Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys – Uncertain Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 13:1-9), we find our guy telling stories about the uncertainties of life and how quickly tragedy can be visited upon any of us. He reminds them of two events that his listeners were probably very familiar with, though the details of both are lost to history.

His first story is one of the brutality of Pilate, the ruler appointed by Rome to oversee Jerusalem.  Apparently, Pilate massacred a group of Galileans who had made a pilgrimage to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem, and then mixed their blood with the blood of their animal sacrifices. The second story is about a tragic accident where a wall fell in Siloam and killed 18 hapless Jews who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can imagine our own similar reminders of the uncertainty and fragility of life. Twenty bullet ridden bodies of elementary school children, massacred at the hands of a nut with a gun. Or, those who have died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when in earthquakes or tsunamis or other natural disasters struck.

Jesus uses these stories to remind his listeners, and us, that life is fragile and uncertain. In the middle of this reminder, he uses a word we don’t like very much, especially as more progressive believers.

“I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

Unless you “repent” – oh, how we hate that word, because it’s so closely associated with another word we don’t say much: sin. Sin and repentance talk just cuts too closely for we progressive spiritual types. It reminds us of those hellfire and brimstone preachers we left behind who tell us we must “REPENT” or burn in hell!

But, this is not what Jesus is saying here. If there is any sin to be repented of, it is the sin of the mind games we play in this world to convince us that we can be certain about anything.  Jesus says, no, life is never certain, so you’d better get your mind right (which is what “repent” means – to change your mind), and get your heart right, and live each moment to its fullest – or you, too, will be shocked when tragedy strikes.

Jesus is telling his listeners, and us, to be here now – to pay attention to this moment, to bear fruit right now. Like the fig tree he goes on to talk about, we cannot wait another season to start living as uncertain misfits.

We cannot wait to give to the poor until we have just a little more for ourselves – we must give what we can now, from what we have now. We cannot wait to give time to those around us in need until we have just a little more time for ourselves, we must give that time now, from what time we have now. We cannot wait to give love to those around us until we find a little more love in our lives. We must give love now, from the love we have now. We cannot wait to give justice to others until we find a little more justice for ourselves. We must give justice now, from the justice we have now. We cannot wait to spread peace and joy in this world until we have a little more peace and joy in our own lives, we must give peace and joy now, from whatever amount of peace and joy we have right now.

Jesus says, if you’re going to play a mind game, here’s one for you – Say yes to uncertainty, put your soul power to the karmic wheel and play the mind game of love that rejects the one story and embraces the mystery of each moment.

Or as the Muslim mystic poet Rumi says: “Sell your cleverness, and buy bewilderment.”

Breathe deeply.

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Check out  Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”

Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys – Being Humble Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 4:1-13), we find our guy out in the wilderness. But, as the modern day saying goes, “Not all who wander are lost.” Jesus, while he spends 40 days out in the wilderness, may be wandering, but as this passage shows us, he is far from lost. Despite being tired, hungry, and probably pretty ripe by the time we join him, he remains true to his humble misfit nature.

It’s hard to tell from the stark recounting of this event in our reading this morning, but if we believe that Jesus was fully human, I would bet that each of the adversary’s offers were more than just a little bit tempting to Jesus. Imagine it: You’ve been in the wilderness for nearly 40 days with nothing to eat and the devil says, “Dude, you’re a miracle worker. You can command these stones to turn to bread and they will. I mean, if God provided manna in the wilderness for your Hebrew ancestors, certainly God wants you to eat as well as they did.”

The other temptations were probably just as seductive – a chance to become ruler of the world, and an opportunity to show off his supernatural skills to the people by throwing himself off the top of the temple and having the angels catch him. Think about the fame and fortune, the riches, the followers, the power Jesus would have had if he made just any one of these deals with the devil.

Anyone who could have produced bread from stones in an agrarian society where the vast majority lived hand-to-mouth would win him enough followers to overthrow the Romans in the blink of an eye.

Taking the adversary up on any of these offers would have made Jesus’ life a lot easier, and his ministry probably a lot more powerful and memorable.

Instead, Jesus took the path of the humble misfit. It’s a much more difficult path, fraught with pain, frustration, misunderstanding, fear, suffering and finally death. But, it is the only path that ultimately leads us to the Holy. It’s the only path we can take if we expect our small hands to make any difference in a world with gigantic problems.

Jesus knew, and tries to show us, that even though the devil’s temptations would have been a quicker path to his goal – he would be still be doing the right thing but through the wrong means. How we bring justice and peace to the world is just as important as the goal of actually bringing justice and peace to the world.

If we seek to be humble misfits, we must be aware of how we are pursuing even worthy goals. Are we seeking our own advantage, even as we say we want equality for all? Do we want things just for ourselves, even as we say we want equity in this world so everyone can have what they need? Are we really giving the best of our gifts to this world, or is the world getting our spiritual, mental and physical leftovers after we’ve taken care of our own wants and desires?

Those are hard questions, and ones well worth pondering as we experience our own wilderness during this time of Lent. Being humble misfits is not an easy task, and if we follow it the way that Jesus did, the outcomes for us could be dire. Who could blame us for not wanting to follow that path?

But, here’s the secret of the universe, Jubilants. Pain and death is something that awaits us all. We cannot escape either. We can live for our own advantage and still get sick and die. We can horde all the wealth we can handle, and still suffer the loss of loved ones and valued possessions. We can reach the highest pinnacle of fame and still face deep depression and feelings of inadequacy.

