Via Negativa: Hunger Games – The Hunger for Acceptance

In our Jesus story this week (Mark 9:30-37) , we find our guy giving his disciples a very clear lesson in acceptance – one that they sorely need, but, of course, miss. Jesus and his merry band have been traveling through Galilee and into Capernaum where Jesus asks the guys what they were talking about on the road.

Well, what the disciples discovered on that road trip is that even acceptance has a dark side. Now that they felt accepted by Jesus, this man that they loved and would follow through fire, and piddly little backwater towns, they started to argue about who Jesus accepted the most. They argued about who was the greatest among them – who was the most accepted, and therefore the most powerful.

See, we crave acceptance from world, but as civil rights struggles of the past have shown us, once acceptance is granted, then superiority can gain a foothold. Those who have been previously oppressed gain acceptance, then they can become oppressors of others who try to follow behind. Immigrants granted citizenship may rail about the “illegals” or African-Americans may complain that the LGBT community cannot co-opt its movement since the oppression is not exactly the same.

This is the dark side of acceptance – once we attain it, we get to decide who does, or does not, get accepted next. Jesus didn’t have to hear the disciples recount their conversation. He already knew his guys were getting a little bit full of themselves, so he gives them an object lesson – in the form of a child.

“He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'”

At its core, Jubilants, acceptance is not about what makes me better than you or you better than me. Instead, acceptance is about what makes you, me, and what makes me, you. Whoever wants to be first, must serve, and whoever wants to welcome God into themselves and the world, must see themselves in everyone, even in a little child. Instead of seeing the world as competition – as separate from ourselves where we win acceptance or face rejection – Jesus invites us to see the world as interconnected – by once again connecting with our innocence and wonder that we had as children.

As kids, we don’t know about separation until we are taught it. We see kids of different races, abilities, and genders and we don’t differentiate ourselves from them. They are all just other beings that we love to be with, play with and learn about. It’s only when the adults, who have learned the lesson of “us” versus “them,” tells us that we can’t play with children of different races, or different genders, or those with different abilities, that we begin to see the world as separated from us.

Jesus invites us back into our childlike ways – to view the world as innocent, divine, awe-filled and wonderful. This does not mean that we turn a blind eye to evil, or a deaf ear to suffering, but that we learn how to embrace it all, just as we learn to embrace our own evil and suffering as part of this amazing journey we’ve been given.

Once we can see that there is no separation between ourselves and others, we can fully grasp what Jesus was trying to tell us when he said we must love our neighbor as ourselves.

We must see our neighbors not as separate and in need of our love, but as a continuation of our own very being. My neighbor is in me and I am in my neighbor. When I see you, I see me.

Breathe deeply.

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Cosmic Kindergarten: Deep Play

In today’s Jesus story (Mark 7:24-37), we find our guy in full-on healing mode as he tours around the areas of Sidon and Tyre.

His first encounter is with a woman whose daughter was sick with an unclean spirit, as the scriptures tell us. She had heard about his healing ways and she came to him immediately, and “bowed down at his feet.”

The scripture is quick to point out the scandalous nature of this meeting. It would be scandalous enough if a Jewish woman approached Jesus in this way, but this woman was as the scripture tells us, “a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.” Gentiles, of course, were considered unclean by the Jews – a damned people who lived outside of God’s chosen tribe. Jews had nothing to do with Gentiles, so this woman had a lot of nerve to approach Jesus at all.

I believe that this woman, in this deeply risky act, is engaging in deep play before Jesus and his disciples.  In her book, Deep Play, Diane Ackerman says the original meaning of play – the word “plegan” – means “to risk, chance, expose oneself to hazard.”

“Play’s original purpose,” she writes, “was to make a pledge to someone or something by risking one’s life. Who or what might that someone or something be? Possibilities abound, including a relative, a tribal leader, a god, or a moral trait such as honor or courage. At its heart, plegan reverberated with ethical or religious values. It also contained the idea of being tightly fastened or engaged. Soon plegan became associated with performing a sacred act or administering justice, and it often appeared in ceremonies.”

As kids, we had it right all along, Jubilants. We knew that deep within play there is always risk – and often we would risk our very lives to experience it. Then we grew up and we became afraid to really play, because deep play demands that empty ourselves and put everything we are on the line in pursuit of truly being alive.

This woman understood, deeply what “plegan” is all about. She poured herself out – she emptied herself before Christ. Just by opening her mouth and speaking she breaks all the rules … but she breaks them all for love, for the love of her daughter. Often out of desperation we connect with true love – she didn’t know what else to do to get her daughter healed, so she broke all the rules and approached this mystical Jewish man to ask for help.

Jesus, too, he breaks the rules. He could have demanded this woman be punished for approaching him, but instead, he helps her. Yes, he asks her a pointed question, and even seems to call her a “dog,” but while he may be testing her faith, he was showering her in love.

He is acknowledging the depth of her love, the depth of her ability to play, by pointing out to anyone within hearing range just how hard it was for her to ditch societal taboos and even ask for this healing. Through these healings he shows that love is not just reserved for your own – you can’t hoard love simply for your own kind, your own tribe, your own peeps.

Instead, love is only something when it’s given away. “Be opened,” Jesus said as he healed the deaf mute and it’s exactly what he continues to say today. To heal our own blindness to the world’s ills, to heal our own inability to speak words of love into this world, Jesus calls us to “be opened,” to give away our love wastefully – to be an open channel from which the Holy flows from us into this world.  Only when we give love away does it turn into something more. Only when we pour ourselves out can we be truly full of life.

Breathe deeply.

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Cosmic Kindergarten: Story Time!

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen once remarked that “Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all.”

I think that’s completely true, and it explains why we love stories so much, and not just as children, but as adults, we love stories. It is through stories that we make sense of our world.  We love to read books, watch movies, tell stories about others – which is often called “gossip” – and we especially love to tell the stories of our own lives.

Even Jesus told stories – although, in today’s language we call them “parables.” When we think about stories like parables, we may be tempted to call such stories “fiction.” Like Harry Potter, or Shakespeare, the stories they tell can resonate deeply with us, but we know these are fictional accounts of history. Things that never happened.

But, what makes these stories resonate so deeply is that, though the events may not be factual, the stories are deeply and totally true, because they tell us more about ourselves than a “Just the facts, ma’am,” world could ever do.

As John Dominic Crossan writes, a parable is “a story that never happened but always does – or at least should.”

Today, in Cosmic Kindergarten, it’s story time. We’re going to hear one of those cosmic parables that never happened, but always does – or at least it should.

We’ll be reading Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Woods. It’s a parable about unconditional love – a love that can make us happy together – whenever we finally heal the broken truth in our world. It’s in that healing that we find ourselves saying:  “Oh, Yeah!”

Listen to the podcast featuring Old Turtle and the Broken Truth here.

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