! — we must be compassionate to one another. This has nothing to do with corporate unity or organizational politics: all human constructions are as summer grass that withers and is swept away; nor is it a balm to soothe our weary souls (though it may, indeed, serve that purpose), it is a sacrament. To love one another — those we consider our “enemies” as well as our friends — is a praise-offering to the Beloved, acknowledging the grace and beauty and holy potential inherent in every human being.

Simple — Not Easy

Love, do good, bless, pray, turn away from anger, give generously, treat others the way you want to be treated, be compassionate. A very simple set of instructions … that are very difficult to follow.

It’s so much easier to snipe and snarl and despise and condemn — and it makes us feel so superior that we hardly notice that it poisons our souls with cynicism and despair. The venom clouds our thinking, and we forget what Ultimately Matters; we forget who we are and Whose we are.

Following the Lord Jesus is simple, but not easy. It requires daily, hourly — sometimes minute to minute — effort to be compassionate, gracious, thankful, and kind. It is a glorious calling, and truly a very demanding one: a genuine work of carrying forth the Good News of God’s abundant grace and unfailing love. 

May the divine Advocate inspire and empower all of us to accomplish the holy work we have been called to do.

Christ’s peace and healing love be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Love, do good, bless, pray, turn away from anger, give generously, and treat others the way you want to be treated.

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

Everyone Who Was There

Deborah Beach Giordano
© February 18, 2019

Luke 6:17-19  ~ as told by Deborah

Jesus and his apostles came down from the mountain where He went to pray, and into the midst of a horde of humanity; there were fishermen and farmers, merchants and traders, soldiers and sailors, the educated and the illiterate, disciples and doubters and the desperate, the youthful and the long in the tooth, mothers and maidens and women of ill repute. People from all over Judea — from Jerusalem City to the harbor villages and everywhere in between — came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were tormented with vile spirits were made well.

And the whole crowd — all of them — surged around Him, reaching out, trying to touch Him; for power came out from Him and healed all of them.

Hold Your Horses!

There’s a problem with this passage: because we know what’s coming next and we’re in such a rush to get to “the important part” (Luke’s version of the Beatitudes), we skip over this, the prelude. In our hurry we miss an equally — perhaps more — important event that happened to the mob of people who had come to see Jesus that day:

“power came out from Him and healed all of them.”

Everybody who was there was healed. Imagine that. The rich and the poor, the devout and the demon-possessed, the best dressed and the worst behaved, the meekest and the meanest, Jewish city dwellers and Roman centurions..… everyone

All those who were there were healed. Jesus did not give special attention to either the good or the bad, the nice or the nasty, the righteous or the wrong-’uns; there was no Express lane for those with ten demons or less: everyone who was there was healed. Everyone.

But let’s think about that. How could everybody be healed? There were other people in the crowd: there were curiosity seekers and believers and folks who had just come to listen. How could it be that all of them were healed — when a lot of them weren’t even sick?

No, I’m OK, Really…

Perhaps some who were there were healed in spite of themselves: those who suffered in silence, unwilling or unable to admit the pain they endured; those who “toughed it out,” because they could not imagine — perhaps had never known — any other way. Still others may have believed that their suffering was a form of punishment for things they had said or done or thought.

It can happen. We may come to a point of surrendering all hope of happiness, all sense of worth or dignity. We may carry crushing burdens of sorrows and grief, be weighed down by guilt and fears that we refuse to acknowledge, heartaches we will not admit, yearnings we ignore. Souls can be sick and weary, and no one ever knows. It can happen, and it has happened to many of us — and many, who were very much like us, were there in the crowd that day.

And then the Lord Christ intervened. And every one who was there was healed

The Power

We are told that the healings were not brought about by what He said, but by the presence of the Lord. As far as we know, He didn’t even touch most of the people, and yet they were made well. There was was a “power,” a divine energy flowing forth from Jesus that blessed all who were there.

