Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Creation

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (John 17:13-21), we find our guy in the midst of a prayer for his disciples.

His prayer is a lesson on how to pay attention and make room at the table for all of creation. In his prayer, he talks about speaking God’s word into the world, and finding more hatred than love for his efforts.

He knows that, because of the hatred of the world, especially the hatred of Roman and Jewish leaders, he’s probably not going to physically be around much longer, so he prays for his disciples, that they be spared the “evil” of the world.

Here’s the key piece, though: Jesus prays, “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s close to what the Apostle Paul would later say in his letter to the Christians in Rome, telling them not to be conformed to the ways of this world … to be “in” the world, but not “of” it.

These days, our more conservative Christian brothers and sisters use this instruction to condemn anything in society they see as being “of” the world – meaning part of the overarching secular culture, such as the acceptance of same-sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana, the acceptance of women as equal to men, or people of other skin colors or nationalities being on equal footing with white, male Americans. These are the things they see as “moral failings” of our world.

Jesus would not recognize their idea of being in the world but not of it, because when Jesus scolds the Pharisees for how they live in the world, it’s not an exercise in moral finger wagging. They were beyond moral reproach because they followed the law to the letter.

But, what Jesus berated them for was putting the law above humans, for following the letter but not the spirit. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day – as well as in our day -were consumed with being morally superior, because that’s the kind of superiority the ego thrives on. Jesus says to be truly superior – or sanctified – is to be whole, to return to the consciousness of unity, not of division – and to do that we have be open to all of creation.

When you look closely at this idea of being “sanctified” or “made holy,” we often think such words mean beyond reproach or even unapproachable or unfathomable.

But, I prefer to think of being “sanctified” or “holy” as simply being weird – someone who is rejected by the world, a misfit. Not so much because they are morally superior, but because they are morally suspect.

I mean, it’s normal in our world to be greedy, needy and selfish – and there are plenty of churches and religious leaders giving scriptural cover to this kind of behavior. This is exactly what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees – the morality cops of his day who found someone talking about love, compassion and equity to be weird – if not downright dangerous.

Think about it – the world considers those who want to protect this world we’ve been given as weirdos – tree-huggers, dirt worshipers, hippies and commies. To love a tree more than the almighty dollar, to fight for the rights of an animal wrongly vilified or condemned, or wanting tighter regulations on the pollutants we chug into the air or the waters every day seems really weird to the people who see plants, animals, water and air as simply resources to be used and exploited. To really make room for all of creation – to respect and love Mother Earth and seek to care for her as best we can is weird to most of the world – if not downright insane.

This is our calling, Jubilants, to be as weird as we can be … to be “in” this world in a way that reveres it all … and live our lives as a call to others trying to find their way out of the world’s normalcy of greed, need and selfishness.

It’s the truly weird who can see the world as a remarkable place … a place where we are all one … even in the midst of all the greed, need and selfishness … and find it, like Jesus did, easy to love.  

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Enemies

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Matthew 5:43-48), we find our guy doing what he does best … contradicting the Hebrew scriptures. This passage is part of what’s known as the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus begins with those now famous Beatitudes, blessing everyone who is meek, poor, hungry, peaceful and merciful.

He then launches into a whole discourse using the device of “you have heard it said … but I say,” where he took favorite passages from the Hebrew scriptures and turned them on their head on subjects such as adultery, divorce, retaliation and anger.

In this passage, he tackles the popular notion of the time that you should love your neighbor, but hate your enemy. His listeners would be well acquainted with just how justified this feeling would be. Just about every Psalm in the whole book speaks about hating and crushing enemies and reveling in seeing them get their final comeuppance when God avenges us over them. So, when he starts off, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'” his listeners were probably getting ready to hear about some good old Psalmic-slap down that God would reap on their enemies.

Ah, but Jesus never lives up to our expectations … not then and not now. Instead, he turns the tables and, like Aquinas many centuries after him, reminds them – and us – that we are “fields before each other” – none of us is better than another, and if we want harmony, we have to learn how to nurture one another instead of hating and fighting each other.

The sun rises and sets on the good and evil and we all get wet when it rains, friends and foes alike, Jesus tells us. He also reminds us not to get too puffed up about being loving to people we already love. Everybody can do that, he says. The real challenge is to love those who hate you and do good for them – being “perfect” — as God is perfect.

