Thursday, April 17, 2014

Musings from My Hyper-active Morning Brain 2. I Need Something

I need something. I want something. I want something more than the status quo, predictable Sunday church service. I want more than sitting in and doing my due diligence to what we now refer to as “church.” I deeply desire the kind of gathering, an Acts 2 kind of life where we regularly come together, break bread, and open our hearts to one another about what God is teaching us, how He is leading and directing us, and encourage one another as we follow Him. Where we continually hold one another accountable, living iron sharpening iron, laughing, crying, and loving on each other, spurring each other on in the things of God in this life.

I don’t want a pizza party or bowling night. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things. And I believe God’s true church is more than a group of people facing forward in a room. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. But I crave a New Testament experience with other believers who are hungry for something perhaps less appealing to most. I’ve been with folks who shy away from conversations about God, saying that we could be so “heavenly minded that we are no earthly good…” I beg to differ. The more heavenly minded we are, the more we have the mind of Christ, the more we look like Him, act like Him, love like Him, the more equipped will we be to do His will and work in the earth and be part of His Kingdom come. 

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one, I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."

Jesus understood that as we are in complete unity with Him and with one another, the world will believe in Him! How will they know? By the love we have for one another. (John 13:35) When the world sees the love of Jesus shed abroad in our hearts FOR ONE ANOTHER, then they can trust the Jesus we proclaim. And honestly, we can’t learn to truly love one another, forgive one another, be family with one another (with all that “family” implies) by just doing our due diligence performances on Sundays. There’s got to be so much more!

We must have the kind of fellowship believers had in Acts 4:32 where the “multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” And I can hear the rumblings. Well, that’s just not practical today. If you are a Christian, you already know there’s nothing practical about following Christ! 

I really didn’t mean for this to get into a bible study. I’m just passionately seeking answers for myself. Because I need something. I want something more than the status quo, predictable Sunday church service. I want family. In reality, not just in a musing. I’m desperately hungry for true, bible fellowship. What about you?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Morning Musings from My Hyper-brain. 1

My brain is often hyper-active in the morning. Thoughts pour in and out of my head as I ready myself for work. Brushing my teeth seems to really bring on the flow. So here's the first of my hyper-morning brain musings.

What if Jesus and the disciples acted like some of us do? What if they went to the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery with signs that said, "GOD HATES ADULTERERS" or what if they just behaved as though he hated them? On the other hand, what if we behaved like Jesus did and loved all kinds of people, showing them that God really does love them in spite of themselves, just like he does us?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Conductor and the Viola Player


Even in his diminutive stature, the conductor stands above the rest; his long, wild, curly hair tossing every which way as he gracefully and intentionally flails his arms to and fro. He seems strangely connected and yet separate, and to those not trained, he appears off the beat from the rest of the orchestra, or they lagging behind. Yet in reality, he stays ever so slightly ahead of the beat so the orchestra can follow well.

But how fascinating it is to study the members of the orchestra! The conductor passionately cuts the atmosphere with his hands or baton, pointing, cueing, guiding, and directing each note and each section with precision. And yet, the musicians almost never look up at him. There may be an infrequent glance, but almost never from the concertmaster or first violinist. The whole of them are concentrated on the written score. Having been diligently trained and highly disciplined, the score is enough to keep them in perfect sync. Their focus remains intent with those infrequent gazes to their incomparable leader.

Still, he remains fixed and steady at his post, dancing and swaying, directing each individual musician, each section of instruments, and the whole orchestral body. He understands that in his absence, even the most gifted and seasoned musician may fall astray and lead the others with him. The conductor’s faithful presence is a source of security even for those who never have to lift their eyes-their faith is rewarded by his sure presence, and they fulfill their mission in notes and chords and measures and scores, both individually and as a magnificent whole.
But wait! Did I neglect to tell you about the viola player? She sits next to the concertmaster; a clear indication of her expertise. Yet, she looks at the conductor with great frequency while she plays. It isn’t because she needs him to direct her more than the others do--she knows her score and its timing well. On the occasion when her instrument isn’t being played in a piece, she moves slightly to the music, or she looks at the other musicians and smiles--although this gesture is never returned. Or she watches the conductor with that sweet, gentle smile. It is clear, she enjoys him! She enjoys her fellow musicians, and she relishes being a part of something so wonderful.
The unity of the orchestra is the conductor’s great achievement. Without the use of a single word, the strings and the woodwinds, the percussion and brass, although so obviously different from one another, work meticulously as one to evoke emotion from hearers and move them deeply.
After each masterfully executed piece, the audience shares their high praise. The conductor steps down from his podium and bows slightly. Then with great enthusiasm, he turns and points to each section, directing them to rise and receive recognition. And they never do so without the conductor’s direction! When the concert has ended, the audience rises to their feet in a show of gratitude. After once again taking his bows, the conductor goes into the sections and personally greets the musicians, shaking their hands and congratulating them on a job well done!