Was it some sort of holy magic, a curative power contained in Christ alone that will never be present in our world again? Or was it something else: a miracle of sorts, perhaps, but one that is utterly mundane and repeatable?

Perhaps it was in the way the Lord Christ saw those who were there. When He called his disciples, Jesus always spoke to them directly, individually. It was never, “Hey, you guys over there,” but a specific, “You, Simon, follow Me.” When confronted by a mob of people pushing and shoving and shouting, demanding attention, crying out for help and healing, grabbing at the hem of His robe, many of us would have turned and run right back up the mountain, or used the disciples as an advance guard to protect us and keep the crowds at bay. But Jesus fearlessly entered into their lives, striding directly into the messy business of being human.

The Way in the World

And, too, we would probably have viewed this chaotic scene as the Gospel writer did: as a “crowd of disciples” and a massive throng of “others.” But I don’t think that’s how Jesus viewed the world; to Him it wasn’t a “crowd:” there weren’t types or categories or sheer numbers of people, but individual human beings.

That’s an essential aspect of how Jesus blessed and healed, as evidenced by the Gospels: in recognizing each person’s unique qualities and character, seeing them for who they are, and where they are, and what they need. Jesus would not have seen a “throng,” but would have looked upon each one who was there as a specific, particular, blessed, child of God. 

And surely that what we all want: to be recognized as ourselves — not categorized into limiting designations as part of a herd or tribe or type, but to be truly seen for who we are.

More Than

We are more than the sum of our parts, more than our appearance, our ancestry, our accent; more than our aches, our injuries, our illnesses. We are more than what we have done or where we have been. Those things are part of us, but they are not all that we are. 

But it can be hard to see beyond the obvious, outward signs, even when we look at ourselves. We can get caught up in narrow patterns of thinking — seeing, as through a tunnel, darkly; taking note of only a single aspect. We can come to believe that this one thing is the whole thing: a person then becomes “saintly,” “wicked,” “wonderful,” “unreliable,” “a life-saver,” “a cheat.” Likewise we may conflate individuals with their illness, their age, their disease or (dis)abilities (“a leper,” “a drunk,” “an old coot,” “an addict,” “cancer,” “chronic fatigue,” “blind,” “PTSD,” “paraplegic”) — thus ignoring and obscuring their humanity.

No one is just one thing; we are as complex as 5,000-piece Lego kits without instruction diagrams. Every human being is a mix of diverse (and sometimes conflicting) wants and needs, loves and hates, impulses and ideas, emotions and experiences, hopes and fears, dreams and desires. Each one of us is infinitely different from all others; we are truly “amazingly and wondrously made” (Psalm 139). 

To focus on a single aspect is to miss The Big Picture, big time. And to categorize (and either lionize or demonize, or discount or dismiss) another person or group of people with a single epithet is an insult to the Maker.

And so, for us, we who say we follow the Lord Christ, how shall we live, what shall we do?

Healing Vision

This brings us back to Jesus, there in the middle of the crowd of people who were healed by being in His presence. Was that event a one-off? Is Jesus the once and future king who has left the building — taking His glory and His gracious healing with Him? Or, as we claim, are Christians “the body of Christ at work in the world”? Have we not been empowered, through our baptism and the energy of the Holy Spirit, to do “all He has done, and more” (John 14:12)? If so, then what are we waiting for?

Big miracles are marvelous, awe-inspiring — and exceedingly rare; it is the small, subtle, “everyday miracles” that keep the Light of Christ shining. Acts of kindness, gentle smiles, and simple acknowledgements can lift spirits and soothe weary souls.

Such things take only a few moments, and are easily accomplished. Yet so often we neglect them in our rush to get where we think we are going. We have no time for small talk, we’re busy with our work, caught up in our worries, thinking about other things, looking at our phones; it’s quicker and easier to order our coffee without making eye contact, avoid those we do not know, and only speak when we are spoken to.

As one of my directees said, “I can’t tell you what the guard in our building looks like — and I walk past him every day.”

