Via Positiva: Dance With Delight: The Dance of Freedom

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,  to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’,  to a nation that did not call on my name.”

That’s how our ancient Hebrew scripture (Isaiah 65:1-9) begins this morning. It is a call from a loving God to people who are seeking real freedom. As the reading continues, it sounds dire for those who seek freedom away from God. They are called “rebellious” people who seek after things that are not good for them, chasing after things that they believe will make them free, but really just puts them deeper and deeper into bondage.

Not much has changed since Isaiah’s day. We’re still seeking after things we think will give us freedom in the form of money, stuff, relationships, anything that takes away our discomforts and gives us even a moment of pleasure and relief from our anxieties and fears.

What the Holy offers, however, is freedom from all of our fear and anxiety, no matter what the world looks like around us. What the Holy offers is the opportunity to dance with the delight of freedom, even if we find our outer world one of oppression and violence.

In South Africa, during Apartheid, when an oppressive white colonial government believed that freedom is best found by beating others to the ground, the native black South Africans used an unusual weapon to bring down Apartheid: dance.

The dance is called toyi toyi and if you’ve ever seen videos of protests in South Africa, you’ve seen it. The people cluster together and stamp their feet. When they do it together in a group, it appears that they are bouncing up and down in rhythm together. While they dance, they chant. One part of the group will chant, “Amandla” which means, “power.” The rest will then chant, “Awethu” which means, “for us.” So, they’re dancing and chanting, “Power to the people.”

A former riot policeman in South Africa said the chanting crowds scared the crap out of the police – though he used a different word. “Here was an unarmed mob,” he said, “instilling fear just by their toyi-toyi!”

The South Africans knew this was the only way to claim their power, by dancing together, in a group that the police would have no power against. It was the power of this dance that embodied the true human-divine spirit that overcomes all earthly oppression, even Apartheid.

The dance has such power that when Nelson Mandela finally took over as the country’s president, he danced the toyi toyi at his inauguration.

South Africans finally won the freedoms they sought from the government, but they understood that they had deep freedom all along – and they could bring that forward even as they reformed the government. They knew, like Isaiah before them, that though the nation they lived in was not perfect, their aim was not  to destroy it. Instead, they protested, they danced, to bring forth the blessing for everyone that they knew was there.

“You can take everything away from South Africa,” said one dancer, “but you can’t stop us from dancing.”

No matter how oppressive, violent or terrible this world gets, Jubilants, don’t ever let it stop you from dancing.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Positiva: Dance with Delight: Follow the Beat

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke. Taylor is a Harvard trained neuroanatomist and has spent her life studying the brain. On that fateful morning, when the left hemisphere of her own brain began to hemorrhage, she said to herself: “How cool! How often does a brain scientist get to study her own brain during a stroke?”

In an amazing and moving TED Talk, Taylor describes the morning of her stroke as her left brain shut down, leaving her to experience the wonders of her right brain. As she explains, your left brain is concerned mainly with linear time. This is where we experience our past, and plan for our future. The right brain, however, is concerned only with what’s happening right here and right now.

As her left brain went offline, Taylor talks about experiencing what she could only imagine religious people call heaven or nirvana. She called this place “la la land” where all the external stressors, and 37 years of emotional baggage just melted away. Here, in this place, she realized what the Hindus call “Brahmin.” She realized she really was one with everything, with that eternal self.

She describes being in the shower and seeing her arm merge with the wall.

“I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, “she said. “I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.”

It took Taylor six years to learn all over again how to walk, talk, read and write, but she never forgot her experience in that nirvana – that place where we are all part of the expansive self that is God – our ground of being.

In that moment, Taylor realized what Adam and Eve realized (Genesis 3: 9-15), and Jesus realized centuries later (Mark 3:19-22, 31-34) – everyone in this world is our family – whether we like them or not. Because what we call this body, or that spiritual or political belief, is simply an identity we wear here on this earthly plane. None of us are separate beings. We are all part of that eternal self – that formless, expansive and loving ground of all our being.

Who is my family? The whole world is my family – and when I dance with myself – in reality, I dance with the world – with all the little selves that make up this eternal, ethereal, magical energy of God – of Brahmin.

When we realize we are all family, then we can strive each day to ask the world to dance, to reach out beyond our limited, separate selves and try to touch not just the eternal ground of being inside of ourselves, but that eternal ground of being in everyone around us – friend, family member and foe alike.

