Via Positiva: Dance With Delight: A Jig of Justice

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In 1993, Mary Johnson’s 20-year-old son was shot and killed at a party in Minneapolis, Minn. He got into a fight with a drug dealer and gang member Oshea Israel, who went to prison for the crime.  One of Israel’s visitors while he was in prison was Mary Johnson.

Johnson told Israel that when she visited she “wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of that I remembered from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you.” But, she told him, he was not that 16-year-old that killed her son. Instead, she said, “you were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.”

In that sharing, Israel said, her son became human to him, and before Johnson left the prison, she hugged Israel.  In that instant, she said, she forgave Israel for taking her son. Now, Israel lives right next door to Johnson, and has become like a son to her. She tells him she wants to see him graduate college and get married, since she can’t see her own son do that.

Her faith in him, Israel says, makes him want to reach those goals as well.

This is the heart of our Jesus story (Luke 16:1-13), which features one of the most convoluted parables – that of the unjust manager. This manager had been charged with mismanaging a rich man’s money and is fired – but now he’s in a quandary. He’s acted as this rich guy’s manager, so he hasn’t won many friends among the workers. Now that he’s on their level, he has to come up with a way to get on good terms with them, or face their wrath. So, one by one, he asks them what they owe and then reduces their debt.

Now, they’re thinking this manager is a great and magnanimous guy – but when the master gets wind of his fired manager doing something he’s not authorized to do – it’s his turn to make a decision.  Will he now go back to these workers and make them pay the remaining debt, or will he honor his fired manager’s new deals?

At the heart of this story is forgiveness. The manager actually forgave the debts of the rich man’s debtors – something he had no right to do. The question was, would the master back him up and also be forgiving?

This mother, really, did not have the right to forgive her son’s killer. Only her son had the power do that – but since, like the rich landowner, he’s not here to act on his own behalf, his mother feels that she’s doing the right thing by taking this duty upon herself. She has a choice – she can continue to want to hurt the man who took her son away – or she can forgive. Either way, the outcome is the same – she remains without her son.

But, Mary Johnson believes that she has the blessing of her son to extend this kind of selflessness and forgiveness to a man she sees as someone who made a mistake while caught up in a life of drugs and gangs.  She has seen her forgiveness help to transform this man’s life.

We don’t know how to react to this kind of forgiveness, because we can hardly fathom doing it if we were in Mary Johnson’s shoes. Israel can hardly believe it either.

“Sometimes I still don’t know how to take it,” he says, “because I haven’t totally forgiven myself yet.”

No one can serve two masters, Jesus tells his audience. We can’t serve the master of revenge while we seek to do a jig of justice.    

Breathe deeply.

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Via Positiva: Dance With Delight – Dance With De-Dark

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Mark 5:21-43), we encounter a lot of human suffering. Jesus is approached by two people who are encountering desperately dark times. Jairus, a leader at the synagogue comes to Jesus to ask for help for his daughter who is on the verge of death. As Jesus heads over to help him, he encounters a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.

The darkness had overtaken both of these people and they sought out this man they had heard about who may be able to help them. These people, and the actions they take during their desperate straits, remind us about a truth of human nature – we usually won’t take action until the situation in our lives reaches a crisis point.

We will wait until the last possible minute to make necessary changes in our lives or wait until the consequences are so dire we cannot avoid them anymore. The woman with the hemorrhage has waited 12 years. She’s gone to all the doctors and healers, tried all the proscribed cures, but has found no relief. She’s been living with the problem until it has become so desperate that it threatens her life.

Same thing with Jairus. We presume he has tried everything for his daughter – but he only takes drastic action when she is near death. Make no mistake, this action is quite drastic for Jairus. The scripture tells us he was a leader in the temple – that means he must have faced a lot of inward and outward resistance before coming to Jesus – this crazy rebel who thinks he’s the Messiah. At this point, he’s got nothing to lose so he begs Jesus to heal his daughter.

Isn’t this how we react when we’re stuck in the middle of life’s dilemmas? We either take action – usually blindly trying whatever might work. Or, we sit silently, hoping against hope that if we ignore our problems they’ll just go away. Often, we try both – action and avoidance – and still find no relief. But, that’s because we haven’t yet learned the one crucial step of this dance with darkness.

When this bleeding woman and the grieving father come to Jesus, they’ve finally, perhaps because of their desperation, found that perfect balance – that crucial step – to combining action and meditation that the Upanishads tell us about. Jesus affirms both of them for taking action, for finally asking for outside help – but in the end, as he tells the woman, it is faith that ultimately leads her to getting unstuck. To Jairus, he has similar words, “Do not fear, only believe.”

“Do not fear, only believe.” How often could we dance in our own darkness if we actually took that Holy advice to heart? Jesus says we can dance with de-dark when faith is the foundation of both our action and our meditation. When we have enough faith to open our eyes and our hearts and turn in the direction of the Holy, even in the darkest pit of our despair, even if we can’t yet see that bright light of the Self, then the Holy takes us in her arms and teaches us the dance steps we need to learn to keep us waltzing toward the light.

Your faith will make you well. Do not fear, Jubilants, only believe … and dance.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Positiva: Dance With Delight: Some Good Weed

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad it’s God who does the final judging and not me. Whenever someone flies past me on the highway, I wish them troopers – they are my cop bait, and I want to see it when the cop nails them. I want to be there to witness justice being meted out. I want to drive by and laugh! In fact, if it were up to me, doing stupid things in traffic would get you the death penalty. Thank God, it’s not up to me – I wouldn’t live through my own rules.