As human beings, this is our lot in life – we will all face pain. We will all face temptation, and loss and unhappiness. The choice then becomes, how will we live, even in the face of life’s uncertainty and loss? Will we live selfishly, doing everything we can to insulate ourselves or deny the realities of life? Or, do we live as humble misfits, realizing that while the pain of life is inevitable, suffering really is optional.

What we find when we choose to live as humble misfits is this: There is joy in every sadness, comfort in every pain, light in every darkness and happiness in even the deepest despair. We only really get to see that, though, when we open our hands and let the blessings flow through them – when we stop living just for ourselves, and live for others, as humble misfits.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys – Impatient Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In an episode  of the Simpsons (In Marge We Trust) that aired a few years ago, Rev. Timothy Lovejoy, minister of the First Church of Springfield, is having a spiritual crisis. He’s losing his flock and he can’t figure out what he’s done wrong to drive people from his church. In one scene, the saints in the stained glass come to life and confront him, asking, “What have you done to keep them?”

“Well, I had the vestibule re-carpeted,” Rev. Lovejoy offers.

One saint tells him that’s the lamest thing he’s ever heard.

“I thought saints were supposed to be friendly,” Rev. Lovejoy complains.

To which the saint replies: “You’re just lucky God isn’t here.”

This episode reminds me of a church in Atlanta that my father used to pastor in the late 1960s. Membership was already beginning to dwindle and my father was looking for ways to bring more children and young people into this graying congregation. He proposed opening a daycare in the building, with two purposes, to make some money and start attracting younger couples with children to keep the church growing.

This church had been founded by a couple of prominent families and the building itself had been constructed – and mostly paid for – by one of those families.  When my father made the audacious proposal of opening up a daycare, a member of one of these founding families stood up and said, “There will be NO children in my church.”

My father didn’t last long in that pulpit. He left soon after this incident saying, much like the stained glass saint in The Simpsons: “God hasn’t visited that church in a very long time.”

My dad was an impatient misfit who said what he needed to say, what the community needed to hear – but they were not open to his ideas. Instead, they wanted to remain in their theological cocoon. They wanted to stay in what they saw as the heyday of their church. If it couldn’t remain in what they had built, then they’d be happy to simply let it go. They weren’t changing anything for anyone – even to secure a future for the church they had literally built with their own hands.

These examples are indicative of what the church does in today’s world, and is a cautionary tale to Jubilee! Circle as we continue to grow. Communities wrangle over so many things, so many details – carpet, daycare, whether this light fixture is the right one or whether or not someone likes this paint color or another. Some of those squabbles may also be theological – who is acceptable in the community and who is not. But, often while we squabble over the details – we drive God right out of the building.

Actually, I suspect God hangs out waiting for us to notice her – but, instead of keeping the main thing the main thing and getting on with the business of the Holy by feeding the poor, helping the sick or visiting the prisoner, we often prefer to gossip about each other or look for ways to lay claim to “our church” or “our community.”

I am happy to report, however, that church in Atlanta is thriving and growing right now. It’s all thanks to another impatient misfit who took over several years after my dad left. He said, and did, what needed to be done, despite opposition, and a persistently small congregation. Thanks to his perseverance, he began to turn that church around, leading it out of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention into the more liberal Cooperative Baptists. The church has since become a United Church of Christ and is once again a vibrant part of the community.

Oh, and it also has a very big, very successful, daycare.

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Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys – Misfit Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

According to Christian doctrine, God is often represented as a Trinity – God is one – but not the same. There is a creator, a redeemer and a sustainer – three distinct roles – all in relationship. Herein lies the key – we cannot even realize that we are all one unless we’re willing to be in relationship – not just with those we choose, but with those we’d rather choose not be in relationship with – those who look different than us, think different than us, smell different than us, talk different than us, vote different than us. In God there is no us and them – there is only one – but not the same.

Our role is to preach obedience to Jesus’ command – and what was that command? To love God, self and neighbor. We are commanded to love – to preach obedience to love, to model obedience to love, to be in loving relationship with everyone – even the ones who are not the same as us.

Thomas Merton writes in Love and Living:

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never feel real until we let ourselves fall in love — either with another human person or with God.”

That sounds hard – like a life fraught with rejection and frustration. It sounds like the kind of love that leads to heartache, to persecution and perhaps even crucifixion.

But we have no choice. If we are to fulfill the great commission, we must realize we are one, but not the same and get on with the business of carrying each other – being there for those who have no one – being there for those who hate us – being there for those who persecute us – being there for those who would rather we not be there.

In Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, it’s the lesson that Rudolph and Hermey finally learned as they returned to Christmastown to carry those who had previously rejected him. The people in Christmastown finally got it that they were one – but not the same – and that’s exactly what made their little town so beautiful and incredible. They had no choice but to be in relationship with one another – to let everyone play their reindeer games, no matter what color their nose was or whether or not they preferred tinkering with teeth or toys.

In my hometown of Buford, Georgia, we had a convenience store called “Tote-a-Poke.” Can any Southerners here translate that phrase? It means, “Carry a bag.” As followers of Jesus we’re called to be toters. We don’t tote a bag, though. We tote a message. We’re divine message toters. That message is one of unity in diversity. That’s a tough message to tote in a polarized and partisan world – but we’re not left alone in our endeavor. Jesus said, “I am with you always – I am with you always.” We’re never left to our own devices.

Breathe deeply – feel that connection – that living relationship to the divine.

In that relationship we become one with our creator, our redeemer and our sustainer. In that relationship our lives become a wordless sermon, drawing still others into the embrace of the Holy.

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