Cosmic Kindergarten: “Watch Your Mouth!”

By: Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

“Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.
Half-heartedness does not reach into majesty.
You set out to find God,
but then you keep stopping
for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses.”

In our Jesus story (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), we find Jesus spending a little time in a mean-spirited roadhouse of sorts. He’s teaching and preaching at a little town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and some scribes and Pharisees have followed him over to see the show. They’re not there to be gushing Jesus fans, though. Instead, in their mean-spirited ways, they search around for something to attack Jesus over, and they find it, when they see his disciples eating without first washing their hands.

Now, as classmates in this Cosmic Kindergarten, we may think that the scribes and the Pharisees have a pretty good point. One of the many important things we learn early in life is to wash our hands before we eat. Not only is it good hygiene, but to these old time religious leaders, this is an ancient tradition of the elders that is not to be disregarded.

Jesus firmly rebukes the religious authorities, accusing them of abandoning God’s laws for human tradition.

Then, he hits them with the zinger: “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In other words, we cannot judge people on whether or not they wash their hands, or observe some ancient law. Instead, we can only see another person’s true nature by watching what they do, not what they say they believe.

In his own way, Jesus was telling the scribes and the Pharisees, “watch your mouth,” because out of their mouths they showed what was truly inside their hearts. They put more emphasis on religious rules and traditions than they did mercy and compassion. They honored God with their lips, with their rules, but their hearts were far from God’s commandment to love everyone unconditionally, and to welcome everyone at the table – whether they have washed their hands or not.

The lesson here is clear – we cannot speak words of love, unless we embody love. We cannot speak words of compassion, unless we embody compassion. We cannot speak words of justice, unless we embody justice. We cannot speak words of mercy, unless we embody mercy. We cannot speak words of peace, unless we embody peace. We cannot speak words of grace, unless we embody grace.

Nothing from outside of us can defile us – those mean-spirited roadhouses we stop at and stay for awhile are not outside of us – they are inside of us. When we live in those mean-spirited roadhouses in our own souls, others see it. We are full of theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

Jesus invites us to get back on the road to the Holy, to leave that inner mean-spirited roadhouse and get on with learning the deep lessons of love, mercy, peace, justice and compassion. Until we embody the qualities of the Holy, we will be just like those scribes and Pharisees, seeing nothing but dirty hands all around us.

Breathe deeply.

To hear this week’s celebration podcast, go here.

To hear past Jubilee! Circle celebration podcasts, go here.

Jubilee! Circle: Carrying the “Oh, Yeah” message to Columbia, SC

Wow …

It’s rare that I’m speechless, but this is really one of those moments. This past weekend, Jubilee! Community in Asheville, N.C. ordained me and Rev. Chris Matthews from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as new Jubilee! ministers. We have been commissioned to take the Jubilee! message to our communities in Columbia, SC and Baton Rouge.

Jubilee! Circle began in January 2010. We have patterned our celebrations on Jubilee!’s model in Asheville, using contemporary pop, rock, country and even reggae music – or “secular music for sacred people” as Asheville’s Jubilee! leader Howard Hanger has said – in our meditations (others call them sermons) and celebrations. We base our theology on the “original blessing” of Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality, and don’t just honor other faiths, but draw from their sacred traditions of prayer and celebration, drinking deeply from the different wells that dig down to draw from the same stream of the Holy.

Here is part of what I told the Jubilee! Asheville community this past weekend:

The main thing Jubilee! taught me that day was the simple power of two little words, “Oh, yeah.” They were two words I had said often before, without thinking much about it.

What Jubilee! taught me that the only true way to say “Oh, yeah!” is with awe – that overwhelming awe that opens you to the Holy, that opens you to the improbable, that opens you to be able to witness miracles.

This is not the “oh, yeah” you can find in the awesome earthquake. This is not the “oh, yeah” you can find in the fire. This is the “oh, yeah” you can only find in the silence – that sheer silence that comes from knowing that you have stepped onto holy ground.

I invite you, Jubilants, to hear the silence. It’s all around you – it’s in between every word. In between every sigh. In between every note of every song. Silence. It’s what makes the earthquake awesome. It’s what makes the fire all consuming.

There is silence in, through and around – in the gaps of our lives – where the Holy resides, and speaks.  That silence is where we hear the Holy, “Oh, yeah,”  … the, “Oh, yeah” that moves us from certainty to mystery.

So, here’s the question I invite you to consider today, Jubilee! “What are you doing here?”