Is it any wonder that loneliness and isolation are rampant in our world? 

Everyone

And everyone who was in His presence was healed.

To be in the presence of Christ is to be seen, not merely looked at: to be recognized in our individuality, not classified as members of a crowd or class or type, or treated as mere objects. It is to be lifted up in a genuine encounter of compassion and understanding; to be acknowledged and honored as one Child of God by another. 

To develop Christlike vision requires us to be fully present to each another. It means giving our undivided attention to the other person. Imagine that. Really. Take a moment to imagine what it would be like to give someone your undivided attention; seeing that person — and only that person — without distractions, presumptions, or prejudices. 

Imagine the holy power that could be unleashed if we all openly, honestly, compassionately encountered one another. What an amazing healing gift that would be — for everyone who was there!

May Christ’s gracious light, and healing vision be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Practice the gift of Christ-vision: genuinely seeing those you encounter as individuals, recognizing their uniqueness, blessing them with your compassion and undivided attention. 

Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , ,

A Joyful Celebration

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 21, 2019

John 2:1-11 ~told by Deborah

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus’ mother was there, along with Jesus and his disciples.

When the wine ran out, his mother said to Jesus, “They have no wine!”

But Jesus said to her, “Woman, what has that got to do with you — and with me? Now isn’t the time.…”

His mother said to the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.”

There were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding about thirty gallons.

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they did.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, not knowing where it had come from (but the waiters who had drawn the water knew), he said to the groom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then puts out the cheap stuff after all the guests have had a snootful. But you saved the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

On the third day …

The author of John’s Gospel begins the introduction to Jesus’ public ministry by telling us that what happens next took place on “the third day.” 

Oh ho! We hear those words and are immediately on the alert: What was that?

The phrase leaps out at us like a gazelle that suddenly appeared — then vanished amid the mundane details of Galilean social life. A wedding reception, empty wine jugs, tipsy guests, idle conversation; an average day with minor problems …. Why are future echoes of that distant “third day” sounding now?

We weren’t expecting anything like that, not so soon, no hints of the Resurrection — nor the suffering preceding; no betrayals or trials or crucifixions — not here amid the noise and distractions and general celebration; not in this place or time. In fact, we’re not quite sure what it is that we saw.

With those words the author has very deftly situated us right alongside those who were there. We are as surprised, confused, and uncertain as the rest of the wedding guests. 

The Setting

Jesus is sitting at one of the tables, fiddling with an empty cup, laughing and joking with his friends. If there were a photograph, he’d be in the background, half-hidden behind the bridal couple; not in the spotlight, of no special interest, just another face in the crowd. Most people wouldn’t even remember that he was there.

But he was. The Lord Christ was in our midst, unnoticed. Miracles occurred right under our noses, and we were blind as moles. We didn’t see divine blessings — didn’t even know what had happened.

That is often still the case, today.

Now, some people did know what Jesus had done that day: the waitstaff knew, the disciples knew. And, of course, Mary, his mother, knew: she was the one who initiated the remarkable transformation. (As an aside: Speaking as a mom, I find it infinitely charming that the Lord agreed to do what he could to make his mother happy.)

The First Miracle?

But that’s a curious thing. Although the author tells us this that was the first of Jesus’ divine signs, Mary seemed quite confident that he could resolve the problem. How did she know?

We might say that she had faith; that’s the traditional reading. But her comment is made so casually, a gentle nudging, rather matter-of-fact: Come on, I know there’s something you can do. It’s as if she’s had experience; as if the miraculous is, with Him, routine.

In the early days of the Christian tradition, stories of the childhood of Jesus were in circulation — none of which were received into the canon. Many are charming, some are alarming: not all of them end happily. These “apocryphal” tales describe how the little boy — fully human as well as fully divine — learns what he is capable of doing. Some of his childish miracles bring abundance and new life, others bring grief and pain. 

