My Marriage Advice

I got a call last week from a former student, asking if I would consider officiating at his wedding in a few weeks, so I met him over coffee this week to talk the whole thing through. He and his fiancée are in their mid-twenties, so certainly they’ve had a bit of time to settle into adulthood, but like all couples getting ready to take the plunge, they have no idea what they’re about to commit to long-term. At the risk of sounding negative, life is a series of losses and heartaches peppered generously with moments of bliss and a whole lot of mundane activities that tend to obscure the things we value most. I’ve officiated at my share of weddings over the past decade, and I’ve got a few failed relationships of my own under my belt, so I think I know a thing or two about relationships and marriage. This week, then, is my abbreviated pre-marital rant…

A relationship, in the truest sense of the word, means relating to another human soul—celebrating areas of common ground where we feel affirmed. The more challenging part of relating to someone else, however, is finding ways to make individual differences come together to make an organic whole. As anyone who has spent time with couples in crisis can tell you, so often we choose relationships with an underlying predetermined outcome in mind. When the object of our affection doesn’t quite fit the ideal, we are tempted to remake them, creating a refined version of the raw material they bring into our lives. It’s one thing if the other person actually asks for our guidance and direction (unlikely) but if not, then we’re being fundamentally dishonest. The relationship we’re imagining is a fiction, and any time our beloved steps outside the boundaries of our illusion, we become frustrated and disappointed that our project is failing. An honest relationship is one in which we accept each other as whole individuals, finding a way to share our different perspectives and experiences without any expectation of change. The way we interact with another person is always fluid and renewing if we keep honesty at the core.

By wanting to give another person a makeover, we are basically saying we can’t accept them for who they are. I’ve been in that situation myself, where someone I thought loved me unconditionally chose to leave because I wasn’t the paragon of perfection this person needed me to be. It was devastating to have to accept the loss of a long-term relationship with so much history, but I eventually had to appreciate the fact that the relationship was predicated on a false expectation that I could never have lived up to. Whenever that happens, we’re not relating to another person from a real place, we’re just preventing ourselves from learning and growing through the hard times so we can live to rejoice another day.

Sometimes there is an acute need for change in a relationship, but the only makeover any of us has the power to effect is the one we make on ourselves. By accepting our partners for exactly who they are–the ideal and the not-so-ideal–we can create an atmosphere of respect and nurture in our relationships.  We might even come to appreciate another person for the very first time. Working from within the parameters of our own hearts, we decide how we will relate to the people and the world around us; when we can embrace it all, without conditions, we give the gift we all need most of all—acceptance.

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Lose the weight, baby!

From the time I was 8 years old until I was a teenager, I had it drilled into my head by the Sisters that my body is a living temple of the Holy Spirit, and that means I should respect, honor and care for my physical body because of the precious treasure it holds. My body has proven to be amazingly resilient: it has bounced back after many surgeries and illnesses, it’s flexible and strong (I was able to do splits until I was 46.) But the best thing about bodies is that it’s through them we experience all the wonder of God’s creation. So when suddenly the pants seem snug or the buttons on the shirt become projectiles, we make a choice to lose some weight by eating more consciously. Carry extra pounds is exhausting and saps our energy while it tends to foster an idea that our body is less our temple and more our enemy. So, acting in the body’s highest good, we set aside the foods that are not in our best interest, choosing instead to nourish that hunger rather than just feed it.

Sometimes, however, we are pursued by a hunger that simply will not be sated physically, and that is maybe when we’re carrying excess weight in a spiritual sense. Maybe we’ve been carrying a lot of sorrow or envy or anger; perhaps we’re longing for a life that used to be, but will never return. Maybe we’re carrying guilt and shame from our past, believing that forgiveness is for everybody on the planet, but not for us.