(This allegory was inspired by Jeffrey Kahane, the conductor and pianist in the photo, and the NY Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center, NY.)

Friday, February 28, 2014

I Hate Facebook

I hate Facebook. In fact, I hate all public forums of social networking. They seem to be the gathering places for individuals who sit before their computers enthroned on their moral self-righteousness and who feel the urgency to disparage anyone who is not like-minded. Quite frankly, it’s been heavy on my heart for the past few days, and my spirit is really disturbed.

As for the Christian community, we are not immune or guiltless. We rant in vitriolic diatribes about those holding positions of authority in government or the latest struggling famous young person. We openly condemn those we do not know and in whose shoes we have not walked. We call groups of people evil and sinners, and in effect have deemed them hopelessly condemned to death.

Last week, one of the men in our church led us to enter into biblical accounts as though we were there. Seeing, as if frozen, the expressions on faces, the physical positions, the clothes, shoes and attitudes of those in the scenarios, and us walking around them-investigating the accounts like a detective. 

For the past few days, I’ve pictured one particular scene as religious accusers grab large, heavy stones to throw at a woman caught in adultery. She cowers as they surround her. Her clothing falls off one shoulder and she grabs at it to set it back to her neck and holds it there, face downward, eyes full of fear as she anticipates the first rock to pound her flesh, thrown from the men who shout their accusations at her. And just as one of the men extends his arm back in preparation to hurl that stone, Jesus stands between him and the woman, and looks directly into his eyes. 

Emboldened by his self-righteousness, the man says to Jesus, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery! You know what the Law says! She is to be stoned! So what do you say?” Others begin to question him as well, and he quietly stoops down, still positioned between the first accuser and the woman whose head remains down, but she has lifted her eyes to the back of Jesus’ head, wondering what he will say. 

For a moment, there is silence as Jesus, with his finger, writes something in the dirt. She cannot see what is written, and the looks on the men’s faces begins to reveal a surprised indignation. “So, Rabbi. What do you say should be done with her?” 

Jesus rises to once again to look them in the eyes and says, “He who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her.” With that, he stoops down again and writes in the dirt once more. For what seems like an eternity to the woman, nothing happens. No one moves or says a word.

“Thud.” A large stone falls from the oldest man’s hand to the ground. “Thud. Thud.” Two more fall. Then another. And another. And with each thud, a man walks away from the scene, convicted. After the last of many thuds, silence. 

Jesus stands, and the woman, still stooped to the ground looks up into his eyes. “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” 

“No, my Lord. No one!” she barely whispers in awe.

“Then I don’t condemn you either.” Jesus tells her. “Go. Sin no more.” Jesus reaches out with his right hand to help her rise, and she takes it with her left, her eyes full of wonder. Still clutching her garment, she walks away and turns to look back at him, knowing she has been saved from her sin and her wounded and broken heart has been healed. 

As I walk through this scene, I fall so in love with Jesus. He is everything I long to be. Full of wisdom. Merciful, kind, loving, gentle, and yet exacting justice in a way that cannot be escaped. And those who came in contact with him had a choice. Their hearts could be changed and made more like his, or they would become hardened, seeking self-justification. Nothing has changed. 

It’s no different today. We still accuse others, ready to hurl rocks of condemnation at them. Isn’t it time to drop our rocks? We really need to let the rocks fall from our hands. We need to walk away from the foolishness of thinking we are better than those we judge. All of us have fallen short of God’s glory. All of us deserve condemnation and death, and yet, we’ve been given the gift of mercy and grace. We are called not to judge but to be repairers of the breach, healers of the broken-hearted, those who proclaim liberty to the captives, and who open prison doors to set the captive free, to undo heavy burdens and break yokes of bondage, to share bread with the hungry and care for the poor. 

So, the next time you want to lash out at that politician because you firmly believe his decisions don’t measure up, or the next time you look on that young starlet who has fallen from your standards, instead of disparaging them in public, privately intercede for them with a heart not of condemnation with a rock in your hand, but with a heart filled with compassion. Kind of like Jesus. Right?

So What

So what would the world we live in see
And what would the world look like 
If when they looked at you and me
We looked more like You?

So what if instead of pointing out
Where we think that others fail
We did what we should and went about
Pointing them to You?

And so what if we truly understood
Our own great need for You?
That in ourselves there is no good
Except what we have in You?