What are you doing here, Jubilee?  The Holy is asking, and today you are giving a powerful answer.

You are here, Jubilee! to work miracles, to do the impossible, to create silence in the spaces and create new life, new communities where the Holy can work more and more miracles.

The “Oh, Yeah” that this community gave me opened me in new and terrifying ways. It opened me to step out and begin building a Jubilee! community where none existed before.  When you heard about us, it was your openness, your amazing generosity of spirit, that reached out to us, to draw your circle even wider to take us in – and to take in Chris and his new community.

This is what openness is all about, Jubilants – it’s about opening to intimate, and infinite, possibilities. It is about living with a spirit of vulnerability and awe in a world that does all it can to crush both.

Who knew this day would ever happen when two other ministers, far afield from Asheville, would come into your presence, seeking your blessings for the ministries we modeled after this amazing community? Not me. This day is a total shock to me.

That day I walked in here and fell head over heels in love with this place, I never could have predicted that I would one day stand before you, seeking recognition to carry this mission, and this “Oh, yeah” message even further.

But, here we are – open to one another. Opening up to the future together, building Jubilee communities in places that weren’t open before now, before this moment.  A miracle.

What are you doing here, Jubilee?

Just as the Holy sent Elijah down from the mountain and into the world, so you, today, send us – to prophesy to the mysteries we’ve seen … and to work every day miracles in the silence and awe of this Holy-soaked world.

This, Jubilants, is a yet another good sign.

Hear this celebration podcast here.

Listen to all of Jubilee! Circle’s past podcasts here.

Cosmic Kindergarten: What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Elijah the prophet was a man of many dreams. He dreamed big not just for himself, but for his people – and, like the dreams we have for our lives, it got him into some big trouble with those who seek to tame our dreams.

In today’s Hebrew Scripture (1 Kings 19:1-81), we find Elijah on the run from Queen Jezebel after he has defeated and killed all of her prophets. She’s a bit ticked off at old Elijah and is out to kill him, so he’s hiding out in the wilderness – scared out of his mind that Jezebel will make good on her promise.

Understandably, Elijah is a bit depressed and suicidal. He’s lived into the life that he believes God has called him to. He’s done everything he believes he should have done – but things are going as smoothly as he had hoped.

This, Jubilants, is the nature of our true dreams. They are never easy to obtain – and often we feel under attack not just by the world around us, but mainly by ourselves whenever we ignore the world’s warnings, don our lion tamer hat, and get into the ring with the true dream we have for our lives. The truth is, to get to our dreams, we often have to fight for them – and often, it can feel like a fight to the death.

While it’s true that our lives may not literally be in danger as we pursue our dreams, we still live most of our lives in fear that we could lose everything.

Sometimes, though, losing everything isn’t all that bad, and can lead us to the life we’re meant to live. Losing what the world calls valuable can often lead us back to that sweaty, grubby five-year-old who knew they wanted to play in the dirt and totally enjoy their lives.

I talked to my mom just the other day and she asked how I was doing. I was packing my car to go lead a Weight Watchers meeting and she said to me, “It’s tough to be without a job in this economy.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Um, Mom, I have several jobs,” I told her. But, you see, my mother, the dream tamer, thinks I’m unemployed because I don’t spend my days in cubicle-land collecting one paycheck from one company for the rest of my life.

I tried living in cubicle-land and it was soul killing. I don’t know if it’s my ADD or just my personality, but I enjoy having several jobs that employ all of my different skills. I’m living my dream, Jubliants – but to the dream tamers – I’m an unemployed slacker.  It is this judgment of the world that keeps us locked up in cubicle-land, afraid to bring down the wrath of the dream tamers who tell us we’re not really working unless we’re workin’ for the man!

Don’t think that the kings and leaders of Elijah’s day didn’t wish he’d just shut up and be a nice silent farmer or shepherd. It would have made their lives easier – and it would have looked like Elijah would have an easier life. At least he wouldn’t be sitting in the wilderness waiting for Jezebel to come and kill him. But, despite Elijah’s misery in this passage, it would be worse for Elijah if he wasn’t living his dream.

Elijah’s story is valuable to those of us dedicated to running down our dreams. In our dream world, it’s not all a life of leisure and ease. Some days, even our living into wildest dreams can feel like hell. But, that’s the moment when Holy comes to us and says, “Get up and eat.”

To survive, we must eat – but, we must eat the food that really sustains us – that feeds our souls so we can continue our journey toward our dreams. We can’t keep feasting on the junk food of popular culture and what the world tells us we should be. That hasn’t satisfied us in years.

