Via Creativa: Being Real Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story, (Luke 2:41-52) we find our boy missing, and his parents, Mary and Joseph, frantically searching all over Jerusalem for him. We,  the reader, know that Jesus is safe and sound in the temple, knocking the socks off those old bearded priests and teachers, asking questions, and really understanding the answers.

His parents, however, did not know this. Any parent who has lost their child even for five minutes in a store or mall knows the panic. Your stomach drops out when you realize your child isn’t with you. You call their name, look all around.

If you don’t immediately find them, then the utter panic sets in. You don’t know what to do, what to think, and you don’t want to think the worst. Now, try that out for three whole days. This is the torment of Mary and Joseph during this particular Passover in Jerusalem.

When they found him, you can imagine the relief that washed over them, and then they realized what Jesus was doing. He was not playing in the temple – no he was listening, learning, and teaching.

Mary, of course, is a typical mother. She’s relieved, but that relief soon turns to anger, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.”

If I had given Jesus’ answer to my mother, she would have slapped me – or grounded me – for my insolence. “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Parent’s house?”

Perhaps Mary was too confused by her son’s answer to react immediately, but what Jesus was saying was that he, even at this tender age, like Samuel, had accepted the place the God had set for him. Perhaps he could have given mom and dad a head’s up, but he probably figured they’d learn it soon enough – their son is a misfit, and he’ll be the source of great confusion for them and the rest of the world for a very long time.

The scriptures tell us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.” Last week, we heard Mary’s song celebrating the life that her misfit son was to lead – breaking down the barriers that separate people and bringing the lowly up and the mighty down. Mary knew that her child was not a regular child – and even in those moments of panic, she remembered that God had chosen her son to call even more misfits, like you and me, to the place in this world that God holds for us – that place where our deepest passion meets the world’s deepest need.

Jesus played his role with humility, and calls us to do the same. By being just who we are, right where we are, we are part of the whole universe, because “Playing one’s part in accordance with the universe is true humility.”

If Mary were to sing a song after this encounter in Jerusalem, I think she’d sing: “Carry on, my wayward son. They’ll be peace when you are done.”

Breathe deeply.

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Via Creativa: The Island of Misfit Toys – The Original Misfit – Jesus

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent as we prepare for the birth of Christ on Christmas morning. We have lit the candle of love, which is significant for misfits. Misfits need a lot of love, but they understand that others need love, too. What Rudolph and Hermey learned from their visit to the Island of Misfit Toys was a lesson on love. Each of these toys felt abandoned and unloved, but on the island, between themselves they found belonging – a sense of love that is deeper than just fitting in. Being on the Island of Misfit Toys means we understand that everyone needs that kind of love, that kind of belonging.

Just like Jesus learned, though, that message can be misunderstood, marginalized and hated because the world doesn’t want you to belong, it wants you to fit in and do what it expects from you. If you’re an elf, be an elf. If you’re a woman, don’t be a preacher, or a firefighter, or any vocation the world reserves for men. When we step outside of the world’s prescribed roles for us, the world reacts harshly to put us back in our place.

Jesus was supposed to stay in Nazareth and build shelves and houses. He wasn’t supposed to set out on his own to spread his childish wisdom to a world who wants children to be seen but never heard. Jesus, this original misfit, refused to conform to what the world expected from him. His mother was in on it – and she understood, her baby boy would change the world.

God is always using the misfit, the insignificant, to transform this world and bring just a glimmer of the New Jerusalem into being. Out of Bethlehem comes the king and the anti-king, the great worldly warrior and the peaceful, nonviolent leader who continues to make the powerful look weak and uses childish, kindergarten wisdom to rebuke the unfairness of the world.

Jubilants, how would it change the way you lived if you knew that your heavenly parent created you to be a misfit? How would it change the way you lived if you understood it is exactly what makes you misfit in this world that makes you special in God’s realm? How would it change the way you lived if you understood that the Holy has chosen each of you misfits here to change the world?

I invite you, Jubilants, release your inner Hermey. No matter what the world tells you it wants you to be, proudly embrace the misfit nature that the Holy has implanted in all of us. We are each pregnant with possibilities and the ability to change the world around us.

In this season of Advent, I invite you all, here in the insignificant southern town of Columbia, South Carolina to give birth to the Holy misfit that grows inside of each of us. Bring for that misfit that understands it’s our calling to feed the hungry, house the homeless and care for those marginalized and forgotten by this dog eat dog world. If we all do that, Jubilants, we could just start a real revolution.