With both our physical bodies and our spiritual selves, we can make better choices for ourselves at any moment. We make these choices lovingly, working from a place of integrity, wanting nothing more than our highest good according to God’s will. From this place, we can be gently honest with ourselves about the reasons we want to eat certain foods and why we feel the need to carry unnecessary baggage. We can reach out to doctors to help us determine if our bodies are out of balance at a level that requires something other than basic nutrients. We can also reach out to our spiritual friends for support, especially the ones we trust will understand where we are.

If the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is also the temple of our spirit. When we treat our spirits and our bodies as we would a treasured gift from our Lover, it’s a whole lot easier to let the negative things go and just look for the joy that is waiting to be uncovered. Our bodies are not our enemies, and we are not fighting a battle. Neither are our spirits. Instead of fighting, we are investing care and attention in order to love ourselves as God loves us. And then, and only then, does the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves make any darned sense.

Losing weight with you this week, I remain,

Fr. Michel

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ROAD TRIP!!!

I can still remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation I felt as a kid whenever we would all pile into the station wagon and take a road trip to see family. Sometimes we’d bring books to read, or some snacks to nibble on, and of course we each brought our own seating plan, having already decided who was going to get stuck sitting next to the baby or Quilly, my sister. (Quilly wore glasses and was a goody-goody, so sitting next to her for any length of time was always a buzz kill.) Sometimes, if we were lucky, Dad would let me get out and watch the attendant fill the gas tank, eager to take a deep whiff of the gasoline, which I found strangely delightful and exotic. (Apparently my family hadn’t heard of possible danger associated with sniffing gasoline!)  I wasn’t in charge of anything related to where we were headed or what snacks we kids could bring, or even where I would sit, because Mom could always veto the seating arrangement I had worked out so meticulously.My only job was to shut up, enjoy the ride, and if I was lucky enough to have a window seat, I could discretely hang my head out the window like a puppy in springtime, feeling the wind on my face, with complete confidence in my dad’s driving.

Through the years, with three kids of my own, the roles reversed. I got to decide every detail about the trips: where we were going, how long we were going to stay, who sat next to whom, what snacks and books were to be brought, etc… The only job my kids had was to shut up, not fight, and hang their heads out the windows and feel the wind on their faces. Those road trips were special and like most of you who are parents, I would trade just about everything to be able to relive just one of those glorious days with my kids, before 9/11, before the heroin and opioid crisis, before  I lost my firstborn.

Of course, the situation continues to change because now my son, Phil, the only one of my sons to have kids of his own, has more to do that hang his head out the window.  He’s had to plan and be responsible for his family’s roadtrips and they’re different because most of the family members he and his brothers and I used to travel to see are either dead or they live very far away.

Today, I am 100% responsible for getting myself where I’ve promised to be or where I want to go. I have to take responsibility for leaving and arriving on time, pumping my own gas (since there aren’t any attendants anymore,) and I have to tag team with my girlfriend, Siri, to get directions–which is at least easier than trying to read a paper map! And it turns out, it’s pretty challenging to hang your head out the window to feel the wind in your face when you’re the driver! That’s why I like convertibles, I guess.

All of this is to say that I think Mark  expresses a really nice, Norman Rockwell kind of ideal in this reading from his gospel today. We need to receive the Kingdom like a little child, with complete trust in God to handle this road trip called life. But for me that ship has long since sailed; that station wagon has long since hit the scrap heap at the junkyard. For better or worse, I’m in the driver seat now, with a head full of doubts and worries and fears.  That’s because being an adult means embracing anxiety.

I’m not the only adult to struggle with this “become like a child” entrance requirement for the Kingdom of God. In the narrative flow of Mark, this story occurs as Jesus prepares to head for Jerusalem in chapter 11. This story is followed by three accounts of other people whose anxious preoccupations prevent them from fully trusting God on their trip, all of them at the end of chapter 10: the rich man, Peter, and James and John. Mark tells us it’s impossible to trust God fully if we’re preoccupied with our stuff, our paycheck or what others think of us.

