All the Little Ways

The universe (God, goddess, angels, universal consciousness, whatever you want to call it) speaks to me in many different ways. I have had dreams, visions, heard a public speaker (complete stranger) reiterate in a talk the exact words of a private conversation I had with a friend earlier that day, seen repeating numbers, and on rare occasions, heard a voice inside my head. I cannot count the number of times I have thought of a friend only to have them call or email me soon after. So many serendipitous things have happened in my life that I no longer believe in coincidence. My family even coined the phrase co-inky-dink years ago in an attempt to make light of these strange occurrences.

I’ve been getting messages of one kind or another my whole life, but it has taken me some time to really learn to pay attention to them. Many were so subtle that they could have easily passed by unnoticed, yet they are the ones that speak the loudest to my soul. We all hope that the universe will come through for us in the big stuff (the job, the healing, etc.), but when something small happens just to delight us, well, then we truly experience the whole of the depth and breadth of the love available to us.

If you will indulge me, I would like to share one of my favorite examples of the universe speaking to me from circa 1996:

It was early, maybe six-thirty in the evening, and I was where I usually was at that time of day, in front of a sink full of dirty dishes. My husband stood behind me in the doorway to our kitchen talking at me. Apparently he knew the script of our lives as well as I did – he was in his place as much as I was in mine. In the background I could hear my two girls arguing over some perceived injustice that one had suffered at the other’s hand. I had grown so accustomed to the constant bickering that it was little more than background noise. They knew I would not choose a victim and had been forced early on to learn to work out their squabbles on their own. My husband was another story. He was always the victim. Me? I was the sounding board.

The townhouse the four of us shared was nothing to write home about. At least it was in a nicer area of Georgia than some I’d seen. God only knows how we paid for it. Life for the wife of a pastor-turned-construction handyman was no walk in the park. Wasn’t God supposed to take care of us? Then why was I never able to buy shoes for my children? Why did I have to choose between health insurance and groceries? I had learned one very useful thing over the course of ten years: how to pack a kitchen in one hour or less. Since 1987 we had lived in seven different dwellings, three different states, and one foreign country. After almost ten years of moving, I was tired. Tired of jobs ending. Tired of every application being rejected. Tired of listening to the pie-in-the-sky delusions that comprised my husband’s life story.

He was at it again – telling me his plans for the job he had applied for one week ago. Never mind that it could take up to a year to even hear back from a church. He had no interview scheduled, did not even know if anyone would ever look at the application, but he had plans for the money he was going to make, for the ministry he would do there, and he had already mapped out the place we would live. He had a plan for everything – everything except another rejection. He assured me that this church would be the one, this time it would happen. I had listened to the same speech multiple times over the previous months – many, many more if you count all of the years of training. Same song, umpteen millionth verse. And like the tune, the outcome never changed.

In seminary we had two children. I stopped working to care for them, so we learned to live on student loans and my family’s charity. Seminary included a year-long internship in Australia (it was not glamorous, sorry to disappoint). Then in 1992 a mission board told us we were not missionary material. By their estimation our marriage had a three in ten chance of survival. Graduation from seminary was followed by an eighteen month stint where my husband served as a youth pastor. It ended in disaster, financial and otherwise. Application after application generated rejection after rejection. Even though one church voted to hire him in 1994, the Presbytery said no – twice. Standing there in front of that soapy water, I could not have imagined that two more failed internships, bankruptcy, a three-month separation, military service and deployment, another job loss, three more years of graduate school, twelve more moves, and finally divorce were headed my way.

Yet even then, I had run out of words.

I could not muster a response to his assurances. All I could do was bristle in silence against the barrage of his pipe dreams. I remember rinsing the last of the dishes while staring at my reflection in the darkened window above the sink. My eyes looked hollow and empty of life – just like I felt. Whatever joy I had known was gone, trampled under the hardships of a life lived without enough of anything – money, stability, family ties, friends, or, most importantly, love. In my head I spoke to the only one I thought might be listening. “God,” I said, “I can’t dream anymore. It’s too painful.”