Though they are not chronicles of “what really happened,” for me these stories confirm that the adult Jesus was aware of his abilities and was mindful of how to use them. He did not act thoughtlessly or in ignorance, but with wisdom and understanding. Through lived experience the Lord had learned that words can cut and wound, or comfort and heal; that anger is destructive, but compassion gives life. He understood the enormous potential of holy power that, once released, cannot be recalled.

Initiation Sequence

This explains the author’s emphasis on “the third day.” In turning the water into wine, publicly revealing Who he was, the Lord set off a series of events that would lead, inexorably, to the Cross and, in turn, to Easter morning. Once the Power was released into the world, there was no opting-out, no turning back, nothing could stop it; the launch sequence had begun: Christ’s mission would proceed according to the divine plan. 

This initial “third day” was a catalyst for that holy Third Day — and every day in between (as well as all of the days that follow). In a seemingly insignificant, though impressive, miracle, discretely arranged and apparently unclaimed, the transformation of the world began.

But hardly anybody noticed.

We, sitting among the other guests, weren’t really sure what we saw — or if we saw anything; like glimpsing a gazelle dashing through the garden. It all happened in a flash, quite suddenly. Maybe a spark of sunlight reflected oddly in the wine newly poured by the waiter. Perhaps a taste, a swallow, a surprised glance into the cup, a comment: “Where did this wine come from? It’s leagues better than the one they served before.” Perhaps there was something, but who could be certain? And, as many of those present had dulled their palates with much mediocre wine, they had no taste for the fine new one.

It is Done

From Cana, Jesus’ Way now formally begins; it will take him to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, to Calvary, and to the Resurrection. It would seem that, after the wedding miracle, the Lord might well have declared, “It is done,” — for in this Act all His other works were set in motion; the rest of His mission would follow. 

His time had come. The holy power was unleashed.

Pouring Forth

It is from this point forward, in John’s telling, that Jesus’ ministry really takes off; growing greater, expanding outward from the local region, reaching Samaria and the farther provinces of Judea. Through His word a child’s life is restored, the hungry are fed, the crippled walk, and — at His touch, a blind man is given sight. Alight with holy passion, He challenges religious profiteers, debates priests and theologians, persuades the doubtful, rescues the fallen, inspires and encourages ever-increasing multitudes. 

Wherever he goes, those who encounter Jesus are transformed by his presence: some, in glorious, soul-renewing ways — like water into wine. Others find their teeth set on edge: the mean-spirited, the hard-hearted, the smugly self-certain become angry, suspicious, and antagonistic. Meeting the Lord changes lives. 

Typical

John’s Gospel is the only one that tells of the wedding in Cana, and describes it as “the first” of Jesus’ divine signs. Perhaps we might say it was of the primary sort: typical of the Lord’s miracles, exemplifying the character of the deed and the Doer. There was no spotlight or grandstand, no shouting or self-aggrandizement, only a Gift, freely given. A blink and you would have missed it, perhaps felt only a subtle change — a sudden smile, a spark of joy, a flicker of warm remembrance — and never recognized its Source. But you would be blessed, just the same. That’s how Jesus worked. 

The Wedding Feast

Perhaps there is another meaning to be drawn from Jesus’ first miracle having taken place at a wedding celebration. It signifies an occasion of joy and delight — and even mystery; festivities founded in love, sustained by hope and promise. 

Love unleashes holy Power, infusing us with greater wisdom and profound understanding. Worldly cynicism describes the experience as somehow defective or distorted: “looking through rose-colored glasses,” but do we not, in fact, see more clearly when we are deeply in love? The sky is bluer, the grass greener, the people kinder, the wine sweeter. Beauty shines forth where ever we look; we are filled with compassion and tenderness, enlivened with creative imagination: all things are possible.

Love is a kind of holy intoxication — not drunkenness or incapacity, but a gentle merriment. It is as if we’ve supped from a chalice of sacred wine and been transformed into a divine energy source: blessings stream forth from us to everyone we meet. That’s how Jesus worked.

