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Love With No Conditions

mother teresaWe are so quick to judge and keep our prejudice views without ever hearing the story behind the eyes. We see their actions, hear their words, but keep our distance. We never ask how they truly are. We never ask to share their story. We insulate ourselves from the “world.” I think Christian’s take the phrase “in the world, not of the world” too literal. It becomes something of a righteous thing to say.

Oh, that person has AIDS, I shouldn’t go near them. What would people think? But I’ll pray for them (on the rare occasion they cross my mind).

That person is a lesbian/gay…I shouldn’t interact with them. What if their tendencies rub off on me? What if people call me a lesbian/gay because I befriend them? That would tarnish my “Christian” image…but I’ll mail them a tract and find a self-help group for them.

Her husband is divorcing her…it must be her fault. She must have done something horrible. I won’t call her because someone might get mad at me and think I’m taking sides. She probably already has support. But I’ll put her on the prayer chain and then gossip about her with my “friends.”

Their child has a rotten attitude and no manners. They are so disrespectful and disruptive. They shouldn’t have them in church. They cause a ruckus. I would never let my child act that way. They must be horrible parents. And I’ll tell them so.

and on and on and on and on….

It never ends. Christians shoot the wounded, the hurting, the lost. Instead of loving and helping them, they condemn, judge, ridicule, withdraw, gossip, etc. about them. Why is that? Why has love become so conditional among God’s followers? I’m always lost as to how people can justify the kind of conditional, demanding love that they have and claim they are Christian and acting like Jesus. The Jesus I know loved everyone…regardless of race, status, past, problems, sexual orientation, married, single, widowed, separated, poor, wealthy, in-between, dirty, clean, prostitute, diseased, drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, lost, and more. He never distinguished between the people that he loved. And no one had to do anything to earn his love. He gave it freely. It doesn’t mean that Jesus condoned or liked what the person was a part of or involved in or where they were at in life…but instead of judging, he loved.

What would happen if more of us chose to love freely instead of beating them up? Instead of wounding those who are already hurting? They don’t need someone telling them their life is screwed up. Nine chances out of ten, that person is already quite well aware of where they are in life. They don’t need to be reminded of it every time they turn around. Instead, they need to be loved, wanted, needed…believed that they are loved in spite of their messy, screwed up lives. People who will love them in the middle of everything…who will be their friend, their confidant, their helper. People who won’t tell them how to fix things, how to change, what to do, how they screwed up, preaching and teaching.

Listen to their silence. Sit with them in their quiet, in their pain, in their joys and heartaches. Hold them in their tears. Rage when they rage. Cry when they cry. Laugh when they laugh. Be quiet when they are quiet. Don’t fill the silence with meaningless words. You can’t fix it. You can’t change it. And don’t try. You aren’t their savior and you aren’t their God. And the relationships aren’t about trying to make yourself feel better, look like a better Christian, earn a ‘notch’ in your belt, be a witness. Instead, you are to love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the defining chapter of love in the Bible.

Love is meant to be freely given, without conditions. it is a gift that was given to us to give to others. How dare we pick and choose the benefactors as though they must earn it. 

The Joke Is On Us

Lately, I’ve had to stop scrolling through Facebook so much and stop watching the news so frequently. It’s getting to me. All the hate, anger, and evil in the world. I’m not sure how much more I can take. Since Trump took office, I feel like I have been living in the twilight zone. What’s happening in our country, and around the world, is hard to comprehend. It’s difficult to believe that this is the new reality. Our reality.

At first, it was incredulity that he even got elected. We all thought it wasn’t possible, that it was a joke. It was a sure thing that Hillary Clinton would win. No need to sweat it. Well, the joke is on us.

Then it was disbelief at the Twitter rants and attacks. A President of our country would really say these things? Yep.

The President of our country really sexually assaulted those women? He said those horribly demeaning things about women and got away with it? Absolutely.

Russia hacked our elections and manipulated the outcome. Seriously? That doesn’t happen in today’s world. Apparently, it does.

45 puts well-known white supremacists in his Cabinet. We’re outraged. Shocked. But what can we do?