I rinsed the soap down the drain then turned and left the kitchen. He was likely still standing there talking as I plodded mechanically up the stairs. I went through the motions of my nightly routine with my own voice still echoing in my head, “It hurts too much to dream.” The truth was, I had never learned to dream about much of anything for myself. As a child I was told I had to marry because women needed to be taken care of by a man. The church told me I had to obey my husband, follow his dreams, and die to whatever it was I might desire. In my mind, there was no room for my dreams, even if I had them. In my marriage, there was no room for me.

Funny how the universe has a way of giving us back things we do not even realize we have lost.

It has long been my practice to read before falling asleep. In fact, since I was in middle school (maybe even earlier), I cannot remember my nightstand bereft of a book or six (yes, I am always in the middle of approximately six books at a time, don’t ask me why). That night I was reading He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado. After flipping on the lamp, I climbed into bed, pulled the covers up, and opened the book to my mark. The entire page was nothing but the title of Chapter 5. It read:

It’s All Right to Dream Again

Suddenly I could not breathe. The words before me bled together like watercolors bathed in my tears. The shock of such an immediate and crystal clear answer to my thoughts left me speechless. I smiled as I placed my bookmark back where it had been, shut the cover, and set the book on the nightstand. Then I turned out the light and went to sleep. I did not need to see anything else. The universe had spoken.

Message in a book

Since that night twenty or more years ago, I have heard that voice speak to me again and again. Sometimes it has been direct, like the title of Chapter 5. Other times it has been more subtle and harder to perceive. Perhaps hearing the universe speak is a function of belief – I expect it to speak so it does. I trust that what I am hearing is a message for me and that the message is good. So I work to hone my intuition, increase my attention span and ability to concentrate, and develop exceptional listening skills. Meditation is helpful, although in my experience, the universe seems to wait until I am surrounded by noise just to show me that it will always be louder, truer, and more reliable than anything else I hear. After all, what has the power to drown out the still small voice of love? Absolutely nothing.

Do you ever receive messages from the universe? How do the messages come to you? How do they make you feel and what do you do when you get them?

If you are game to share an experience you have had receiving an unexpected but timely message, please email me at cecetarot@yahoo.com. I would love to feature your story as a guest blog here on Ripples of Insight.

Much love and light,

~ Cindy

A Lesson in Contrast

In college, my friends and I had a saying:

You cannot begin to change until you know the opposite of what you are.

It was a reminder that the only path to real growth was to see the truth about yourself and then understand the way(s) in which God was different from that. Sometime in my mid-thirties I realized that most of what I knew about success, character  – pretty much everything – I learned by example of what not to do or who I did not want to be like. It was then that I began to understand experientially what our college saying meant in terms of the power of contrast to teach.

Time, experience, and study have expanded my understanding of the Bible as well. I now realize that the stories within it most often reveal what God is not. This particular learning tool can prove quite effective with human minds struggling to comprehend a vast, silent, and invisible God. But nuance is sadly ignored under a strictly literal view of the text.

For example, countless sermons have been preached on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. Most people, commentaries, preachers, and Christians believe that God was testing Abraham’s faith when he told him to take Isaac up on a mountain and offer his only son as a sacrifice. They believe that God provided a ram for himself that foreshadowed God one day sacrificing Jesus to appease himself. But is that really what this story was about? Does God really test peoples’ faith in such horrific ways? Is this same God so offended by sin that he requires a human blood sacrifice to be appeased? Sounds an awful lot like the Canaanite gods to me.

2-5_abraham-sacrifice

Most (if not all) cultures contemporary to Abraham practiced blood sacrifice to appease the anger of their god(s). In fact, some sort of blood sacrifice has been practiced for centuries in almost all cultures ever to exist. Here is an eye opening site on the history of blood sacrifices around the world. I found the conclusions page fascinating.

So when God told Abraham to kill Isaac, he was not telling him anything new. Sacrificing children, especially the first-born, to the god(s) was commonplace in those days. In fact, everyone was doing it. To Abraham it would have been business as usual for his god to demand the kind of worship that required the ultimate sacrifice of human blood. But while the story began ordinarily enough, the end revealed something radically new. Just as the knife made its way to Isaac’s heart, a voice stopped Abraham. A ram had been caught in a nearby thicket and the voice instructed Abraham to sacrifice it rather than his son. Here was the first instance of God showing man that he was in fact unlike all other gods.

Lesson #1: God does not require human blood to be appeased.