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Via Negativa – Our Hunger for Transformation

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 3:1-6), we find the evangelist Luke proclaiming the beginning of the John the Baptist’s ministry before Jesus even comes on the scene. John is an agent of transformation – and the writer of this gospel doesn’t let us forget how transformation really works in this world.

He begins this chapter by recounting the mighty leadership that was in place in the time of John and Jesus. Tiberius is the emperor, Pilate is the governor of Judea, and his brother Philip and another guy named Lysanius are in charge elsewhere. Luke also mentions the high priests of the day Annas and Caiaphas.

During the reign of all these men over government and the church, Luke tells us “the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”

This is how God goes about transforming the world. Instead of speaking to the reigning emperor, or the powerful governor, or even the most high and popular priests of the time, God speaks to John – a guy who lives in the woods, wears hair shirts and eats locusts and wild honey. God has no interest in top-down transformation. Instead, God speaks to this crazy wild man John – this marginalized preacher who dunks people in the water to symbolize their rebirth into God’s realm – not into the realm of the world’s power and prestige.

This is the rhythm of the Holy, Jubilants. The Holy does not sing its song of liberation and transformation to the powerful. Their ears and hearts are already closed to the hypnotic beat of the Holy’s music of transformation.  Instead, God still sings her sweet song of transformation to those of us at the bottom of the social pile. As John knew, the realm of God breaks into the world like a soulful spiritual that invites us to join in and drift away – to be carried by the Spirit of the Holy.

Luke proclaims that transformation, like a song, starts small, in small children like John and Jesus. The great “powers that be” cannot ultimately silence these transformational figures.

They can persecute and kill them, but their song of transformation and liberation only grows stronger through the stories of their lives.

So, the question is Jubilants: Will we recognize the song of the Holy and live lives of transformation or will we remain small? Will we invite others to join in the song of transformation, to see the changes going on and join in, or will we ignore the transformational power of the Holy in favor of the status quo?

Often in this world of despair we feel like we are crying out in the wilderness. What can we small people do to transform this world?  We transform the world when we transform ourselves.  The Holy gives us the beat to free our souls and get lost in that cosmic rock and roll that is salvation – that transformation that comes only when we open our hearts to the grace of the Holy. Only when we break ourselves open can we become vulnerable. Only when we stop looking at our own navels can we see the holes in the lives of others. Only then can we begin to bring transformation to others.

The Holy invites us to stop, children, look around and hear that sound – that sound of transformation, that sound that calls us to become the people – and the community – of transformation.

John tells us that the arrival of the Christ that we await in this Advent season transforms the world in very literal ways : Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

When the Holy comes to us, John says, our world is changed. And it’s not just that God is promising to fix all the potholes, but God is promising to transform it all – all the valleys of our hearts, all the mountains we face in our lives, all the crooked paths we must take to achieve our spiritual goals, all the rough ways will be made smooth – and we shall see God’s salvation – that transformation that takes us out of our human ruts and puts us on the straight, Holy path.

Will our lives be trouble free? Not by any stretch of the imagination, but this kind of transformation promises us that if we listen to the cosmic rock and roll of the Holy, we can drift away.

The trials of this life are all transitory – we don’t have to get into the muck, we can rise above it, drift away from the frustrations, from the anger, the greed, the emotional trappings that keep us stuck. We can transform our thinking and our being, turning sadness into joy and filling our mouths with laughter.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Negativa: Our Hunger for Happiness

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 1:68-79), like last week, we’re in the time before our boy arrives on the scene. In fact, Jesus’ cousin John is just being born and in this passage his father Zechariah is bragging to his neighbors about what a great man his son will grow up to be.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

John the Baptist enters a world beset by competition – perhaps not people trying to climb the corporate ladder – but in this time, it was a competition to simply stay alive. Throughout their history, the Jewish people either lived in exile or at home under the thumb of one oppressor or another. Most lived in poverty, barely scraping by. Others, because of their skill in trades, did better, but usually by serving those who were occupying their land at the time, or whoever was keeping them out of their land.

The individual pursuit of what we modern day Americans would call “happiness” was probably not their first priority. Happiness was quite simple – enough food to eat, a bed to sleep in and a simple dwelling to surround that bed. This was not happiness based on how much you had or how much wealth you could amass – it was a happiness found in relationships with family, friends, and a sense of still being God’s favored people, even when all the evidence said you were forsaken.

