Via Negativa: Just Say No: Say No to Joy

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

We’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the eyes that watched us once will smile and take us in
And we’ll drink and dance with one hand free
And have the world so easily
And oh we’ll be a sight to see
Back in the high life again
–Steve Winwood, “Back in the High Life”

In our Jesus story (Luke 12:13-21), we find our guy telling a great parable about foreboding joy. A rich man had the good fortune, and great joy, of having an abundance of crops. He had so much wealth, in fact, he had to tear down his old, small barns and build even bigger ones to house all of the wealth he had amassed.

“Woo, hoo!” you can hear this farmer say, “I am back in the high life!”

But, like the author of Ecclesiastes, this man soon learns that earthly joys are fleeting, and earthly wealth doubly so. Those stored up grains soon began to rot. He had so much wealth, he couldn’t hope to consume it all, so most of it went to waste.

This is the lesson of foreboding joy, Jubilants – we cannot horde our joy. The only way to make the joy last is to first, be grateful for it and then, to share it. Joy cannot thrive when it is horded, no matter how big the barn is where we try to store it up. Joy stockpiled will rot. Joy has a really short shelf-life, and the only way it grows and multiplies is if it shared.

Lutheran pastor Elisabeth Johnson writes about the time she heard a seasoned pastor say, “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed. I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.'” Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.

True joy is never ours alone, Jubilants. Instead, it belongs to everyone and should be shared wastefully with friends, strangers and enemies alike. This is how we enter the divine high life – where all the closed doors open to us – where joy welcomes us with open arms.

To find that true divine joy, we have to start by practicing gratitude for everything we have.  We often find this difficult because we immediately feel guilty for having more than someone else in this world.  What Brene Brown discovered in her research is that people who have suffered tragedy or have less, are not diminished by our gratitude.

She says people who have suffered loss tell her, “Don’t shrink away from the joy of your child because I’ve lost mine. Don’t take it for granted – celebrate it.

Don’t apologize for what you have. Be grateful for it and share your gratitude with others. When you honor what you have, you’re honoring what I’ve lost.”

Don’t squander your joy, Jubilants, and don’t horde it. Drag it out of those barns and spread it around, then we’ll all be back in the high life again.

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Negativa: Just Say “No” – Say No to Love

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 6:27-38), we find our guy raining on our revenge parade. As much as we would like to “do unto others” when we are mistreated, abused or betrayed, Jesus just says no.

Instead, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

It’s important to note that the Greek word used here for “love” is “agape” which doesn’t mean that we have to have warm, fuzzy or romantic feelings for those we may consider enemies, or those who have hurt or betrayed us. Jesus tells us to “just say no” to that kind of love.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that this agape love is a lot harder than warm, fuzzy romantic love. What this love requires of us is that we must have a whole-hearted, unreserved and unconditional desire for the well-being of another.

As blogger David Ewart writes, that means: “Nothing is held back. There is no hesitation. No calculation of costs and benefits. No expectation of receiving anything in return. No pay offs. There is only total desiring of the well-being of the other for their own good.”

We don’t love others this way expecting them to return that love or to even acknowledge it. Instead, we have to be like Joseph with his brothers – able to be open, vulnerable, and able to give love whether it’s deserved or not, with no strings attached.

This is how God loves us – with an everlasting love that contains no expectation, no conditions, and no need for us to do good acts or even acts of penance for some perceived sin. God’s everlasting love is simply offered, freely, to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, racial differences, past betrayals, ideologies or any other human difference.

As psychologist and theologian Gerald May writes: “The prospect of really being loved no matter who we are, how we are, or what we do is so humbling that in spite of its reassurance, it terrifies us.” It terrifies us because we, in our frail human understanding of love, can’t fathom it coming without strings, or expectations attached.

But, this is the key to experiencing a love worthy of saying yes to – we must be willing not only to accept that love, but be willing to become preoccupied with loving others and less concerned with protecting ourselves.  This is the essence of agape love.

The Holy calls us to say no to any form of love that is coercive or conditioned on us “changing” to be accepted. Instead, we are called to be willing to accept the imperfect love of those around us – to feel it all and not to take the hurtful things so personally.

We  must understand, Jubilants, that our brothers and sisters in this world are just as clueless as we are about what real, agape, love is all about. We all love imperfectly, so what the Holy calls us to do is to simply be willing to be a loving presence with each other, and in that open and vulnerable presence to reveal, even if it is just a glimpse, of that deep, divine unconditional love.