That requirement for entering the Kingdom remains, though: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” For Mark, faith is different than it is for us.  For him faith is plugging into the power of God and then obeying and trusting without doubt–like a kid trusts his or her parents.

This appeals to me as an ideal, but receiving the kingdom of God as a little child is not something I can really see myself doing, no matter how hard I try, or how much I want it. It’s too late. There is no turning back the clock to a time when I was a carefree kid. It’s not that I wouldn’t if I could. I mean, there are LOTS of things I could do if I tried. I could be a better auto mechanic. I could play the organ well enough to accompany a 300 voice children’s choir if I really tried. I could become fluent in Spanish. If Jesus were to  come into my bedroom some night and say to me, “Hey, Michel, unless you learn to speak Spanish fluently, play Buxtehude fugues on the organ, and replace the transmission on your car you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”, I’d buckle down and get right on it!

But this requirement of my having to trust like a little child? That leaves me feeling frustrated and helpless because I don’t think it’s possible for me, no matter how hard I try. I am what used to be an impressive height, 6’1” and I played baseball as a kid. I’m in good shape for my age, and have a lower BMI than a lot of people forty years my junior. Nonetheless, I would never run out onto the field during an MLBA game and try to play baseball with young men who are taller, leaner, and in their peak athletic condition.  I’m too short, too slow, and too old. No one would expect that of me anyway.

Entering the kingdom of God does not belong to people who are too short, too slow and too old trying to do something crazy impossible.  The kingdom belongs to those who, acknowledging their limitations and their need to be in the driver’s seat nonetheless make an effort to surrender some of that control. They are the ones who, admitting their adult limitations, nonetheless admit their dependence on God, trusting God to take the wheel and guide their road trip.

Jesus isn’t asking us to do the impossible; he’s just asking us to trust him, sit back, roll the window down, and feel the wind on our face, knowing that everything is going to be all right.  And that much I think I can do.

 

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Getting Reconnected

The 12 Step Programs are the best known recovery tools, but are incredibly unsuccessful.  With a 5 to 7 % success rate, there is a message here that the program people need to wake up and take notice of.  My primary objection to 12 Step Programs (AA, NA, CA, etc…) is the chauvinism that underlies every meeting when it comes to the issue of God.  You can call it “Higher Power” or whatever you want, but everyone understands that we’re talking about God. And because AA based itself on the science and observations of the 1930s, coupled with a zeal for Christian evangelization of alcoholics and addicts, there are a lot of problems for potential recoverees to overcome if they want to use this method. Primary among the issues is, of course, the requirement that everyone believe in God as the requisite starting point. As a result, agnostics and atheists can’t use the program and are not helped in the least in overcoming their addictive behaviors. This is not because of their lack of faith in God, it’s because the program has already condemned them for failing to embrace the true faith.   Atheists and agnostics are left wondering how they will ever recover if their recovery must include a connection with God or a Higher Power.

For those of us who do believe in God, we can relate to their quandary in some way because we too experience a lack of connection. Things don’t go well for us during the day or we struggle in our relationships. We feel adrift and out of our element, wondering what ever happened to feeling “normal.”  The truth is, we create reality by our thoughts. If we can accept the fact that we create our experience of life by the way we think and by the way we believe, then we need to make a conscious connection with the source of all good things, God. It is up to us to open ourselves to the truth of that connection: God can only invite, never bust in through our locked doors and drag us, screaming and kicking, to the life we want.

Like the air that envelops the planet, we seldom think about breathing it, yet it is always there, moving around us, surrounding us, sustaining us. There are times when we need to step outside of a situation (physically, mentally, emotionally) and just connect with that air by taking a deep breath. That simple decision to breathe in a conscious way can help shift our understanding of where we are and how we might move forward. The air, of course, remains the same, but our thoughts and feelings are transformed.