Build a wall is chanted far and wide, spewing hate at anyone who isn’t a white American.

Government agencies are banned from talking to the press.

“Fake News” is used against every journalist and news outlet, except Fox News and a few other extreme right-wing conspiracy sites.

Rips immigrant children from their parents at the borders, traumatizing them, claiming that this will be a deterrent for any other illegal immigrants coming into our country.

Meets with other world leaders and alienates them, berates them, abuses them, and makes America the enemy of our neighbors.

Meets with Putin and practically kisses the ground he walks on, denouncing our intelligence reports and community, that Russia is innocent. 45 may as well declare fealty to Russia. He’s already committed treason.

Need I go on? If you want a complete list of the madness, click here.

Yet, people still seem shocked that this craziness is happening. They don’t understand. They don’t get it. Even some of those who voted for him are wondering where it wrong. Well, let me tell you…it was all there in the beginning if you were willing to look at it. Willing to listen to it. Willing to open your heart and mind to understand it. Instead, you chose to be blind to the lies, to the hate, to it all. You were stuck on the party line. You were sick and tired of being the underdog in life and hoped for change. You no longer wanted to be the struggling middle class, but the man on top. You bought into the lie that we needed to “Make America Great Again.”

I get it. But was selling your soul to the devil the best way to change your circumstances? Was looking the other way worth the cost? What made you think that we stopped being great? The “Make America Great Again” slogan is a Rorschach test and Trump coasted to victory on the hope that everyone would see in it exactly what they want to see. It’s a good strategy for a campaign.

“Maybe as a country we need to focus less on “Making America Great Again” and more on making America the shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan spoke so much about. An America where everyone has the same opportunity and access to the American dream regardless of their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation. An America where the only thing that limits us is the size of our dreams and the intensity of our work ethic. This America doesn’t dwell on the past but looks forward to building a brighter future. It basks in the success of the past and shows an appropriate amount of shame for its errors. And it learns from its mistakes. It uses all of it as a foundation to be stronger for future generations. It’s an America that recognizes that its greatness lies not in an idealized view of the way things used to be but in adapting and adjusting to new realities.”   -Ellen McGirt

In my lifetime, I have never seen Congress, and a sitting President, so blatantly mock our Constitution. It’s especially striking that it comes from the political party that’s always lecturing us about the “rule of law”. What’s worse is that they’re getting away with it. Republicans have turned these Constitutional issues into political footballs and suckered the White House, Democrats in Congress and the news media into playing the game by their rules.

I wonder what other Constitutional mandates Congress and the President could just decide to ignore. Is it possible that the White House, the opposition party in Congress and the news media could be cowardly complacent, too frozen by fear to actually do anything to stop their overreach? It’s all “politics,” they say. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what we said when Trump’s campaign was just a joke. He won once. And could win again.

 

 

-Ellen McGirt, Why ‘Make America Great Again’ Is An Offensive Slogan

 -Tavis Smiley, Why I Fear America Could Enslave Black People Again

Too Much Stuff and Chorizo Vodka Pizza

Finally…finally…I made the Chorizo Vodka Pizza recipe. I had every intention of posting it two weeks ago, but the pizza didn’t come out of the oven quite to my satisfaction. Oh, it tasted good, don’t get me wrong! But it had way too much olive oil on it. Looked like Mt. Vesuvius exploded on the pizza, and not in a good way. Must remind myself that to drizzle olive oil is to apply it in sparingly small bits – not guzzles of slick oil. Oops. The pourer poured faster than the pouree expected it to and lo and behold, a not-so-magical, dripping, gooey cheese mess appeared. But since the flavors were delicious, I just had to give it another go.

MUCH more successful results the second time around ‘cause I remembered…drizzle, not pour…less is definitely more. Now that I think about it, it’s a philosophy that I try to live by – no, not drizzle, silly, but less is more. Every year, around this time, I start getting the urge to purge. To start fresh. Anew. To breathe and clear away the cobwebs, detritus, and mounds of matter that has collected in the corners. To begin the new year without the clutter of the old years.
078We started with the dining room, hauling away the old, ratty computer desk (Come on, who uses desktops at home, anymore?…I won’t make fun of you if you do…Dinosaur). Already, the room looked three sizes bigger. Then away went the cat tree dust collector, which the cats rarely used  (they much prefer the radiators, tables, couches, and humans). OMG. What is that? Not dust bunnies, my friends, but dust rats. Think New York City rats. Between the cat hair and the dust from living, we could have made another cat. I’m sure you’re grateful that we threw it all away, instead. I believe in recycling, but even that would have been a bit much for me.

