Via Creativa: Lighten Up on Perfection

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Matthew 5:38-48), we find our guy doing what he does best … bucking old traditions. One of my favorite things Jesus does is take old, traditional ideas, and turn them on their heads, or blow them out of the water completely.

In this passage, we find him taking on those old standards for being considered a sacred, set apart saint and reinterpreting them for his audience.

“You have heard it said …” he begins, then turns the table saying, “But, I say to you.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also …

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”

Oh, Jesus, I love how he just takes those old impossible standards of holiness … revenge and loving our neighbor … and … um, makes them even more impossible to meet.

Hang on, I think there’s a flaw in Jesus’ logic here somewhere. I mean, those laws over in the Hebrew scriptures were hard enough … not cheating, stealing, gossiping, using others or hating others. But, now, Jesus calls us to be “perfect” … just like God … only with harder standards to meet.

How can we ever now hope to become sacred, set aside saints? I mean it’s one thing to get revenge, but to turn the other cheek? It’s one thing to love a neighbor, but now we have to love our enemies too … and pray for our persecutors?

Jesus has lost his mind … or, perhaps, Jesus, being Jesus and all, is simply calling us into a deeper understanding of perfection. The Greek word used here is teleios, which means consummate human integrity and virtue.

Jesus is not calling us to be some self-righteous prig who is always trying to look perfect. Instead, Jesus is calling us to display consummate human integrity and virtue, and if Jesus knew anything about consummate human integrity and virtue he knew that is was messy, flawed, and fraught with failure and foul-ups.

To be perfect, according to Jesus, is to be fully human, fully alive in the muck and mire of life’s imperfections, foul-ups, inconsistencies, maddening situations and messy relationships. To be perfect is to see the flaws and brokenness of one another and know that we are beholding true, holy beauty.

To be perfect, according to Jesus, is not look the other way when the pain and messiness of life rears its ugly head … but to see that rearing head as beauty, and holiness itself, and embrace it fully – take it into yourself – and turn all that ugliness of life into love, compassion and joy.

You have heard it said that to be holy means being without any flaws … but I say to you, to be holy means to be a ripple in the water of perfection … to let the imperfections of life break open your heart so that God’s holy and perfect love may flow through you and out into this flawed, messy, broken and perfect world.

Breathe deeply …

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Via Creativa: Lighten Up on Mother Earth!

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Hebrew scripture reading this morning (Leviticus 25:18-24), we find our ancient Israelite cousins learning about how to treat Mother Earth. Today’s passage from Leviticus is part of the instructions given by God to the people about observing the year of Jubilee.

Every fifty years, the land is to be allowed to lie fallow for that year to recover from planting and harvesting. In addition, property is to revert back to its original owners or their heirs, all debts are forgiven and slaves are set free.

This practice of Jubilee was not just a practical matter, but it was a revolutionary idea that we as individualistic, I’ve-got-mine-too-bad-if-you-don’t-have-yours, capitalistic Americans would scoff at. What Jubilee really meant to the people of Israel was that, at no time, would there be wealth inequality so great that the rich would keep getting richer while the poor kept getting poorer and poorer.

Every fifty years, there would be economic equality – land would return to poor families who may have sold it to survive.  Slaves would regain their freedom and debtors would be forgiven.  What a revolutionary idea! One that American capitalism would rather quash than give any serious thought to, of course.

We can certainly link our changing climate to unbridled pursuit of personal gain as corporations pollute the planet with impunity to create gadgets and gizmos to sell on the free market. We, as consumers, snap up those gadgets and gizmos without a thought as to how many forests were clear-cut to produce it, or how many mountaintops were strip-mined, or how many children labored for pennies a day, or how much water was wasted in the production process.

We don’t think about all of that, because we, just like our Hebrew ancestors before us, have forgotten who this earth belongs to.

“For the land is mine,” God tells the Hebrew people, and reminds us even today. “With me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.”

Redemption of the land … that’s what the Jubilee year is all about … redemption of the land and a return to equity for the people. Imagine a world where we actually observed a Jubilee year, even if it’s every 50 years.

“Imagine,” writes Seattle Methodist pastor Richard Lang,  “America reversing its economic policies so that we might spend as much on debt relief and economic redevelopment as we currently do on the military.

“Imagine if we spent as much money on alternative energy sources as we do on fossil-fuel exploration and extraction.

“Imagine if our food policy were centered around small-scale organic farming instead of large-scale corporate agriculture. Such a reversal of policy would radically reorient our relationships both internationally and within our own nation. Such a reversal would cause the trees to clap their hands.”

Imagine, if we actually knew what a gift this earth is that we walk upon.  If we did, we’d all be walking with a lighter touch and living with a wiser love.

Breathe deeply.

Learn some easy ways to lighten up on Mother Earth: 50 Ways to Help the Planet

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Via Creativa: Lighten Up: Lighten Up on Yourself!

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

If anyone needed to lighten up on themselves, it was our ancient Hebrew cousins. In our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning (Micah 6:1-8), we find them on trial for their endless spiral of this should’ve, would’ve, could’ve type of living.