We don’t need to have a degree in meteorology or have any understanding of trade winds or gravitational rotation in order for this to work. We take a deep breath and we reconnect in a different way.  The same is true of connecting to God or the Universe: we don’t need to have a set of theological principles or a creed all worked out in order to access this Power that lies at the heart of creation. In other words, we can use this connection whether we think we understand it or not.

Feeling closed off does not need to be a negative experience. When we become conscious of it, we can think of many things in the physical world to help us: the wholeness of a closed electrical circuit, the movement of the tides, the seasonal display of the stars which allows is always in flux. Our bodies and our spirits work within that same larger pattern, and one of the best things about being human is having the ability to make conscious connections in our mind, thereby bringing all of who we are back into wholeness and connection.

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Believing and Belonging

When I began work on my master’s degree in theology in the 1980s, there was intense focus on the words “believing” and “belonging” in the context of what it means to be Church. A little later (1994) Grace Davie’s book, Believing Without Belonging, documented the rise of secularism following WW2. Her research showed that although people were not attending church as often as they once had, they nonetheless claimed to have some kind of belief in or about God. In the book, she suggests that an increasing number of people don’t want to be part of a specific religion – either because they are tired of the terrible atrocities and abuses committed in the name of religion, or that they simply aren’t interested in making it a priority.  There have been other books and articles on the same theme using the words, ‘Believing’ and ‘Belonging’. For instance, a fair number of Italian scholars have argued that a large number of Italian Catholics belong to the Church without really believing in what the Church teaches.  It’s been suggested that people choose to “believe” primarily because they want to “belong” to a group that gives them a sense of identity. 

This discussion invites us believers to ask ourselves several questions: Why do we belong to this church?  How do we look at someone who does not belong – someone who is not one of us?  What if this someone-who-is-not-one-of-us believes, shows a greater commitment to Christian values, and even has some visible gifts of the Holy Spirit?  Do we use our faith to create a group that is “in” and juxtapose that group with those who are “out?” Are we maybe trying to contain the God of the Universe in buildings and structures and try to insert our own beliefs so that the Spirit is not fee to blow as She wills?? 

Today’s readings give us two different stories about believing and belonging: one from the time of Moses and the other from the time of Jesus. The first story (Num 11:25-29) tells us of two men who had stayed back in the camp while the Lord God descended in the form of cloud on the Tent of Meeting: one was called Eldad and the other Medad.  Even though they were not among the seventy elders initially chosen by Moses, the Spirit descended on these two men and they began to prophesy.  Moses is open-minded enough to see the Will of God revealed here, so he adds these two men to the 70 elders to make 72, six each for each of the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Through this event Moses gets a glimpse of how big Our God really is. When Joshua wants to see the action of God only within the procedures and policies of the institutional religion headed by Moses, Moses invites him to open up his understanding:  “Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only all Yahweh’s people were prophets, and Yahweh had given them his spirit!’” (Num 11:29). 

In a similar situation presented in the gospel story of today, when John (an apostle who was close to the heart of Jesus as Joshua was to Moses) says, “Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him” (Mk 9:38).  Jesus emphatically tells him, “You must not stop him; no one who works a miracle in my name can talk trash about me later.” (Mk 9:39).  Jesus reminds us that the Reign of God isn’t about boundaries, it’s not about institutions, and it’s certainly not about the IN group (the church people) and the OUT group (the non-church people.) It is about the human heart, and guess what? God can work however God wants in the hearts of people without any help from us. 

So what is our problem?? Why are so many Christians so far off the mark on this issue of taking Jesus at his word, which is clearly his attempt to make all of us disciples more tolerant: “ If someone isn’t against you, he is with you.” 

We have a long history in the Church Universal of doing and believing just the opposite: we have drawn lines in the sand, separating “us” from “them”, and adopting a stance of stern judgment instead of tolerance. In other words, we’ve taken the words of Jesus and twisted them to mean the opposite: “If you’re not 100% for me and like me, you are 100% against me!” 