In comes the wine refrigerator that someone gave us as a gift over 2 years ago. It has sat in the basement all this time, not cooling any wine…still in the box, as a matter of fact. Now we have this delightful little wine corner with all our supplies – glasses, tools, and of course, the wine! And I now have a photograph “studio” where the cat tree used to sit. Lots of natural sunlight and space. It doesn’t mean that my photographs will magically improve overnight, but it’s definitely an improvement.

Speaking of too much stuff, a 2005 study yielded some eye-opening results: the average family is drowning in clutter. Surprised? I doubt it. They released a book, Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century, with pictures that revealed garages filled to the ceiling with boxes, old toys, lawn equipment, and housewares. In fact, the researchers found that 75% of the houses surveyed had garages so chock-full of stuff, there was no room for a car. Can you guess why we’re addicted to watching Hoarders on TV? It rationalizes our piles of junk. We aren’t THAT bad, so we must be doing okay. Really?

Not only does clutter affect our living space, but it’s been proven that it actually elevates our stress hormone levels. When it comes to dealing with stuff overflow, most of us can admit to giving up. We become so overwhelmed by the chaos, that we feel hopeless at fixing it. Sometimes it feels like that the junk in our closets, garages, and storage rooms multiply when our backs are turned. It’s easier than ever to buy in bulk, or to simply bring home more than intended.

Instead of cowering in front of the mess, challenge yourself to clean it out this month. Start the new year with a clean slate. Learn to slow down and practice conscious consumption by filling your homes with meaningful items that you love. And, maybe, instead of more stuff, choose hearts, minds, and people who care more about YOU than what you have.

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The Art of Mindfulness

mindfulnessMindfulness has been on my mind lately (ha, ha). I talked about it in my last post here as one of the things I want from Christmas. But it’s not just something I want from Christmas, it’s something I want all the time. It is a state of active, open attention on the present. When I’m mindful, I observe my thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting my life pass me by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Although I’m not a Buddhist, mindfulness is a spiritual or psychological awareness that is considered of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. And no, just because I practice mindfulness does not make me a Buddhist. It won’t make you one, either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s a lot of good to learn from Buddhism…like mindfulness.

Consider this the cliff notes version of mindfulness. When practicing mindfulness, for instance by watching your breath or slowly stirring a risotto, one must remember to maintain attention on the chosen object of awareness, faithfully returning back to refocus on that object whenever the mind wanders away from it. You leave a risotto cooking on the stove and you’ll end up with burned crust. Not exactly what you’re trying to achieve with a good risotto. Mindfulness means not only, moment to moment awareness of present events, but also, remembering to be aware of something or to do something at a designated time in the future. In fact, the primary connotation of the Sanskrit term (smrti=mindfulness) is recollection.

Mindfulness is the act of awareness, just being in the present. According to Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, “…we have to forget things like “I should be mindful of this or that”. If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation (“I – am – mindful – of – ….”). Don’t be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk. Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.”

A good risotto is the epitome of mindfulness. It’s not hard to make a good risotto, but it requires patience. Most require you to stand at the stove, continually stirring, for at least 20 minutes. Creating risotto doesn’t allow for shortcuts. Consider it the perfect time to practice mindfulness. You can’t walk away and you cant’ forget about the risotto. You have to pay careful attention to it. Notice the chicken broth absorbing into the rice. Watch the rice very slowly puff while it soaks up the broth. Embrace the aromas wafting towards your nose. Breathe deeply and relax. Let the gentle stirring awaken a mindful meditation. Give thanks for the pause of silence, the restful peace of stillness. I’ll admit, trying to take pictures while doing this wasn’t exactly restful, but it did create a deeper awareness. I could focus on the grains of rice, the crispy pancetta, the curling mushrooms.

