Wednesday, July 25, 2012

the moment matters (a reflection on life in the wake of the recent tragedy in aurora, co.)

often we live our lives as if they will never end. because of that illusion we procrastinate, or allow resentments to linger, or tell our children “not now”, or leave something that needs to be said for “another day”. how many of us have stood in front of a casket looking at a deceased loved one while thinking to ourselves – “i wish i would have told them...” or “i wish i had done...”.

when my father died in 1996 i experienced such a moment. so many things never said, so many questions never asked, so many hugs never given. now i can talk to him when i visit the cemetery, but the gravestone cannot respond nor hug.

every moment of our lives is an opportunity to live, or to simply exist. every moment of our lives is a chance to deepen relationships and share of ourselves, or simply a time to get by. lost in the illusion of the timelessness of our lives on earth, the moments pass, as do the opportunities each moment presents to us.

 paul wrote, “the time is now”. he was speaking about the time to enter relationship with Jesus, to know God’s love, to experience salvation. and he was right; the time is now to love God, and also to love one another. now is the only time we have to do it, to say it, to experience the fullness of life that is only found in relationship with the Source of life, and with the people God has brought into our lives. all our concerns about jobs and money and education and success are dust in the wind. the only thing that lasts is love, and the only time to experience love is now.

so as paul wrote “don’t let the sun set on your anger”. now is the time to heal the wounds, to share your love, to talk and laugh and cry and hug those by whom your heart is made whole. most especially, now is the time to come to know God in Christ. the moment, this moment, matters. embrace it and live.

© 2012 Halley Low

Monday, April 2, 2012

expectations, not so great

it is good that we remember palm sunday. the day Jesus entered jerusalem riding on a humble work animal. it is good that we remember the crowds that lined the street leading to the gate of the city, hands waving, voices singing "hosanna", and hearts filled with so many expectations - the king has come, the romans be gone, we will return to the splendor of the days of solomon and once again be a proud nation. it is good we remember those crowds since we are so much like them, with our expectations, our hands waiting to be filled, our voices crying "Lord, Lord", and our hearts filled with so many wants we expect to be satisfied.

only a few days later, those crowds that welcomed Jesus as he rode into jerusalem, were now singing a different song, "crucify him", because they had been disappointed, as the king was not what they expected. after all the preacher men said their expectations are what the scriptures promised. again we are confronted with how much we are like the people in those crowds, how quickly we turn when our expectations aren't met, when we feel disappointed because it didn't go as we expected it should. how quick we are to change our song from "Lord, Lord" to "why God, why" in an accusatory tone, hearts filled with self-righteous indignation as to why our genie in the sky did not meet our expectations. after all that's what the preacher men said the scriptures promised!

God isn't the only one we turn on when our expectations aren't met. how many expectations we have of other people: our parents, our partners, our children, our teachers, our friends. a mother has a son, the apple of her eye. she expects him to become a doctor and provide her with the "good life". its a beautiful dream - her beautiful expectation, only he wants to follow a different, albeit less lucrative, career path and the apple turns out to be "rotten" and is cask off. on the other hand, a child expects her parents to meet, and exceed, all her expectations of what a perfect parent is suppose to be. how disappointed she is when her expectations are not fully met, when it turns out her parents aren't gods but just frail human beings like herself.

its so easy to turn on those who do not meet our expectations, we do it all the time and even feel "righteous" in our disappointment because we buy into the idea that God and other people exist to meet our expectations. it's interesting how we often do not live up to the expectations others have of us, but that doesn't bother us nearly so much, if at all. we shrug our shoulders and say "hey i don't exist to live up to your standard", all the while still expecting others to live up to ours.

that's the problem with expectations, they are projections of our desire, which may be good or bad but are not beholden on another person. expectations always set us up for disappointment, and where is the wisdom in doing that?

this is why God has no expectations of us. God knows us too well to have any expectations of us, and so sent us His Son to show us a better way, and give us the grace to follow it. if we lay aside our expectations we can be filled with His inspirations, then our lives will be transformed beyond our expectations.

© 2012 Halley Low

Sunday, March 11, 2012

prayer is an egg salad finger sandwich

prayer is an egg salad finger sandwich. huh??? well, think about it a moment. an egg salad finger sandwich is a delicious morsel that satisfies and yet leaves one wanting more. that’s the whole point of a good canap√©. it’s exactly the same with real prayer, something delicious that satisfies the need to connect with the One who calls us into being, yet leaves us wanting more – more conversation, where we listen more then we speak; more nourishment, where we enter more deeply into the mystery of communion.

now i’m talking about real prayer. not the laundry list of petitions for things wanted or dreams to be realized, with an occasional addendum of thanksgivings for things received or dreams manifested. nor am i speaking of prayer as a recitation of pretty words printed in a prayer book.

real prayer is about presence. real prayer is about surrendering to the Spirit and thereby developing a consciousness of God’s presence in the here and now, and in the always and everywhere . the more conscious we become of God’s presence in our lives at every moment, the more prayer facilitates personal growth and spiritual maturity. the more we come to realize God’s active and personal presence in our lives, the more we desire to live our lives in accordance with God’s will.

think about what Jesus taught on prayer in the gospels of matthew and luke. when his disciples inquired about how they should pray, Jesus responded “pray in this way” and gave us the guide to prayer that has become enshrined as “the Lord’s prayer”. the prayer differs somewhat between matthew and luke, which i think is testament to Jesus offering the prayer as a model for how to pray rather then a dictate as to what to say. nevertheless, in both cases Jesus begins the prayer with the word “Abba”.