This is the dance of true delight, Jubilants, and those who don’t understand will call us crazy. They will say we’ve lost our minds, or that we are demon possessed. But, those who call us crazy are really the ones out of their minds, because they’re still stuck in their left brain, separating the world into us and them, in and out, good and bad, worthy and unworthy, sinner and saint.

We don’t have to experience a literal stroke to move to the right of our crazy, linear left brains. Instead, all we need to do is listen to the beat that pulses from our right brain – that place of the true self that calls us to dance with ourselves – and in that dance, take our whole human family for a delightful twirl on God’s cosmic dance floor.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres – Dedication

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In today’s Hebrew scripture (1 Kings 21:1-10[11-14]15-21a) , we find a tale of greed, treachery and oppression of the poor. Naboth is a simple land owner who is approached by the wealthy and powerful king Ahab. The king wants Naboth’s land and tries to offer him a deal. He’ll give Naboth a comparable piece of land, or money, whichever Naboth would like.

But, Naboth isn’t interested. This land has been in his family for a long time and he is loath to sell his “ancestral land” as he calls it. Naboth’s refusal to sell sends the king into a deep depression. Enter his wife, Jezebel. The Hebrew scriptures don’t treat Jezebel kindly. She is not a Hebrew, coming into their land from the Sidonians and bringing with her the worship of her alien god Baal. So, it’s no surprise that scripture recounts how she cooks up a scheme to get Naboth’s land without paying him a dime.

In her plan, Naboth is invited to head an assembly at a fast, then two men make false charges against him, which get him dragged from the meeting and stoned. Voila, Jezebel tells Ahab … the land is yours.

The injustice in this story is quite clear. Naboth is the innocent victim of lies, deceit and greed perpetrated upon him by those in power. It’s a timeless story. Even way back then the only voices that mattered were those who were backed up by power and money, and greed was already a pretty sophisticated profession. It seems nothing really changes over the years, as the poor in our own day continue to get a raw deal, taken advantage of by those with all the power and money.

At the heart of this tale, however, is a story of dedication. What set up this clash of ownership and power was that all three of the main players were dedicated to something. Naboth was dedicated to tradition and his land. Ahab was dedicated to his greed, and Jezebel was dedicated to her scheming. It was all that dedication to competing interests that led to death and destruction.

Why these clashes continue today is that we remain dedicated to all of those things. When we are dedicated to tradition – like Naboth – unable to see new ways to live – it can destroy us.

When we are dedicated to greed – to getting what others have at any cost – it can destroy us. When we are dedicated to scheming about how we can get the upper hand and defeat those we hate at any cost – we destroy ourselves.

It seems no matter when or where we live, when we dedicate ourselves to the competing interests of tradition, greed and scheming, it’s always a time of inconvenience.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres: Listening Deeply

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Hebrew scripture (1 Kings 17:8-24), we come across a story that should be familiar to anyone who attended Sunday School. The prophet Elijah, on the run after defeating Queen Jezebel’s priests of Baal in a fire contest, is led to a widow that God says he has commanded to feed Elijah. However, it seems the widow didn’t get the message, because when she meets the prophet, she protests over the thought that she might have to share her meager rations with this stranger.

I can just hear the frustration and irritation in her voice when she says: “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

Elijah is gentle with this tired and resigned widow, however. “Do not be afraid,” he tells her as he instructs her to make him something to eat and then feed herself and her son. She does as she’s told, probably grudgingly, but is amazed to find that she does not starve to death afterward. Instead her jar of meal and jug of oil seems bottomless, feeding them days after it should have run out.

Though it may not appear so at first blush, this is a lesson on listening. God told Elijah the she had told the widow to feed him – but the widow acts as if this is news to her. I suspect God did convey this message to the widow, but she refused to listen. She was in denial because she reckoned that if she fed anyone but herself and her son, she would not have enough. God must have been mistaken!

But, when she stepped out on faith – even with a grudging faith – she learned there was more than enough for them all. Her world, just like our own, is one that is tone deaf – always preaching the toneless message of scarcity – telling us we’d better take care of our own because there is not enough to go around for everyone.  In our own time, the media is like an anti-Elijah, telling us all the time to be afraid, very afraid,  because there is not enough money, not enough land, not enough food, not enough of anything we may need to go around so we’d better hoard what we have.

This widow believed her own world’s message of scarcity, until she met someone who urged her to trust that there is always enough.