The prophet Micah is envisioning a courtroom scene where God is attempting to show them how to lighten up on themselves, and the Hebrew people are not getting it. They are stuck in the spiral about how they show honor to God. They’ve done everything their tradition says they should do. They’ve brought burnt offerings, they’ve offered rams and calves, they’ve brought expensive oils, and now they wonder, should we start sacrificing our first born children to please God?

You can almost hear the Holy sigh in frustration.

God gives his Hebrew children a little history lesson in how God has saved them, freed them from slavery and redeemed them from their enemies. And yet, somehow, these ancient desert dwellers don’t seem to get the point. There is nothing they need to do, nothing they need to accomplish, nothing they need to sacrifice to make their worship of the Holy complete.

Instead, God lays it out fairly clearly: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That’s it, folks. This is all that is required of us … to do justice, which, according to this passage, means standing up for those who suffer from injustice, intolerance and rejection in this world. We must love kindness, which, according to this passage, goes deeper than just a smile or holding a door.  Instead, this “kindness” is the unbreakable, unshakeable love that God has for each of us. To love that means to live in trust that God is always with us, always shining the light on our path. And finally, we are instructed to walk humbly, which, according to this passage means “steadfastly” or “continually.”

So, really, all we’re called to do with our lives is to work for those suffering injustice – even if it is ourselves – trust in God’s unbreakable love for us, and walk every moment in the light of that love. Everything else in our lives is a mere detail. The careers we make, the fame we seek, the money we make, the relationships we develop, these are not what’s ultimately important. What’s ultimately important is this: In all of those areas of life, are we working for justice, trusting God and being steadfast in our walk with the Holy in every moment?

When we look around and see not just our own hearts, but the hearts of others wandering in darkness, are we willing to shine the light? Will we jump into the great unknown so others around us will not have to walk alone?

What God is telling our ancient cousins is what we still need to hear today, “Lighten up on yourselves. Life is not about worshiping right, or believing right, or even doing right if it’s done for show or out of a feeling of obligation.”

“Instead,” the Holy reminds us, “real living means lightening up on yourself, dropping all those expectations of the world and doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly – constantly – with God. This is how we shine the light.”

Breathe deeply.

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Via Creativa: Lighten Up! The Light of Compassion

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

There is a shield you may still hold because of so many battles.
I guess another conflict could begin any moment,
so maybe lugging it about could be of some use;
or is it just some undermining habit?
Does it get heavy, so much so that you sometimes carry it on your head at noon?
And then do wonder, with all your insecurities so intact,
you’re constantly chasing this darkness as fears in the shadows,
Even though the Sun is out, EVEN IF THE SUN IS OUT!!
Even if God is really surrounding you in the middle of this beautiful day or night.
YES!!, how amazing that a small umbrella or some other illusion,
held so precisely over your head, with all your clinging,
can hide the stupendous face of omniscient Light.

–Hafiz

It’s not easy for us to have compassion and really see that our wonderful world is populated by beautiful, if scared people. It’s easier to want to see God harshly judge people we consider evil.  Just ask Jonah. In our Hebrew scripture reading, we find him angry after completing his mission to warn the people of Ninevah that they need to repent or God would destroy them.

He ran from God’s call for him to deliver this message simply because Jonah didn’t like the people of Ninevah. They were considered enemies of the Israeli people. To Jonah, this was like God showing mercy to Osama bin Laden, Pat Robertson or George W. Bush. He couldn’t abide that.

For Jonah, running from God, being tossed into the ocean and swallowed up by a whale, was preferable to actually preaching the good news – or heaven forbid – having compassion on “those” people.

But, God felt compassion – that deep down, gut, feeling – for the people of Ninevah. When they listened to Jonah and repented, God showed mercy.

The Holy had compassion for a group of people considered enemies of God’s chosen people. How did Jonah react? Just like many of us might have reacted. He was angry! How dare God show compassion for “those” people! How dare God extend grace to people that Jonah didn’t want to preach to and didn’t really care if they repented.

Are we any less like Jonah today? Do we find it repugnant that God might show compassion to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Pat Robertson, or George W. Bush? Do we get angry when we think that God might love and forgive them just as much as God loves and forgives us?

We act like Jonah, believing that there is not enough grace to go around. Like Jonah, we pity those we’d rather not see receive grace, instead of showing genuine compassion for another human being – another child of God – no matter how personally distasteful we find them to be.

We all hold that shield to protect from experiencing that gut punch of compassion, observed  that mystical Muslim poet Hafiz. Even if the sun is out, we would prefer to lug around that heavy shield to protect our hearts from actually feeling some manner of love toward those we so dearly love to hate.

Like Jonah’s shady bush, we think our shield can protect us from the emotion scorching effects of compassion, but that shield is what keeps us from experiencing the light of the Holy. Instead of being angry enough to die when we see our enemies prosper, the Holy invites us to lighten up, put down your defenses, and let the sunshine of compassion, that “stupendous face of omniscient Light,” fall fully upon you.

Jubilants, when we open ourselves to compassion we’ll know that we live in a wonderful world, surrounded by beautiful people, if only we’ll put down our shields and step into the light.  

Breathe deeply.

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