Abba is an aramaic expression which is typically translated as “Father”, but as any bible scholar will tell you, Abba is an informal term of endearment more akin to “daddy” or “papa” or “baba”. the whole essence of prayer is summed up in that one word “Abba”, because prayer is the practice of being conscious of the One who is always present and loves you wholly, without reservation.

the experience of real prayer is like when you were a young child and climbed up onto your parent’s lap, embraced in caring arms, and you just rested securely in the knowledge that you were loved. that’s exactly what real prayer is, it’s about growing in the knowledge that you have a deep intimate relationship with God; climbing up onto God’s lap, resting in God’s hug, and knowing you are loved, to which you might respond with adoring eyes “I love you Abba”, and God lovingly replies “another canap√© my little one”.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

on Divine gifts & human rights

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – from the Preamble of the U.S. Declaration of Independence

the authors of our declaration of independence understood that human beings have inherent rights in regards to their interaction with other people and society as a whole. their specific listing of life, freedom, and the pursuit of well being, suggest that these three inherent rights are of primary importance. this seems reasonable enough given that all other rights extend from these three. the authors recognize these inalienable rights as rooted in the fact that they are first, and foremost, gifts from God to all of humanity, and therefore universal human rights.

indeed, in the very beginning of the bible we are told that the origin of human life is in God (gen. 1:27, 2:7). the whole book of exodus is a freedom-song, the story of God’s gifting people with freedom from oppressive social structures. this freedom-song is repeated throughout the writings of the prophets and in the words of Jesus. likewise, the right to pursue the desires of one’s heart and enjoy life is expressed throughout the book of ecclesiastes (2:24-26, 3:10-15, 5:18-20, 9:7, 11:9). we are given the gift of choice, and also responsibility for our choices. All actions have consequences, whether positive or negative, thus God gives us directives that point us in the way of wisdom (deut. 30:19).

yet sadly, there are places in the world today where the universal human rights to life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness are gravely denied. there are even those in our nation who would meter out these rights selectively. denial of these Divine gifts and universal human rights are often justified on the basis of culture and tradition. while we need to be culturally sensitive and respectful of tradition, we also need to remember that culture and tradition are social constructions that by human necessity are subject to change.

this is demonstrated in the bible; for example, it was the tradition of the patriarchs to practice polygamy, even the great and wise solomon had countless wives and concubines, yet that tradition changed as marriage evolved in context of shifting social norms. history as well demonstrates the necessity for cultural adaptation. it was not too long ago that slavery was a legally recognized part of american culture. today most americans abhor the very idea of human trafficking.

therefore, the denial of life and liberty based on the evolving human inventions of culture and tradition is a fundamental threat to individual dignity and societal health, as well as an affront to God. we must, as a people, find the moral courage to stand up for universal human rights wherever they are being sacrificed on the altars of the false gods of culture and tradition. otherwise, we deny the very tenets upon which our democracy was founded, and further deny God’s graciousness towards all people. The words of Dr. King ring as true today as ever, “No one is free, until everyone is free”.

© 2012 Halley Low

Friday, November 11, 2011

sometimes

sometimes when something is a great effort and challenging in ways beyond imagining, people, well many people, will tell you to - give up, let it go, think about yourself, why complicate your life, etc.

and when you face your limitations and your fears, and question your sanity, yet persevere, continuing to question and to face your limitations while reaching out; and you listen to those couple of voices who oppose the cacophony of naysayers and you are encouraged to persevere.

then you come to realize that questions will always be, and limitations are good, and this is all necessary to live in faith so that you may move beyond perseverance to a living hope.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

what is freedom?

with july 4th having just past, i pause to reflect on the meaning of freedom. according to the dictionary freedom means: to be at liberty rather than in confinement or under restraint, to be exempt from external control or regulation, the power to determine for oneself and the opportunity to exercise that power. so we could say that freedom is the ability to say and live the old revolutionary motto “don’t tread on me”.

we can say “don’t tread on me”, “don’t box me in”, “don’t impose your rules on me" because we recognize freedom as a natural right. yet we can only recognize the right to freedom, because we have come to the realization that freedom is a gift given to us by God.