The First Supper

Another difference between John’s Gospel and the synoptics is the absence of what we know as “the Last Supper;” the meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his arrest and crucifixion. Instead, there is the wedding feast — which, I suggest, defines Christ’s message; revealing, in a single act, the style and significance of Jesus’ ministry. It is a celebration of love: a joy-filled community of friends and neighbors and people we’ve only just met. 

The reality of what is called Jesus’ sacrifice was in His giving of His life to us: living with us, walking with us, celebrating with us, even to sorrowing and dying with us. From the initial divine sign on that first “third day” to the glorious third day of Easter morning, Christ’s Gospel was the same: a celebration of love; of God’s enduring, passionate love for us.

All who have partaken of Christ’s message go forth as if from a sacred party — with merry hearts, intoxicated with love, tipsy with divine delight, infused with holy power. We follow His Way of compassionate wisdom, empowered, inspired, fearless and free.

May your spirit always drink from the Cup of holy joy,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Allow yourself to fall in love with God.

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

A New Beginning

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 14, 2019

Revelation 21:1-6a

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from heaven from God, as lovely as a bride on her wedding day. 

And I heard a shout from the Throne, “Look! God’s home is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; all people will be His people — God Himself will live with them! He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the One who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Then he said to me, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega: the beginning and the end.”

New Beginnings

This well-known passage from Revelation envisions a world in which death is eliminated. There is no more suffering or pain, no sorrow nor grieving. Wrong-doing and injustice cannot exist — for God will rule over all people, everywhere.

It sounds … well, divine. 

However, in order to reach this ideal, everything that has gone before has vanished without a trace, destroyed in a terrifying fire and brimstone-laden version of the Flood (without a Noah to rescue the animal species) which John of Patmos recounts at length, relishing every gory detail. To attain his version of A Perfect World requires that this earth and all of its inhabitants must go through hell — literally.

And I wonder. As easy as it is to scoff at poor John the Exile’s angry screed, perhaps we should offer him both sympathy and thanks — for his (bad) example. 

In his frustration and impatience, John expressed the sort of all-or-nothing thinking that all flesh is heir to. In short: when first efforts fail — knock everything down and start over.

A New Day, New Beginnings

It’s only been a short while ago; I’m sure you remember how, throughout the holiday season, we were inundated with advertising enticing us to “celebrate in style” with extravagant feasts, liquor-laced fruitcakes, sugar cookies, chocolate candies, and high-calorie beverages. For the less-ambitious among us there were offers of 2-for-1 pizzas, free bread sticks, and discount coupons for drive-through restaurants. Gloria in Excesses, Deo!

And now…. 

It’s the New Year. Now is the time for new beginnings, a fresh start, a “new me:” a new diet, more exercise, civic involvement, enrolling in night classes, learning Italian, engaging in daily bible study, praying more and swearing less. Our minds are filled with ideals as glorious and transformative as John of Patmos’ heavenly-new-world dreams. 

A new year, a new beginning, and we’re ready to rock and roll. At least for a few days. Or a couple of weeks. Then the enthusiasm fades, the hoped-for successes are slow in coming, we slip back into old patterns and habits, get bored, and pretty soon we’ve given up. Maybe next year. Another time. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.

It would be ever so much easier if we could erase the flab and the failings, change our work schedule, our energy level, our body type, our culture, our community, our family history and our chromosomes — and then, then all would be well. You know: if only we could have a shiny new, unblemished, utterly different beginning to work from.

You know: one sent down from heaven.

Just like John of Patmos wanted.

Familiarity

Change is not easy. Let me say that again: Change. is. not. easy. Human beings are creatures of habit and convenience. We are inclined to repeat what has worked for us before — with the understanding that what has “worked” is not necessarily what is the best for us (or for others), only that it has caused us the least discomfort. This may translate into what is quick, or easy, or familiar — even when it “works” to our disadvantage.