We all know people like this, some of them in our own families, who believe that unless we agree with everything they have come to believe, we cannot be “saved.” Even if we go to our church regularly, even if we are a priest/pastor of a church, even if we are doing good things in the world, even if we sing the same hymns, none of that matters. These are clearly the ones in today’s text who say: “Lord, we met these people who are trying to do good things in your name, but we told them to stop because they didn’t agree with us on everything!” 

And there it is.  The us versus them mindset that is the evil power behind every form of sexism, racism, fanatic nationalism, and every other “ism” you can think of. If we could only stop that way of thinking, and stop that way of comparing, we might actually have a chance of changing this world. The people who are never in church on Sundays see this attitude of ours, by the way, and that’s why they’re only here for funerals and weddings. They see very clearly that they themselves, without benefit of church, are more loving and accepting of people—so why on earth would they come hang out with us on Sunday mornings?? 

Where does this concept of us versus them come from and how can it be explained? Psychologically the answer seems to be that insecure people are drawn to ideas and groups that make them feel superior. Fundamentalists fear the research of the scriptures in a scientific era; white supremacists fear what their country will look like if people with tan skin take over. So they become intolerant and act in ways that violate their most deep seated integrity as humans in order to reassure themselves. That still does not explain, however, why anybody chooses to see compassion and tolerance as weaknesses! 

When the disciples bring up “that other guy”, the one not part of their club, Jesus reminds them of a basic truth that whoever is not against us is for us. But the Greek word here “hyper” has layers of possible meanings, so another interpretation would be, “Whoever is not against us is one of us.” Hit the pause button! If that’s right, then how can mere mortals determine who’s in and who’s out??  We cannot.  Therefore the message of Jesus is clearly that the only way people can find themselves outside God’s Kingdom is if they deselect themselves, if they choose to exclude themselves.  

We are supposed to accept people of good will and not try to hinder them. There is no place in the Kingdom for the old us versus them mentality. So knock it off already, you intolerant judging people who are so smug and sure you’re right about everything! 

Oh, wait. The fact that we can even have that thought or speak those words proves that we can only change ourselves. WE have the same problem as everyone else, and although it’s easier to believe everybody else needs to get with the program, the reality is that we can only change ourselves.  

So, let’s give it a shot, trying to live in this expansive vision of Jesus, this vision of acceptance and tolerance. What’s the worst that could happen?  We might have more friends, a wider network of people from all backgrounds and interests in our life, we might be able to open ourselves to a richer wisdom and a deeper spiritual life. We might even have a better sense of what “truth” is all about.  

So what does evangelization look like if we take Jesus at his word in this reading? We are called to evangelize, yes we are, but instead of sharing doctrine and church polity and structure, maybe our evangelization is supposed to be nothing more sharing our own experience of God while respecting other people’s experience? When we meet people who don’t see things the way we do, rather than lining up our intellectual arguments to rebut them, we could maybe be thankful and awe-struck by the ways God works in their lives.  

 

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Changing Roles

I once attended a presentation by Deepak Chopra that changed my life in two important ways. First, I became convinced that life really does continue after death, basing my belief not only on faith but also on quantum physics.  Second, and even more useful to me, he was able to prove to me that the “soul” exists.  Paraphrasing his definition, the soul is that ever-witnessing awareness that lies within us despite the fact that our physical self is constantly changing, with cells dying and being replaced by other cells. None of our original cells exist, yet the ever-witnessing soul remains the same. It’s the soul that expresses itself in our consciousness, and it’s our soul that is the only constant in a changing universe.

As we move through this world, we take on many roles, but the true self, the soul, remains constant. As spiritual beings having a human experience, we go through many aspects of what it means to be “human” in this one lifetime. The challenge however is to not become fooled by the appearances of the material world, where everything has a label, a classification, or some set characteristics. For us, the roles will always evolve and change, meaning we should not over-identify ourselves with any one particular role.