there is a popular song from the 60’s that goes like this - “born free, as free as the grass grows, as free as the wind blows, born free to follow your heart”. and that’s the truth, we are born free. this innate gift of freedom includes the ability to make choices. not simply choices like “do i want vanilla or chocolate ice cream” but much greater choices, choices that truly matter – that is the ability to make ethical choices, to be moral agents, the expression of our God-given “free will”. moral choices, unlike choosing between vanilla or chocolate ice cream, affect our lives and the lives of others in deeply meaningful and lasting ways.

one primary moral choice we make is to allow others their right to be free. this is an important point of understanding for those who choose to follow Jesus. in the gospel of luke Jesus reads from the prophet isaiah telling us He is the one anointed "to bring the good news to the poor and to let the oppressed go free", and He tell us “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” in proclaiming this good news Jesus is telling us that we are free, and that no one has the right to oppress God's children or deny our birthright.

this is contrary to the ways of the world, where the powerful and privileged do as they please regardless of how it affects others. it is contrary to popular notions of freedom, which confuse freedom with simply doing your own thing without regard to others. so the freedom Jesus brings is dangerous to cultural assumptions, because Jesus defines freedom, true freedom, as something very different. He is not simply restating the often misunderstood revolutionary motto “don’t tread on me”, rather Jesus is proclaiming that true freedom is found in the motto “don’t tread on others”. because freedom isn’t just recognizing our individual right to make choices for our selves, rather freedom, if its real, allows others the right to determine for themselves which path they will follow.

if in my freedom I am treading on another, than I have become the oppressor, robbing the other of the good news that the Messiah has come to release us from all bondage: including the bondage to customs, and the bondage to self. think about what paul wrote in Galatians “for you were called to freedom but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for selfish indulgence”, because real freedom is found in, and expressed through, making moral choices. we live in a world filled with other creatures, human and animal. we live in a world where every person has been born free, a world where every creature is a child of God. real freedom means recognizing that truth and acting accordingly; “don’t tread on others” because it’s really not all about you.

to our contemporary american ears that might sound a bit off since everything in our consumer culture tells us – "yes freedom is all about you", well all about your indulging yourself in whatever pleasures or pursuits you wish, without regard to there impact on others. typically because someone is making a nice profit off our self-absorption. we have been duped into believing that freedom is the ability to indulge ourselves in whatever external pleasures we will. “don’t tread on me” becomes “I’ll do whatever I wish regardless of how it affects other people or the earth”.

so many of our seemingly harmless self indulgences do negatively impact on the earth and on other people. but if we don't take the time to look we can remain conveniently unaware of it. so much easier to remain unaware and pretend that absolves us from what we do. and if need be we can always point the finger at someone else and wash our hands of the matter. its nice to have someone else to put the blame on, pontius pilate felt the same way.

paul explains what real freedom is- "for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. sound familiar? perhaps because Jesus said the same thing. real freedom, freedom from customs and self, is found in loving others as an extension of yourself. a radical thought, at least in context of our contemporary consumer-driven lifestyles. paul goes on to warn us if we choice to use our freedom as a pretext for selfishness we will in the end bring about our own ruin and the ruin of others.

so let's celebrate our freedom, and reflect on the freedom Jesus calls us too. not a right or gift we hold to ourselves, but one that all share in by God-given birthright; and let us reflect on the manner and means by which we are living our lives in context of love, remembering, as paul also writes "the only thing that counts is faith working through love". its the only thing that ultimately matters, the only way to really be free and live freely; for in truth “none are free, till all are free”.

© 2011 Halley Low

Friday, May 6, 2011

the church has no volunteers - oh my

hey, did you hear the news, the church has no volunteers. nope, not a one, what are we going to do??? but don’t be alarmed, there’s nothing to worry about. yep, absolutely nothing to worry about because the church doesn’t need volunteers. the reason for that is because we have more then enough ministers to do all the work of the church.

see my friends, Jesus never called anyone to be a volunteer. in fact you will not find the word “volunteer” in any of the gospels in the new testament. Jesus doesn’t want volunteers. The army and rotary club call for volunteers, but Jesus calls disciples.

a disciple is someone who response to Jesus’ call to follow Him, in fact that’s what the word disciple means – one who follows. and Jesus calls His disciples to follow His example. there's a story in john’s gospel where Jesus washes the feet of His followers and says to them, “I have given you example, do as I have done - serve one another.”

Jesus came as a servant to humanity, and bids us to follow Him and become servants too. so if you are a follower (disciple) of Christ, then you are a servant too. and did you know that the word “minister” comes from the Latin “to serve”, so a minister is a servant, and all Christ’s true followers are therefore ministers. yep, the church is chock full of ministers – me, you, the guy who sits next to you in the pew, the woman handing you the hammer at a mission project, the girl standing next to you in the praise band or choir, all of us – ministers of Christ, called to serve one another, and to serve God by participating in God's work of healing our broken hearts and broken world.

so the next time someone asks you to volunteer to do something for the church, just tell them, “sorry i’m not a volunteer, i’m a minister of Christ - so what is it you need me to do?”

© 2011 Halley Low