Because Lord, in reality
The only difference between “them” and “me”
Is You!

The only grace that I’ve received 
That redeems me from my own deficiency
Is You!

(post script: If it were not for Facebook, I would never have had the honor and privilege to have met some of the finest humans on the planet. If you just read this and smiled, one of them is probably YOU!)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arizona's Anti-Gay Bill Debacle

I think often about those with whom Jesus sat and ate. They were NOT the religious of the day-the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. They were those who the religious scoffed at, hated, and disparaged. He corrected them with mercy, grace, and love, and led them into truth. And he treated the religious with a righteous indignation and contempt saying they were going to hell and taking their followers with them. 

Aren't we to be like our Savior? Aren't we to love those who others consider "unlovely," offer lovingkindness to those who others scoff at, and lead them into truth with mercy, grace, and love? That being said, I must confess I am conflicted with this whole thing. Firstly, there's far too much government in everything. That which is meant to protect citizens has become an ever present bane, IMO. Our government which was established by the people, for the people, is becoming tyrannical and instead of a Republic, we are becoming a Democracy. 

But I digress. The issue I'm conflicted about is this. If I own a bakery and believe in God's definition of marriage, must I be forced by law to make a cake for a gay marriage or be sued and lose my business? If we say YES, then my beliefs are law, and then where is my freedom? If we say NO, then where do we draw the line? If I own a bed and breakfast, must I, by law, take in gay couples? Unmarried couples? The same YES and NO scenario applies. If I own a gym, a restaurant, or any other establishment, can I, as a sincere Christian, turn away anyone? And then how do I know these folks are good friends or a gay couple? 

My dear friends own a sign shop. They are Christians who stand for justice and righteousness. They are some of the most uncompromised people I’ve ever met. They have a sign in their shop saying they have a right to refuse anyone. But do they really have that right by law and by conscience? If someone comes in wanting to have signs made for a Satanic church, what should they do?

I'm not asking these questions to debate, to condemn, or to state emphatically which is right and which is wrong. I’m just asking because they can be hard questions and I’m trying to understand. And I want us to think about this together. Should Arizona have the right to say that any business can refuse any service to a gay person for religious reasons? Not to be cliche, but is this what Jesus would do if he were walking on the planet? And are we not his representatives?

Remember the Colorado family that lost their bakery business because they refused to make a cake for a gay couple? Is that justice or injustice? I have lots of questions like this, and I don't know if there are any clear answers. However, I do know this. God is love. He is truth. He is justice. And no law can regulate that. We must love individuals, no matter who they are. We must be able to show them Christ by the love shed abroad in our hearts. If we claim to be Christians and do not do so, we are no better than that church in Westboro that declares our God as a god of hate. And we know better than that. Don't we?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Legacy of Love

For the past 20 years or so, my family has been blessed to have the best neighbors anyone could ask for. They’ve been more than neighbors or friends. They are family. And in thinking about that for the past few days, there was a man in this family that I can think of only one word to describe. LOVE. That is Pat Castaldo’s legacy. He loved wine. He loved life. He loved his precious wife, Lena, he loved his family. And I’m grateful to be able to say he loved my family as well. My children grew up calling him “Grandpa.” And he adopted my husband and me as his godchildren. He would talk about it almost every time we saw him, and he even wanted to take us to the church to make it official. I could imagine Luis with the waters of baptism dripping down his face!
But we didn’t need to make it official at a church. It was official in our hearts. He was our godfather. And when I think about that word, godfather, and I think about Pat Castaldo, the word takes on a whole new meaning.
Pat’s legacy of love exemplifies the love of Father God. The love he poured out was the purest, most unconditional love I’ve ever known in a human. And like God, it didn’t matter if that love was returned to him. He loved anyway.
In all the time we’ve known him, we never heard him utter a negative word, or speak unkindly of anyone. Ever! Pat was the life of every family gathering. He made everyone in the room smile with his contagious joy, and the love he voiced toward one of those in attendance would inevitably end up in a song! Whether by song or by open declarations, he freely expressed his love to his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, and his godchildren. :)  And each one would know that they were genuinely loved.
If anyone ever wanted to have a taste of what God’s love is like, all they needed to do was to know Pat. Even for a short period. Because if he knew you, he loved you. Period. It wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t pretense. It was as genuine a love as you’d ever experienced.
And that’s what this kind, gentle man has left us. A legacy of love freely poured out over his family and friends like the sweet, red wine in his glass. A love and a legacy I’m so very glad my family was blessed to experience.  A love I know I’ll dearly miss until we see him once more on the other side of eternity. I hope and pray that by his example, I've learned to show others a fraction of the love of God that Pat did every day of his life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bullying: Virtual sticks and stones