Ah, there’s that whole idea again about being “holy” or “perfect.” What Jesus is saying here is that we must approach this love of enemies stuff as mature adults instead of children who have gotten our feelings hurt by others. To be “holy,” to be “perfect,” means that we have to get our ego out of the way and instead begin to view the people around us – especially our enemies – as human beings who are also “holy” and “perfect.”

Perhaps, when we’re wrapped up in our hatred for others, it may be the perfect time to step back and realize there are probably people who hate us right back. Instead of looking at our enemies through the lens of how they have offended us, why not try on the role of the one who is hated?

In that role, perhaps we yearn to make our case to the person who hates us, perhaps we want them to see our full humanity – not just what they consider to be our evil or bad side.

This is what Jesus is saying – even the tax collectors and the Gentiles – those people you hate, remember? – even those people know how to love others. Perhaps, if we consider for just a moment that we all have the capacity for love and compassion, we can transcend our hurt and angry feelings, even if for just a moment. In that moment, we become “holy” and “perfect” … and we can learn how to stay in this perfectly holy place for longer and longer stretches as we dedicate ourselves to making room at the table for even our direst enemies.

—  Breathe deeply. —

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Strangers

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Matthew 25:31-46), we find our guy in the midst of a parable that would later be used by more conservative Christians to justify heaven and hell – eternal reward and eternal punishment. Worse, though, it’s one of the big proof texts for the Calvinistic belief in “predestination” – the idea that some of us are predestined to heaven, while others are predestined to hell. None of us knows if we are sheep or goats until that great dividing on the judgment day when we learn our fate.

No matter how good we’ve been, we may be goats, or how bad we’ve been, we may be sheep.  You can’t know while you’re alive, the doctrine says, so be good just for goodness’ sake.  But, I don’t think Jesus would recognize either of these interpretations of his words. Instead, I believe Jesus was trying to make a point that both of these ideas completely miss.

The story of sheep and goats isn’t a story about doing good to avoid hell or gain heaven. It’s not about some arbitrary day of judgment. Instead, it’s a story all about the love we waste along the way in our lives.

Look closely at who the sheep and goats are. They are both people who have not recognized the Holy as it walks among them. The sheep welcomed the stranger, the goats did not, but neither of them actually did their deeds with any intention to help or to harm. They simply did them … without thought … without recognition of anything deeper going on.

This is an important, and puzzling, part of the story for Jesus’ Jewish listeners. You see, the Jews have lived their entire lives being very cognizant of how they treat others. They have an entire book of scripture giving them very specific instructions on how to treat one another. The promise is that if you fulfill all those points of the law, you will find favor with God – you will live a happy and blessed life. So, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very observant of the law. If they truly practiced hospitality – they would already recognize that the Holy dwelled in the poor, imprisoned and naked. It would be their duty, under God’s law, to tend to the needs of that person.

But, Jesus says, no deed, either good or bad, should be performed as part of a deal with God.  Our relationship with God is not one of quid pro quo … if we do this, God will do that. We don’t earn God’s favor by moral achievement.  Instead, Jesus is saying God either blesses us, or curses us, when we act wastefully, without much thought, whether our deeds are good or bad.

For the sheep, they had no idea they were ministering to God when they helped the poor and needy – they just helped the poor and needy. The goats didn’t know they were shunning God when they refused to help others – they were just caught up in their own problems and fears and didn’t recognize the needs of others around them.

The truth is, just as we as humans are both war and peace, some days we’re sheep … other days we’re goats. It depends on how involved we are in protecting our own egos, clinging to our our own wants and needs and living in our heads – or how open we can be – putting aside our own egos, wants and needs and living with our hearts wide open to the world.

On those days that we are sheep, we feel content – like our world is a heaven. On those days we live as goats – we create our own hell – where everyone is a stranger and plotting to do us harm or take something from us.  But, Jesus is telling us, the best time we have spent in our lives – that ultimate heaven – is the time … and the love … we have wasted on the way.

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Friends

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

I was sad one day and went for a walk; I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often does not take more than that to help at times —
to just be close to creatures who are so full of knowing,
so full of love that they don’t — chat,
they just gaze with their marvelous understanding.
— St. John of the Cross

In our Jesus story (John 15:12-17), we find our guy seemingly making friendship a matter of life and death. This is the famous passage where he says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Or, as Prince would later put it, “I would die for you!”

So, does Jesus really mean that your only true friend is the one who is willing to literally die in your place? If that’s so, then I dare say very few of us have ever really had any true friends. It’s true that when we first fall in love, we think we’d be willing to die for that person, but when it comes down to it, would you? Now, I do believe parents who say they would willingly die if the choice was between them or their child – however, sadly not every single parent in this world is willing to literally die, even for their child.