When I was a parent raising three sons, I embraced the role of being a dad.  When the youngest moved out, I was temporarily lost in feelings of loss and grief.  I said more than once that I no longer knew who I was, especially since I’d been a parent since I was 20 years old. It took a minute to move past these feelings of loss, but eventually I came to see that my role as parent hadn’t ended, but it had certainly changed shape. I had to learn that if I anchored myself in the truth of my being, the “soul core” within me, I could then choose to embrace the evolution of the roles I was used to, trusting that these roles would give me another perspective on life and also a greater opportunity to connect with others’ lives and struggles.

As a kid, I anticipated role changes eagerly in my rush to grow up. Though fairy tales and the larger culture led me to believe that “happily ever after” was a final destination, the truth is that life is a series of destinations, mere stops on a long journey filled with differing terrain. Cultural myths aside, it took me many years to figure out that shifting priorities and roles weren’t bad, even when I had to overcome my own resistance to change. Life’s roles are varied and part of this life as we move from spouse to parent, leader to subordinate, caregiver to care-receiver, or even pew-warmer to pastor. It’s okay to grieve the loss of roles that were lifegiving and fulfilling, as long as we’re still open to whatever God wants for us next.

In a certain sense, we are like actors on the stage of life: we have different roles and costumes which we put on and then take off. Each role we play gives us another perspective through which to understand ourselves and the nature of God’s universe. When we take a moment to see that each change can be an adventure, a celebration, and a chance to play a new part, we might even find a way to recapture that childlike joy we used to experience as we waited breathlessly for life to unfold for us. It is perhaps in that very childlike attitude that we will see more clearly God’s dream for us and for all God’s children.

 

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Dogs Get the Crumbs

(reflection on Mark 7:24-31)

She knows all the reasons she shouldn’t be doing this; she knows the obstacles, she knows she’s stepping over some well-established boundaries. She knows Jesus is trying to fly low under the radar because, after all, he’s in a small house in the quiet part of town. The woman also knows that any religious Jew will see her as unclean and unworthy of attention. But this is a mother whose daughter is in crisis and she’s tried everything else and so she does what mothers do: she does a crazy thing to save her daughter’s life. But her reception is even worse than she feared.  She’s called a “dog” by the one man she was hoping could help heal her daughter. She is reminded again that she is the lowest of the low, the wearer of a label that religious Jews reserve for pagan Greeks. And there is no doubt that every other observant Jew in the house, including the disciples, are thinking the very thing Jesus says to her. 

This story makes me so uncomfortable! Jesus is rude and using an ethnic slur to put down an outsider—isn’t he the one who’s come to welcome everyone to the table?? And I’m not the only one who wants to make this story better than it is. Some biblical scholars want to pretend that Jesus was “just kidding”, that he maybe gave her a little wink to let her know he was just playing with her. Others suggest, erroneously, that we aren’t translating this word correctly, that Jesus isn’t so much calling her a dog as he is telling her she’s a puppy. A cute little puppy! But the reality is being called a dog was a terrible insult.  Being called a dog was a way to dishonor and demean someone, and there’s just no way around the truth of the situation. 

So we’re left with our brother Jesus insulting a woman to her face.  We’re left with Jesus saying what all the closed-minded bigots in the room were thinking.  We’re left with Christ embracing and encouraging our own prejudices and biases.  So we’re uncomfortable and even perhaps shaken when Jesus says this—and we need to be! We should be outraged when he responds to her humble request by saying the children deserve to be fed before the dogs. 

For observant Jews of the period there is a right and proper order assigned to everything. There are ways things are supposed to be done; there are rituals that need to be done meticulously and thoroughly. And Jesus has already explained that the religious leaders have it all wrong.  Religion isn’t supposed to be about building walls to keep some people out. The rules are there to guide us and to help us function better, not to be used as weapons to exclude people. 