Battered spouses, abused children, the intimidated and victimized very often remain in situations that are harmful — even deadly, simply because it is familiar. There can be a sense of security in the knowledge of “this is how things work” — even if the workings result in bruises and broken bones, broken hearts, and broken lives. Even a sense of fear (“Don’t say anything to upset her,”) can be part of a familiar — recognized, expected, and thus, comforting — pattern. Terrible things can be “normalized” as a current expression gives it.

The same is true for substance abuse. Hangovers are a misery, the DTs are horrifying, the craving for drugs is agonizing, the risk of death from overdose or tainted product is ever-present. But the addict can rationalize these as “just how things are” in his life.

Most of us have not “normalized” behaviors as dangerous as these examples, yet we’re all inclined to make excuses for the things we do: “That’s just how it is.” But that isn’t how it has to be.

Change is not easy; it doesn’t “come down from heaven,” all at once as a clean and shiny new beginning. Change takes place one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time — and always one decision at a time. It is a process, a series of choices. One mess up or mistake doesn’t negate all that went before, nor spoil any chance for the future. It is a warning; a signpost: Here be dragons — so watch your step.

Changing behavior takes practice. It also takes patience.

And so, to succeed, we slouch onward, toward our new ideal — not leaping tall buildings like Superman or Wonder Woman, but as ordinary mortals. With patience and self-acceptance (and self-forgiveness), we can face the challenges and setbacks of establishing new behaviors, rejecting old patterns, learning new ways to be.

But Wait! There’s More!

Meanwhile…. Our consumerist culture entices us to believe in instant success, immediate (“Amazing!”) results: weight loss, clear skin, pain relief, great credit, sound sleep, a new language — many of which require almost no effort (“Easy!”) and all readily available… for a price. And we are often tempted by their claims. Because we wish they were true.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to learn a new language while you sleep — without bothering with any of those pesky verb conjugations or memorizing a new vocabulary? And it sure would be great to eat whatever we want and still lose weight! 

But the world doesn’t work that way. Miracles are few and far between.

He Who Came Down from Heaven

Which brings us to One who figured largely in the Exile’s imagination, and Who is central to our own faith and belief. As His followers, we proclaim that new life has indeed “come down from heaven” for us — in the form of Jesus Christ. In His life we have life.

The holy Lord showed us the Way we are to follow. He is our Guide and Teacher in how we are to live; what we are to hope for, work for, pray for, and believe in. 

And He lived as we live. 

Yes, there were powerful works of healing, nourishment, and restoration. No one was outside the grace and mercy of Christ’s ministry: the young, the old, women, men, Gentiles, Jews, Samaritans, the deaf, the lame, lepers, and even Roman legionnaires — all were precious in His sight. These miracles were part of the Lord Jesus’ revelations of God’s compassion and expansive, unlimited love. 

But beyond these holy demonstrations were the far greater — and far more numerous — examples of His wild-ranging, fearless and faithful presence among us. As Christians have declared since the beginning: the Lord Jesus walked with us; born of a woman, living as we live, loving as we love, grieving as we grieve, suffering as we suffer, dying as we die. He did not engage in divine shortcuts; not even when hanging upon the cross.

A New Beginning

Jesus brought forth upon this earth a new beginning: an affirmation of God’s care and compassion — and of the holy commitment to our world, and all who live within it. It is not to be destroyed, but redeemed. We are called to be part of A Work in Progress: a Kingdom built on Christlike lovingkindness. Simply put: God hasn’t given up on us. Each new day is a renewal of the promise (and the opportunity): there is still time.

If God has faith in us, who are we to argue?

Christ’s peace and joy be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

What change do you want to make in your life?

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

Praise for the Gift of the Earth

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 1, 2019

Inspired by Psalm 148

A cloud-swirled marble
swathed in aquas,
grays, and indigos,
held tenderly
in place
within a universe
of endless possibility.

God spoke: Glorious.

The skylights of the heavens
clad in every color,
hue, and vibrancy,
tremble in awe above us,
gazing raptly
at our planet’s majesty.