Instead, as we slumber through our lives, going through the motions – the Holy nudges us every day, encouraging us to “Get up and eat” – to eat from the fruits of life that bring us alive, that give us the energy we need to sustain not just our bodies, but our souls in this world that is starving for that kind of food, that kind of nourishment.

Instead of running from something – like a Jezebel who has us in her sights – we have to begin to see what we’re really doing is running down that dream that the Holy plants deep within each of us – that dream to be who the Holy has created us to be.

Breathe deeply.

Hear this week’s podcast.

Listen to all of our past podcasts.

Cosmic Kindergarten: Saying “Thank You”

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Back when I was a tiny child, my mother would say this one phrase in an effort to instill some sort of manners in an otherwise stubborn and unruly child. It’s true, I’m still a stubborn and unruly adult, but because of this one phrase my mom used, I do have a modicum of manners.

Whenever we were in a situation where I received something, whether it was something I really wanted or not, Mom would always ask me, “What do you say?” I can tell you from harsh experience that the correct answer was not, “It’s about time! What took you so long?” Instead, the correct answer was, “Thank you.”

Whenever mom said, “What do you say?” you always had to answer, “Thank you.” That was the right answer, even if you didn’t want to say it. Believe me, there were times when I gritted my teeth and said, “Thank you,” even if what I had received were beets, or carrots or anything less than what I had asked for or wanted.

In our Jesus story today (Luke 17:11-19), apparently only one of the ten lepers that Jesus healed must have had a mother like mine who asked him repeatedly, “What do you say?” He’s the only one who came back to thank Jesus. He’s the only one Miss Manners – and my momma – would be proud of. He’s also our A-student in today’s Cosmic Kindergarten lesson in being grateful.

There’s something important about this leper – or now ex-leper – that we must remember. He was a Samaritan which means that even before he had leprosy, he was an outcast. In John 4:9 we learn that Jews had no dealings at all with Samaritans. You’ll remember it was a Samaritan woman that Jesus speaks with at the well in this passage. It was scandalous for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan, even more scandalous than a man speaking to woman.

The Samaritans were as hated by the respectable religious people of Jesus day as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are hated by the respectable religious folks of our day.

Just put yourself in this ex-leper’s shoes for a minute. Before he got sick he was already hated and then those spots started appearing on his flesh and he knew he was done for. Life was really over. Imagine how depressed he must have been. There was no ancient Prozac to help our poor Samaritan leper feel good about the crappy hand that life had dealt him. He simply had to deal with it all the best way he could – by begging for a living, by banding together with the other outcasts and eking out whatever kind of life he could.

Like this leper, and many of you, I have dealt with crushing depression. There was a time in my life when I hit the bottom emotionally. I told my therapist that I was in the middle of a “don’t-give-a-crap” part of my life. I used stronger language, but this is church, after all. Life had become so crappy that no matter what happened, I truly didn’t care. The house explodes? Don’t care. The car dies? Don’t care. Lost my job? Don’t care. I won the lottery? Don’t care.

Nothing could lift me out of the depths of my depression. Friends tried to help. They worked hard to lift my spirits and get me out of the doldrums, but nothing worked. In fact, if I had heard one more Pollyanna tell me to “count my blessings” they would have heard a tirade of language not fitting for a pastor to say in or out of church. When life sucks that badly the last thing on your mind is developing an “attitude of gratitude.”

I imagine all of those lepers were going through deep depressions, being sick, outcast and reduced to begging to simply survive. It’s depressing just to describe it. But, only one of them – the one who had been doubly excluded and the one with the most to be depressed about – could still feel a sense of gratitude and an urgent need to go back to Jesus and express it.

We have a lot to learn from this ex-leper. How often do we say thank you, not just when life is crappy, but when the crappiness lifts and life improves? How often are we like the other nine lepers who disappear without so much as a “thanks” when the rain finally ends and sunshine breaks through the clouds of our lives?

If God prompted us like my mom and asked, “What do you say?” how many of us would reply with, “It’s about time! What took you so long?” instead of a simple, “Thank you”?

Breathe deeply.

To hear this week’s podcast on learning how to say “Thank You,” go here.

And, don’t miss Beth DeHart’s meditation from July 29, 2012 on remembering what we’ve forgotten since kindergarten, and learn if you’re truly smarter than a fifth grader!

Listen to all of our past podcasts here.