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Dance With Delight: The Last Dance

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’ “This’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die”
–Don McLean, “American Pie”

In our Jesus story (Luke 14:25-33), we find our guy being followed around by a crowd. They’ve heard all about  this guy and the things he can do. He can heal you! He can feed you! He can save you and he’ll save this whole nation one day!  This was amazingly good news for the people of Jesus’ day. The one thing in their world that was the most scarce was security. They were forever at the mercy of not just the conquering Romans, but the harsh climate and weather patterns of their region. They lived in a world of feast or famine, that ran mostly toward famine.

There’s a guy who can heal us, feed us and make us secure not just as an individual but as a nation? Where do I find him? But, in just a few words, Jesus disappoints more than a few of those following him with words that still seem harsh to us today:

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Wow. Let’s just go ahead and admit that, even today, we’re a little bit disappointed with this Jesus. I mean, to follow him we have to hate our father and our mother, our spouses and children, our brothers and our sisters? Okay, I’ll meet him halfway, I don’t like some members of my family very much, but I don’t think I can hate them all. What happened to all that stuff we hear about Jesus being for “family values”?

Again, like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:1-11), Jesus is saying something much deeper than what the crowd then, or now, is thinking about. These harsh words are meant to shake us from the false sense of security that we invest in this world. One of the main sources of security is where we come from – our family.

In Jesus’ time, the family was your only real sense of security, especially for women. Men within the family were sworn to protect the women among them. They were considered property, yes, but they were among the most valuable of the property. They had to be cared for and provided for. When a woman left her family, she married a husband and joined his family, who then were sworn to take care of her. Families were joined together in marriage, not for love, but to enlarge their land, to increase their wealth, to grow their sense of security in an insecure world.

Jesus is telling us to achieve real freedom, to achieve enlightenment, we have to be willing to do that last dance with our worldly security. If your family, your tribe, is seen as the ultimate sense of security in this world – you have to be willing to give it up if you’ll ever realize the true nature of the Holy.

The Greek word used here for “hate” means to “love less” or “disregard.” Jesus is tell us here not that you have to literally “hate” your family or your security. Instead, you must love differently. Whatever it is – family, status, wealth or power – that gives us a “fixed identity” in this world, is a false security, and we have to be willing to disregard it, to love it less than we love our ultimate freedom in the Holy. We have to be willing to say “bye, bye Miss American pie” and realize that all the levees of worldly security will ultimately run dry.

But, wait, there’s more!

“Give up all of your possessions,” Jesus tells the crowd, and suddenly, we find we’re more willing to hate our family than give up our stuff.  But, what Jesus is saying is this: give up anything that possesses you, because what possesses you causes suffering. If we buy an expensive item, we tend to fret about it, night and day wondering if it will be safe. When we get a new car we park way out in the parking lot so no one will scratch our car with their door or an errant buggy. We worry about the car as we shop. We are suffering, even as we believe that new car – or any other possession we own – will bring us a sense of security and happiness.

Jesus is telling us, “Get rid of anything that lulls you into a sense of false security.” Your car will get scratched. It’s just a car – perhaps it’s not as fragile as an ancient pot – but it’s just as transient and impermanent. Enjoy every moment, the Holy tells us, before the scratch and afterward, because every moment is the last dance.

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Dance With Delight: Daring to Dance

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are
And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are

[Chorus:]You can do what you want The opportunity’s on
And if you can find a new way You can do it today
You can make it all true  And you can make it undo
you  see  ah ah ah its easy ah ah ah You only need to know
–Cat Stevens, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”

In our Jesus story (Luke 13:10-17), we find our guy doing his rabbi thing, teaching in the temple on the Sabbath. In the audience was a woman, bent over from an illness that had plagued her for 18 years.

Imagine this woman’s life for a minute – stooped over, unable to stand up straight. Unable to look anyone in the eye – always seeing the world a bit cock-eyed and perhaps out of focus. Her shame was probably palpable as she made her way through the crowds each day, enduring stares or insults, or being shoved out of the way by more able bodied men and women.

But, we are all like this bent over woman – because our shame does just the same thing to us as it did to this woman. When we are consumed with shame it’s hard to look others in the eye. Our bodies may be standing up straight and walking around with no problem, but our spirits are crooked, bent over, unable to bear the weight of the shame we carry around.  We live in fear that someone will notice our shame, point it out, laugh at it, make fun of us, insult us and make us feel even worse about ourselves.

Jesus heals this shame with a simple gesture: he noticed her. But, it’s important to understand that when he saw the woman, he didn’t see a woman bent over with illness or shame. Instead, he saw a beloved child of the Holy. He saw a beautiful woman who had allowed the weight of the world to bend and twist her out of shape. He affirms her intrinsic and infinite worth when he called her “a daughter of Abraham,” telling those aghast in the temple that there is no shame that cannot be healed.