God spoke: Magnificent.

Whale and walrus,
lobster, lamprey, and starfish,
seaweed, seal, and stingray,
shark, sardine, and octopus,
sea monsters
abiding in the waters.

God spoke: Astonishing.

Oceans, seas, and rivers,
streams, creeks, and arroyos,
wadis, wells, and water holes;
refresh, cleanse, and sustain.

God spoke: Life-Giving.

Wind, rain, and sleet,
snow, hail, and heat,
storms, fog, foul and fair weather;
wild ranging,
endlessly changing.

God spoke: Variety.

Mountains, hills, and valleys,
deserts, forests, and grasslands,
ice-crowned peaks, and night-dark caverns!
Goats and gulls, giraffes and grasshoppers,
butterflies and buttercups,
lizards and lilacs, lions and ladybugs,
penguins and panthers, camels and crows,
owls, ocelots, and ostriches,
apes and ants — and anteaters, too.

God spoke: Exaltation.

Earthly rulers, CEOs,
the rich, the powerful and the prideful,
presidents, politicians, and prime minsters,
bureaucrats, bankers, and board members,
your strength will one day fade,
your names forgotten,
your bodies turned to dust.

God spoke: I AM.

All people, join together:
the young, the old,
the weak, the strong,
the grieving and the joyful;
all people of every town and tribe,
of every age and station,
join together
and give thanks to the Lord.

Join me in praising the Lord our God;
join in, shouting Hallelujah!

God says, “Bring all who claim me as their God,
for I have made them for My glory.
It was I who created them.” ~ Isaiah 43:7

May joy and thanksgiving fill your heart!

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Look up and down and around you — and give thanks.

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

For those who find this Season difficult

You who delight in Christmas festivities, who look forward to joining with others in celebration, who will be spending time with people they love and enjoy — need read no further. Abundant blessings upon you and yours, and may this holy Season always be as bright in your homes and your hearts as it is today.

For those who find this Season difficult

An inescapable,
invasive
anxiety;
incessant
exhaustion
that no sleep
can alleviate.

Grim dread
stretching forth:
a noxious,
oozing Styx,
gray wraiths
cry out
from the swirling
stinking depths;
a cackling, smirking
boatman
who must be paid
in sugar-coated smiles.

The suffocating circle
pressing close,
insistent, inexorable,
gasping,
grasping,
wielding words
as sharp as knives.

Clenched fists
conceal wounds
of ages past;
death-mask grins
disguise miseries
long endured;
lies are repeated,
pain is perpetuated,
ancient secrets
remain unspoken.

Within the glinting,
glaring,
garland-bedecked
Season
darkness abides;
a sacrilegious parody,
an unholy pretense:
all is merry
and bright —
for the sake
of appearances.

You are understood. Your pain is unique, the causes personal and particular, yet the sense of abandonment and grief, of artifice and emptiness is shared: a widely-kept secret in a vast community of the silent. 

This Season of gathering darkness (bringing us our longest night), is also a shout of defiance, a refusal to accept the bleak and barren as the final word on life. Candles are lighted to spite the darkness; yule logs burn, their warmth outlasting the persistence of the cold winter night. And so, in us, may we find the light of hope and the courage to persist.

For Christians, this is the hinge of the year when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus; the One we call the Light of the World, the aspect of God’s full-gracious love, the final Word — which is life in spite of death, compassion in spite of suffering, kindness in spite of antagonism, peace in spite of violence and hate. In short: a world transformed from bleak and barren midwinter to an ever-present, endlessly-repeated birth and new beginning. 

It is a Message of peace; of sustaining quietude and tender compassion. It is a gift that we offer to one another through kindness and understanding, and a gift we can give to ourselves. If the days ahead fill you with dread, if obligations feel overwhelming, stop. Take a breath. Choose well and wisely what truly matters; be kind and tender to one another as to the Christ Child himself — especially to yourself.

Peace and grace to you,

Rev. Deb  ♰

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections | Tagged