Risotto is the perfect comfort food on a cold winter’s night, or fall, or spring, or summer…pretty much any time of the year. It’s also the perfect moment to create an aura of mindfulness. Let yourself take a breather from the crazy hustle and bustle of Christmas. Absorb the quiet peace as you create a comforting dish with love for your family. Or just yourself. Nobody said you had to share it.

 

 

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Reading 7 Novels in 3 Weeks? You’re Nuts!

In the span of three weeks, I’ve finished an entire series of 7 novels. Call me crazy or obsessed, but I couldn’t put them down. And now I’m waiting impatiently for the next one! (It’s not out yet…come on Julia…write faster!)

I’m always struck by a series of books where I can fall in love with the characters, ride along with them on their adventures, and feel invested in every nuance and facet of their lives. The Clare Fergusson/ Russ Van Alstyne mystery series by Julia Spencer-Fleming is captivating, if a bit unconventional (which is why I love it, beyond the brilliant writing). These books are an excellent example of how to write a series and continue stories and themes.

Clare Fergusson is an single, ex-Army pilot who becomes an Episcopalian priest in the small town of Millers Kill, New York, deep in the Adirondack Mountains after her sister dies from cancer. She has a knack for getting herself into all kinds of compromising and perilous situations. Some call it fearlessness…others call it acting without thinking. But the overall theme of Clare is that she cares about others, to the point that she will do whatever she has to do to help them, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Of course, sticking her nose in investigations by the Millers Kill Police Department runs her into the Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne who is also ex-Army. In the first novel, “In The Bleak Midwinter,” newly-ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. The ancient regime running the parish covertly demands that she prove herself as a leader. However, her blunt manner, honed by years as an army pilot, is meeting with a chilly reception from some members of her congregation. Chief of Police Russ Van Alystyne , in particular, doesn’t know what to make of her, or how to address “a lady priest” for that matter.

The last thing she needs is trouble, but that is exactly what she finds. When a newborn baby is abandoned on the church stairs and a young mother is brutally murdered, Clare has to pick her way through the secrets and silence that shadow that town like the ever-present Adirondack mountains. As the days dwindle and the attraction grows between the novice priest and the married police chief, Clare will need all her faith, tenacity, and courage to stand fast against a killer’s icy heart.

The characters are fully and believably drawn and you will feel like they are your old friends. I admit, when I finished the last book, One Was a Soldier, I felt bereft like my dear, close friends had all gone on vacation and left me behind. In each book, Spencer-Fleming tackles a variety of hard-core social issues such as discrimination and hate crimes against Hispanics and gays, environmental issues, Autism and possible side effects of vaccinations, the diphtheria epidemic, immigration and illegal aliens, teenage mothers, PTSD and other effects from returning soldiers, and more. Each topic is handled with a deftness and delicate hand and not necessarily the outcome you would expect.

The books do have a theme of faith and spirituality running through them, but it is not overt or in-your-face. It is as much as part of the characters as the rest of the story. I’ve read many Christian-based novels and cringe when it becomes a trite, clichéd, battering-over-the-head, novel of religion. Spencer-Fleming doesn’t come across that way at all. Actually, with Clare Fergusson as the main character and example of faith, we discover that we can be messy Christians and it’s okay. A very refreshing, heartening, and enlightening point of view. (On a side note, if you’re interested in a deeper understanding of a “messy Christian,” check out Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli.)

If you’ve never read any of the books in this series, do yourself a favor and start with the first book in her series (In the Bleak Midwinter) and read all her books in order. While each book is a self-contained mystery, the growth and relationship of the lead characters is really a huge part of this series and you’ll miss out on a large part of the enjoyment of this book if you start the series out-of-order.

Series In Order

  1. Book 1: In the Bleak Midwinter
  2. Book 2: A Fountain Filled With Blood
  3. Book 3: Out Of The Deep I Cry
  4. Book 4: To Darkness And to Death
  5. Book 5: All Mortal Flesh
  6. Book 6: I Shall Not Want
  7. Book 7:One Was a Soldier