But, we want to see people get their comeuppance, don’t we? We want to see the speeder nailed, the thief punished, the cheater caught, the murderer condemned. We want our thirst for vengeance satisfied. We’re so stuck on this idea, that we make movie after movie after movie on just such a theme – the bad guy getting his due – and usually violently.

You see, there are not just weeds in the world – but weeds in our own hearts that cover up our selfless desires. The wheat is all around us, but all we tend to see are the weeds.

The Hindus knew this when they wrote in their Vedic texts that we are “like strangers in an unfamiliar country walking over a hidden treasure, day by day we enter the world of Brahman – the world of the Holy – while in deep sleep but never find it, carried away by what is false.”

We think we can spot the wheat – the good in this world – but we walk over that buried treasure every day, blinded by the weeds that we often mistake as good in this world.

The apostle Paul tells the Romans (Romans 8:12-25) something similar – we are all longing for that moment when the hidden treasure is revealed – when we, ourselves, are revealed as children of God – as Brahman – part of that eternal ground of all being.  All creation groans until we wake up and realize the hidden treasure has been with us all along, hidden among the weeds that we allow to grow in, through and around us every day.

We must pay attention to our own weeds if we are ever to find that hidden treasure of wheat – of God. Vengeance is just one of those weeds – there are others: pride, envy, gluttony, dishonesty, indifference, cheating, stealing, lying, anger. They’re all there – all within each of us – weeds among the wheat of our good works, our good thoughts, our love, our caring, our compassion and our hope.

We have tons of self-help books ready to help us weed our inner gardens, but what if we stopped, just for a moment, and noticed, and gave thanks for our weeds instead of seeking to rip them up by the roots?

It has been my anger that has caused me the greatest pain and the greatest joy. My anger has harmed relationships, driven people I love away from me, held me hostage and caused damage to people and things. But, it has been in tending the good weed of anger that I have grown to be a stronger, healthier and happier person. I have learned the art of forgiveness. I have learned the art of compassion and self-control – all because of that good weed of anger. That good weed of anger has also led me to get involved in causes that seek to do good in the world – that seek to grow the good wheat stronger.

Think of your own weeds. Think of those things about yourself that you’re ashamed of – that you don’t want anyone else in the world to know about. Think about your weaknesses, your addictions, your guilty pleasures. Now, give thanks for them.

That’s some good weed you’ve got growing there. Don’t be so quick to yank those up by the roots. Those good weeds challenge you to grow stronger wheat – to make your wheat outgrow all the weeds in your inner garden.

Use the weeds wisely and God can redeem them – and use them to create something beautiful in your life. And when we see what that good weed can do, we can dance with the joy of beauty in unexpected places.

Breathe deeply.

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Happy Interdependence Day

From Tikkun Magazine

Today hundreds of millions of Americans celebrate all that is good in the history of the United States of America. Even though we know there is much to criticize about America (including the use of the word “America” as synonymous with the United States, thereby ignoring Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America) there is also much to celebrate.

Today, we mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document that still inspires many Americans today.  Unfortunately, the high ideals expressed in the Declaration, “that all men are created equal and endowed with their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were not actually put into practice when the Constitution was created and the United States came into existence.

The word “men” was applied not in a general sense to include women, but rather to only include men. And, in fact, for the first decades of our country, the only people who could vote were white men who owned property. Worse, slavery was permitted and African Americans were counted as 3/5 of a European American in the census, which determined how many people lived in a given area who deserved representation in the Congress. Native Americans – those who had survived the near genocide of European settlement – did not figure at all in these equations.

Some of these distortions got rectified through the democratic process that had been set up by the founders of our country. History books focus on the people who were in power as if all change comes from those in positions of authority. The truth is, though, that much of what we love about America was created by ordinary citizens. Often they encountered resistance from those in power; sometimes they found allies in power who joined in the struggle.

This week, let’s give thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary Americans whose struggles brought about those changes.

To the waves of immigrants from all parts of the world who struggled to accept each other and find a place in this country.

To the escaped slaves and their allies – particularly Quakers, evangelical Christians, and freedom-loving secularists – who built the underground railroad and helped countless people to freedom.

To the coalitions of religious and secular people – women and men, black and white – who built popular support for the emancipation of the slaves.

To the African Americans and allies who went to prison, lost their livelihoods, and were savagely beaten in the struggle for civil rights.

To the working people who championed protections like the eight-hour day, minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and the right to organize, often at great personal cost to them.

To the women who risked family, job security, and their own constructed identities to shift our collective consciousness about men and women and raise awareness of the effects of patriarchy.

To all of those who risk scorn and violence and often lose their families to lead the struggle against homophobia and for the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people.

To those who continue to work for equal access for people with disabilities.

To those who advocate for sensitivity to animals and to the earth itself.

To all of the innovators and artists who have brought so much beauty and usefulness into our lives.

To those who fought to extend democratic principles not only in politics but also in the workplace and in the economy.

To those who developed innovations in science and technology, in literature and art, in music and dance, in film and in computer science, in medical and communication technologies, and in methods to protect ourselves from the destructive impacts of some of these new technologies.

To those who developed psychological insights and increased our ability to be sensitive to our impact on others.

To those who developed ecological awareness.

To those who brought the insights of their own particular religious or spiritual traditions that emphasized love and caring for others and generosity toward those who had been impoverished and sought to turn those ideas not only into a call for personal charity but also into a mission to transform our economic and political systems in ways that would reflect those values.

To those who fought for peace and nonviolence, and who helped stop many wars.

All of that we celebrate this week and every week as America continues its journey fulfill its promise of liberty and justice for all.

Oh, Yeah.

Listen to Jubilee! Circle’s Interdependence Day celebration