When I was a child, my family moved frequently. One reason was my father was in the Marines, and although he was stationed stateside, he often had to move from one post to another. A second reason we moved frequently was because of family dysfunction.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Because I was always the new kid on the block, I experienced a good deal of bullying. It was less than 20 years post WWII, and I’m half Japanese. There are incidences I recall being teased about my ethnicity. In grade school, one neighborhood bully pushed me in front of a moving car. I was very blessed not to have been injured. There are other memories that are very clear, as if they happened yesterday. I always was the odd duck and never fit in with the other kids.  As hard as it is to say out loud, although I had “friends,” I wasn’t invited to my high school prom. That still hurts all these years later.
And as a survivor of childhood bullying, my heart hurts when I hear stories of very young people being horrifically bullied, so much so that they take their lives. And I’ve wondered about that. I can’t tell you that suicide was something I didn’t think about. I did. And those thoughts followed me into early adulthood. But I’ve wondered why so many of today’s kids are brought to that horrible end.
In a conversation with someone yesterday, it came to me. I suddenly understood why kids who are bullied today feel so hopeless. We all realize that internet bullying is a major problem. But I understand now why it is bigger than the issue of one kid or more attacking another over the internet. It’s a matter of sanctuary.
Take yourself back to when you were 12 or 14 years old. You go to school where the kids are relentlessly mean to you. You walk the school halls wondering when you’ll be verbally or even physically assaulted by the bully pack. They are on the bus. At every school, sports and social event, they are there. Then you go home. You get on the internet. And in what should be the safest place on earth for you, there they are. Right in your home! And it’s even worse. They unleash the vilest of their attacks over the internet for everyone in your world to see. They hurl words at you that wound you to your core. Their words swirl in your head and deeply wound your soul, and you’re lost and alone in a pool of fear, anger, pain, and anguish that you are unable to contain or control.
They’ve even violated your home. Your refuge. There are no safe havens for you. Imagine you tell your teachers who blow it off. Imagine you live with a dysfunctional family, but you tell them what’s happening and they either ignore you or tell you to suck it up. And you are left with nothing but your broken emotional state and the knowledge that the attacks won’t stop. And they follow you like your own dark shadow.
How incredibly hopeless would you feel? Children who are the targets of a single bully or bully packs often have no place to turn and no one advocating for them. They don’t have the maturity, wisdom, or developed self-esteem to deal with what looks like a no-way-out situation. As it continues, day after day, week after week, month after month, what reserve they have is worn down, and they may feel they have no alternative but to end it all.
I know, to some degree, the depth of the despair these kids feel. Sticks and stones leave visible wounds. Words? They leave invisible wounds that bleed and fester from the inside out. They are unseen and because of that, often get left untreated.
We must do better for our kids. We must find ways to stop the madness. And here are my suggestions with a little help from experts.
To the adults:
1.     Don’t be a bully! There are too many people who easily sit behind their computers and hurl mean and even vicious diatribes at strangers. Here’s an assignment. Go to Huffington Post and read an article on just about anything. Watch the video with it. Then go to the comments. Read how people interact with one another. I’ve left comments on articles where someone has been killed saying something like, “I’m praying for the grieving family.” And believe it or not, with a comment like that, I’ll get vile responses. Make a choice to never engage in internet bullying, but if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t comment. And if you get vile responses to your comment, don’t engage the bully except to tell them something kind. Really. Be a role model for youth to look up to.

2.      If your child or another child confides in you about being bullied, for land’s sake believe the child! And advocate for them. Find out the details, and confront teachers and parents, guardians, principles, and whoever else necessary. Make sure the child knows you won’t back down from the fight and will advocate for them.

3.      Ask the child open-ended questions to ascertain their emotional well-being. Do it regularly. Make sure they know you’re there for them and they can trust you. If it’s not your child, be wise. Don’t meet the child alone and have parents/guardians in on what’s happening at all times.

4.     Go to the listed sites and educate yourself on the facts about bullying, how to stop it, and how to prevent it.

5.     Don’t let any child be the victim of a bully on your watch!
To the young people:
1.       If you’re being bullied, you need to know there is help and hope and a way out.

2.      Tell an adult. If that person doesn’t listen, find someone who will. You don’t have to go through this alone. There are adults who will take this seriously and help you.

3.      Don’t feel like you’re a snitch or weak if you tell an adult. Bullying is serious and can be dangerous, and you need help.

4.      Understand that what the bully says and does reflects on the bully, and not on you. The bully is making a terrible reputation for himself. You hold your head up high and understand that you are precious and important. You will get through this.