It is that last piece –  the feeling of being forgotten or left by God to the tender mercies of invaders and oppressors that produced a keen sense of despair and darkness among the Jewish people.

Zechariah’s proclamation then is one of hope that light will come to those who sit in the darkness of oppression and poverty. His son will prepare the way for this Messiah, this chosen one, who will lead us all down the path of peace.

Hear the good news! We can achieve true happiness, because this true, holy happiness is liberation from darkness. But, before there can be liberation, there must be darkness. Nobody escapes it. John had to go through darkness that ended in his beheading. Jesus went through the darkness before he was arrested and killed. Darkness – and the pain that comes with it – visits all of us. It’s what we do with that darkness and pain that predicts how happy we will ultimately be.

Despite the terrible endings of John and Jesus, and even the terrible endings of our own modern day spiritual heroes like Gandhi or King, I can bet you everything I own that none of them would have had their lives unfold in any other way. They pursued what they were passionate about, knowing that in that pursuit they would encounter trouble, danger, heartache and despair. But, also in that pursuit they all encountered unimaginable joy, elation, triumph and, yes, happiness.

In the end, something else they also enjoyed is immortality, and not just in a bodily resurrection, but in the only kind of resurrection that matters – the resurrection of their spirits that lives on in each of us today because we know their stories. We know about their lives and their sacrifices – and we know that they each died doing what made them happy – even when what made them happy led them to despair and death.

What they achieved in the end is our theme in this second Sunday in Advent: peace. They achieved the peace of mind that only holy happiness can provide. Not a surface, affirmation-riddled happiness, but a deep peace that understands we cannot have true happiness without pain and darkness. But, as the Buddhists tell us: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

Breathe deeply.

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Via Negativa: Our Hunger for Fairness

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 3:7-18), we find that our guy has yet to show up on the scene. Instead, we find his predecessor, John the Baptist, following in the footsteps of the prophet Zechariah, dressing down his followers. He calls them “a brood of vipers” and tells them even if they are born directly from Abraham’s line they can’t escape God’s wrath for how unfair they have allowed the world to become.

“What can we do?” the people want to know. John tells them – satisfy the hunger for fairness in this world:

“[H]e said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.'”

What should we do? The answer is simple – bring fairness to every situation to find yourself in. The answer is simple – but not easy – because when we are treated unfairly, our first reaction is to give as good as we get. You cut me off in traffic, fine, I’ll cut somebody else off. We have an infinite capacity to pay it forward when it comes to unfairness.

John tells his followers, and us, this has to stop, and the only place it can stop is with you. Instead of waiting for the world to change – to become a fairer place – you become the change you want to see.

Which is a lovely thought, right? But, so often, we feel that our puny efforts won’t matter. Fine, I’m fair to someone today, but the larger unfairness of the world continues unabated. How can one small effort make any difference at all?

It makes a difference to the person who receives your fairness, and perhaps instead of paying forward some unfairness, they will react to their next encounter with unfairness with the fairness you have shown them. That way fairness multiplies – and that small act becomes magnified as it is passed along.

It is often the small things that change the world, like the birth of a baby in a lowly manger in some Mideast backwater town. On this first Sunday of Advent, we have lit the first candle – one of hope. Our ultimate hope is in something small, a baby boy, born in poverty to bewildered parents. Our hopes always begin small – but it is with practice, with faith, with love that those hopes grow and become something that ultimately changes the world.

Jesus was a man who believed in fairness, who believed in love, and hope, and justice. What if he had looked at the world of unfairness and injustice around him and, instead of starting small with the people around him, simply gave in to the despair that his small efforts would mean nothing? What if he had believed that small acts of kindness and fairness would never add up to anything meaningful? What if he had just stayed in Galilee and built shelves for a living, getting what he could while he could because, y’know, one person can never change the whole world.

Where would we be today?

Breathe deeply.

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(One note: In the podcast you may hear references to “The Lord.” Lourd (note the unique spelling) is our new puppy. She is a German Shepherd, so the name comes from the 23rd Psalm … “The Lord is my Shepherd …” During our prayer song, The Lourd broke free from whoever was holding her and settled in between my feet for a nap. It was a moment of “awwww …”)

Here is me with the Lourd:

Candace cradles “The Lourd” – our new German Shepherd pup.