Elijah was trying to teach her how to hear a new song – one that reveals how the Holy is constantly calling us to a deeper listening – one that open us to new possibilities, to transformation and new ways of living that puts our trust squarely in mystery of the Holy.  When she does finally listen, she discovers a new world that flows with abundance.

Elijah brings the widow – and us – a song of freedom – but how often do we refuse to listen and cling instead to what we already have, believing we won’t have enough if we share even a little bit of our food, money, time or other precious resources? The Holy invites us to sing that song of freedom that is calling to us, reminding us that whatever we give away we get back in abundance.

Freedom is calling, Jubilants. Can you hear it?

Breathe deeply.

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Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres: Dissonance

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Music blogger Thorne Palmer writes that “Dissonance is the most hated, least understood, and most important aspect of music. Simply put, dissonance gives music its purpose, much like the villain in a movie. There would be no movie without the villain — at least not a good movie. This is true for music, too.”

Dissonance is the villain. I think both the prophet Jeremiah and Jesus could agree with that idea. Both ministries of these great men were about being the villain – bringing dissonance into the world so people so wrapped up in marching with the other ants might be shocked into a state of cognitive dissonance and seek to change the injustice and violence in the world.

Jeremiah and Jesus sound a lot alike in today’s readings (Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26). The passage from Jeremiah comes from his oracles of judgment against Judah, and it can sound harsh:

“Cursed are those who trust in humans, who draws strength from mere flesh,” he tells them. Those folks will be “like a bush in the wastelands.” However, those who trust in the Holy One will be like a tree planted near the water with its roots in the stream, never worrying about dry times.

Such words could form the basis of Jesus’ sermon on the plain as Luke calls it. Jesus’ words may not be as dire as Jeremiah’s. Instead, especially to our Western ears, they may seem not so much harsh as a bit bizarre.

Did he really mean to say that those who are blessed are poor, hungry, weeping, scorned people? Did he really mean to impart woe to those who are rich, full, laughing and popular with everyone? By who’s definition was this man judging blessings and woe? Certainly not any definition we – or even his audience back then – had heard.

In this moment, Jesus creates dissonance and purposefully becomes the villain of the story – hoping to move these mindless ants in a new direction – one of grace, peace and justice. Jesus’ message is scandalous – proclaiming God’s preference for the poor and outcast – not the powerful and popular in the world.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives this sermon on a mount, and the writer of this gospel seems to blunt the scandal of this message by turning Luke’s “poor” into the “poor in spirit” and those who hunger to those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” As the New Interpreter’s Bible points out, “spiritualizing the beatitudes grants those who are not poor access to them, but it also domesticates Jesus’ scandalous gospel.”

And Jesus is not a villain to be domesticated. Instead we are left to ponder this dissonance: Blessed are the poor? The hungry? The weeping? The hated? I dare say if we took a poll of people experiencing poverty, hunger, sadness and scorn they’d tell us of their woes, not their blessings.

If the poor are truly blessed then America is becoming one of the most blessed nations. According to the Census Bureau the poverty rate in 2011 was 15%, meaning there are well over 46.2 million people living in poverty in the land of plenty. I wonder how blessed they feel as our government increases spending on wars and corporate welfare, and slashes money for life giving programs like Medicare and Medicaid?

But, who’s definition of blessings are we judging by? When we talk about blessings – our definition is something good. In fact, the Greek word used in Luke means something like, “How fortunate!” or, “Good for you!” Jesus is congratulating the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the outcast. “Good for you,” he says – and we puzzle over such an odd definition of blessing.

In reality, what needs to change is our own understanding of what it means to be blessed. Jesus is telling the crowd – and us – that all of the blessings we think we have in this world are fleeting. Those who are poor today can hit the jackpot tomorrow and be rich, full, laughing and loved by everyone. A year later – they can be poor, hungry, weeping and friendless. Our definition of blessing is shallow. We pin our ideas of blessing on things of this world – money, houses, cars, jobs, relationships.

Jesus reminds us that’s not where blessing comes from. This world’s blessings are fickle, and we all suffer at some point. We are one in the human condition. Instead of looking down on the poor – or even the rich – we must recognize and understand our common humanity.

All the ants marching with us will suffer. We can only be of help to ourselves and others when we step out of line and work to change – or at least minimize – the things that cause that cause human suffering. Only when we become that tree planted along the riverside, with our roots deep in the life giving water of the Holy will we find true blessings – and be able to truly bless others – even in the midst of life’s misery.

Breathe deeply.

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