He called the woman over and told her: “If you want to sing out, sing out. If you want to be free, be free. There’s a million ways to be, you know that there are. You can do what you want. The opportunity is on.  Woman, you are healed. Now, I dare you to dance!”

Jesus tells us the same today. You want to sing out? Sing out? Wanna be free? Be free! There are a million ways to be – there are infinite possibilities to bring out that shining Self hidden deep within your heart.

Do we dare believe it? Do we dare to believe that our shame does not have the power to bend us over and distort our view of the world? Jesus gives us the cure, even today. Bring that shame out into the light. Expose the lies that the world tells about you. Stop believing that you are not enough and start to realize the Holy truth that you, just as you are, right here and right now, are enough.

If you can find a new way, you can do it today. You can make it all true. Jubilants, you are set free from you ailment, set free from your shame, set free to dance with delight. I dare you!

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Dance With Delight: Abun-DANCE

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (John 10:1-10), we find our guy talking about sheep and gates and all sorts of things we don’t even think about these days. What all this agriculture talk meant to Jesus’ listeners was all about the dance of abundance. Shepherds who had a multitude of sheep were rich in Jesus’ time. The one thing those rich sheepherders feared more than anything else was a thief coming and taking their flocks – their wealth – during the night.

Sheep are not smart animals. They will basically follow anyone who herds them this way or that. But, sheep, like all animals, do bond with their human companions and caretakers. Just like your dog or your cat knows your voice, so, too, do sheep. They do know the voice of their shepherd, and they are more prone to come to that familiar voice and be fearful when an unfamiliar voice calls out to them.

We are familiar with this kind of fear. We like the familiar. We like knowing who is in charge and who is taking care of us. We like knowing that our wealth is safe. We don’t keep our wealth in sheep pens anymore. Instead, we secure our assets in banks, in homes, in cars, in other possessions that have worldly value. We fear the thief or the bandit that might take our wealth.

But, we also fear being generous with our wealth because we fear that if we give from what we have – even if we have a lot – we won’t have enough for ourselves. What happens if we give too much? What will we have left for ourselves?

I have a pastor friend who has served a church with a very poor congregation. When this pastor left that church under less than ideal circumstances, the people who gave to her from their wealth were those people in her congregation who had nothing. They could not give her money – because they didn’t have any. Instead, they offered her their love, their time, their homes, their labor to help her move.

These people did not have an abundance of worldly wealth, but in terms of spirituality and holiness, these people are filthy, stinkin’ rich. And they have no fear that they will go without because they understand the first principal of giving – there is always more than enough to go around. More than enough money, more than enough time, more than enough love, more than enough compassion, more than enough empathy, more than enough sympathy, more than enough tears, more than enough laughter, more than enough hugs.

This is what Jesus means when he says that the Holy is here to give us life – and life abundantly. There is no lack or shortage of anything in the Holy.  I’m sorry to have to tell you that abundance doesn’t always equal material wealth – instead abundance can mean many – even better – things.

This pastor isn’t rich, but her life is abundant, full of the spirit not just because of the overwhelming generosity of her congregation – but because she has been able to open herself to the blessings. This is where our biggest fears come into play, Jubilants. We can often give – but can we receive? Can we receive the abundance all around us?

We can when we understand that the Holy is the source of all abundance, and when we can receive, as well as give, we finally understand that there is no “us” and “them,” but there is only us – only that one self.

“The self is the source of abiding joy,” the ancient Hindu sages tell us. It is the Holy that “fills every heart with joy.” But, only if we can overcome not just our fear of giving, but also our fear of receiving.

“When one realizes the Self, in whom all life is one, changeless, nameless, formless, then one fears no more. Until we realize the unity of life, we live in fear,” the Upanishads tell us.

So, what do we do with that fear? The prophet Jeremiah has the answer. The people of Israel have been exiled to Babylon – they’re being held in bondage. What does God tell them? He tells them to settle in – build homes, get married, raise families – because this is not God’s dream for them.  The Holy had bigger plans, but for now, she tells them, grow where you’re planted. Become joyous, grateful people, because God’s dreams for them were coming to fruition. Eventually, they do – the exiles return to Israel – they are freed from the literal and spiritual bondage that held them.

This is the key to experiencing that abundant life. Look at what’s holding you in bondage? What prevents you from living a grateful life – a life full of abundance, a life relying on God’s dreams to come true in your life?

Perhaps you feel like you’re in exile – wanting God’s dreams to come true for you right now. You’re feeling restless, you want to return home now – you don’t like feeling exiled. God tells us to settle in – don’t worry, be happy! God has plans. Continue on the path that you feel God has set before you, live your life in gratitude and enjoy the abundance that God has already given to you. You can get by with a little help from your friends who will do the abunDANCE with you.

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.