But, if we look closer at the Greek words used in this passage, we find that while it may be a sign of valor to take a bullet for someone else, it’s not really a requirement for friendship. Instead the words used in the phrase “lay down one’s life” for one’s friends could be more closely translated as “setting aside one’s breath or soul” for another.

This is what the rabbit did for St. John – it set aside its own fear that this other creature might do him harm. It set aside it’s regard for its own safety, for its own concerns, long enough to be truly present with him. This is what Jesus is asking us to do, Jubilants – to set aside our own concerns, our own egos, our own need to feel protected and loved, and give all of our attention, love and presence to another human being.

Doing that for someone else can feel a bit like dying as Catholic priest and writer Richard Rohr observed in his book Immortal Diamond. He writes that “every time you choose to love, you have also just chosen to die. Every time you truly love, you are letting go of yourself as an autonomous unit and have given a bit of yourself away to something or someone else, and it is not easily retrieved – unless you choose to stop loving – which many do.”

This is how we lay down our lives for others, Jubilants, and it’s understandable if we hesitate or stop once we start. We can get hurt and betrayed when we become that vulnerable with other people.  Because of that, it’s worth taking a look at who Jesus calls his “friends” in this passage. He’s talking to his disciples – to the very people who – after Jesus literally lays down his life for them – spend their time denying that they ever knew the guy and hiding out lest the authorities come for their lives as well.

Jesus knew that every single one of those men would betray him at some point. He knew that every single one of them would fail in being a friend to him. And yet, he called them friends. He took them into his heart, into his inner circle, and was deeply present with every one of them.

Jesus, a man who could have been their master and made them servants to his ego as a religious leader, instead made them equal to him, and just like St. John’s rabbit, didn’t spend a lot of time chatting with them but simply gazed at them with “marvelous understanding.”

That is the gift of friendship we are both called to give, and to receive, Jubilants. That is how friends make room at the table.

Breathe deeply. 

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.

Via Positiva: Room at the Table: Room for Family

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Hebrew scripture (Genesis 21:8-13), we find a family that really puts the “dis” in “dysfunctional,” as Sarah, wife of Abraham, the claimed patriarch of three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – is demanding that her husband cast out his second wife Hagar and their son Ishmael.

You see, is was Sarah’s idea in the first place for Abraham to marry Hagar, who had been her maid-servant. Sarah had not yet been able to conceive an heir for Abraham, so she told him to marry Hagar – which he did – and they produced Ishmael. Well, a few years later, Sarah had a son of her own, Isaac, and she couldn’t stand the thought of that little bastard Ishmael being the rightful heir to her husband, much less the father of many nations, as God had promised the couple so long ago.

So, she hatches a plan. She’ll force her husband to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael – not by relocating them to a nice new home somewhere far away – but by driving them out into the desert to die of starvation or exposure – I’m sure Sarah didn’t care which.

Talk about a great soap opera plot! Talk about the ultimate in family dysfunction. Perhaps out families have not run us out into the desert to fend for ourselves physically, but that’s so often been our experience mentally and spiritually. How many of us have felt abandoned by our families? Especially for those of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community – family is often the last place we’ll find refuge – and instead are the first people to cast us out – the first people to withdraw their welcome.

I still struggle to find my own place in my family. I feel exiled, excluded and misunderstood – like Ishmael and his mother – cast out for threatening someone else’s idea of what a perfect family looks like.

That’s what family often wants to force us to do – to live up to their expectations of who they think we should be and how they believe we should live our lives. In my family, I had a choice: I could pretend to be who they wanted me to be – get married (to a man!), have a family and don’t rock the boat – or I could choose to follow that divine voice within that called me to be my authentic self – that woman-loving woman who went against the conventional life my parents may have wanted for me.

Jewish tradition tells us that Hagar, despite being cast out and nearly dying, remained faithful to Abraham and after Sarah died, Isaac sought her out and welcomed her back home. Hagar could have remained bitter, but she didn’t – she kept a place of welcome alive in her own heart for even those family members who treated her with such malice and cruelty.

Her name – “Ha – agar” – in Hebrew means “this is the reward,” and we can see that even though she was treated so poorly, her reward was great because she was always willing to make room at the table for everyone – even family members who had betrayed her in the worst possible way.

Breathe deeply.

Listen to this week’s podcast.

Listen to past podcasts.