We have the same struggle today.  We decide that some things are worthy of our attention and assistance, and others are not. We make most of these decisions unconsciously perhaps, but we do it all day, every day. We decide what we will support financially and what we won’t. We have so many choices we can’t do it all, so we have to choose. But do we pay attention to the way we choose what to pay attention to?? 

I’ve been biking a lot lately on the river greenway in the early morning, much like I did a few years back.  It’s beautiful and peaceful and quiet and there are always homeless people I encounter in make-shift tents, or huddled in a ball under the bridges. I see them every time I bike. Or do I? Do I see the person, or do I see the label? Do I see a woman named Virginia or do I see a homeless woman without teeth who has smoked a lot of meth? Do I see Mary and her two young sons, or do I see the label of unwed mother?  

This has been weighing on me more and more lately because I can see clearly that instead of following my heart and greeting these people with at least a friendly hello and a smile, I generally let my apprehensions, my discomfort and my natural bias make my decision for me.  In other words, I pick up the pace and pedal faster so I can forget I saw what I saw. And when I hear my own prejudices expressed in the words of Jesus, I can see how wrong and unloving his words really are! (Yeah, I know…it’s easier to find fault in others than in myself…even finding fault in Jesus!) 

The woman in this parable has a response to the hate language, however: “Even the dogs get to eat crumbs off the floor under the children’s table!”  And Jesus recognizes the truth she teaches him and tells her to return home, that the demon has already left her daughter. It’s like Jesus has had a lesson from an unexpected source, where he himself gets a reminder of the power and beauty of the Gospel! No Greeks, no Jews, no males or females, no rich or poor, no gay or straight, no liberal or conservative.  And then to underscore the point, Jesus goes on to heal a deaf man, also a Gentile—repeating the lesson he has learned from an ordinary mom to teach us that God doesn’t exclude anyone.  God is big enough to love us all, no matter what or who or where. The crowds go wild with excitement and can’t imagine how this could get any better, but then the very next parable Mark tells us is the feeding of the 4,000 people with only seven pita breads and some fish. After that powerful sign there are seven baskets of leftovers, proving that with God there is always more than enough to go around. I’m not a fan of leftovers, God knows, but the message here is clear: we can live on God’s leftovers.  We can live off the crumbs under the table because the crumbs of grace are life-sustaining and life-changing.  

I interact with people from every walk of life on a weekly basis, most of whom are dying. They’re dying from choices they made a long time ago but still control them. They’re not the same people with the same brains and minds they were born with, and they are very, very good at heaping labels on themselves.  They can heap terrible labels on themselves without mercy sometimes! I have hope for every one of these people, but I also know that statistically some, if not most, will die anyway. This is a life and death struggle we’re in and we can’t pretend it’s anything but. For some people maybe this would be overwhelming and cause a lack of faith. I’m not that guy. I’ve been to that deep, dark place within myself to confront my own demons and to reclaim my life. I know how hard it is. I know it can be done. And as long as there is one suffering person willing to sit with me, asking me how to save themselves before it’s too late, I’ll be there. 

Christ has looked into the deepest, darkest parts of our souls. He knows all the labels we carry: the ones we’ve earned, the ones we heap on ourselves needlessly, the ones we use to judge and sort others. And he loves us anyway, offering us the Bread of Life at every turn.  

Despite how we think of ourselves, Jesus has made us worthy to pull up a chair and join him at the table. He’s taken all our labels of unworthiness and shame and fear and he’s thrown them in the trash. And now we have a new label, thanks to the gift of his life and teaching, his death and resurrection. We are the beloved children, and we are not only welcome, we are expected and our arrival is anticipated with excitement! We’re all children of the One God, so we are not to label anyone, not even ourselves. We have to stop building walls that keep others from experiencing the love of God. We have to stop building those walls within ourselves that keep us from experiencing that same love. We are beloved. Any other label just sucks. 

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