If you believe that the revelation of God’s nature to mankind has been given throughout history progressively, then you would get how this little nugget rocked the ancients’ overall understanding of deities in general and the God of Israel in particular. But this was just a stepping-stone to a much broader understanding of what made the God of Israel different. Fast forward to the establishment of the temple cult under Moses’ leadership. Here God distinguished himself from other gods by commanding one animal sacrifice each year to bring justice for the entire nation.

Lesson #2: God does not require unlimited animal sacrifices.

The last puzzle piece of what God is like can be found ringing in the voices of the prophets. They called the nation of Israel to put a stop to ritual sacrifices altogether. According to them, the God of Israel had no need for blood at all.

Lesson #3: God does not require blood because God does not need to be appeased.

Despite this final clear message from the prophets at the close of the Old Testament, the Christian church continues to teach that Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice for sins. They even go so far as to say that God himself put Jesus to death as our substitute. Which brings me to why I am writing this post today.

In 2011 I wrote a post called Walking Through the Pieces. It went on to become my all-time most-read page, clocking in at a whopping 10,209 views as of January 6, 2020. No other post of mine has come anywhere near this number. The vast amount of interest in this topic has prompted me to keep digging into the story.

I have come to the conclusion that Genesis 15 is yet another look at what God is not like.

In the cultures contemporary to Abram, people made agreements this way: they cut animals in two and spread the pieces apart, leaving a path between them. Both parties walked between the pieces while stating the terms of the covenant. Walking the path symbolized a vow and a curse in one: I promise to do thus and so, and may this happen to me if I do not keep my end of the bargain. The practice was quite common and would have been second nature to Abram. Problem is, Abram was asleep when his covenant with God was ‘cut’. He did not walk through the pieces of the animals at all.

Throughout the Old Testament it was God’s practice to reveal himself over and against the surrounding gods and cultures of the day. In Genesis 15 we find a God who does not bargain with mankind. When God says he will do something, he does it, independent of any belief or behavior on man’s part. The lesson here is clear: God does what is right without requiring anything in return. He is a God of blessing not cursing, a God of grace not law. Too bad Sonny did not understand that all he need do was ask.

Today, most Evangelicals will tell you that salvation is part of a covenant with God called the gospel (good news). They use Abram’s initial belief in the promise of an heir to teach that man’s part of the bargain is to believe that Jesus’ death paid God back for our sins because God requires blood. Whoever refuses to hold up man’s end of the covenant (by believing) will be treated like those slaughtered animals – except they will suffer an eternity in hell (at the hand of God, no less)!

Even I was captured by this interpretation of the narrative when I assumed that Jesus’ broken body was the fulfillment of God’s part of the covenant on our behalf – that God himself slaughtered Jesus to pay for our sins.

But what if that interpretation of the gospel story is completely erroneous?  What if the church is as wrong about God as good ol’ Sonny? What if Jesus’ death itself is a picture of what God is not like?

What if the real point of the story is Jesus’ life – a picture of how we were made to live, spiritually free from guilt and shame – not the story of what will happen to us after we die?

What if the gospel has absolutely nothing to do with a bloodthirsty God?

What if Rome sacrificed Jesus on the altar of their power because his message of spiritual freedom was a threat to them and the religious order of the day? What if it had nothing whatever to do with God’s supposed anger towards mankind?

What if the story of Jesus dying on a cross was never about salvation, because we don’t need salvation, because the prophets told true: GOD DOES NOT REQUIRE BLOOD OR NEED TO BE APPEASED?

What if the story of Jesus’ death is a picture of what God is not like?

The literal interpretation of the Bible has served for hundreds of years to perpetrate division, hatred, and war – our modern forms of ritual sacrifice – all in the name of religion. It is time for the world to be turned upside down once again. It is time to challenge the powers that be with the nuance of a Biblical narrative that reveals a God more loving and full of grace than any of us have ever dared imagine or hope for. A God who blesses no matter what, loves no matter what, and requires nothing in return – not even belief that he exists. A God who needs no blood to be appeased, but stands in opposition to the angry, bloodthirsty ‘gods’ invented by violent men, designed to control people using fear, guilt, and shame.

True change can happen once we know the opposite of what we are. God grant that we be given the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the courage to face the truth.

Thanks so much for reading.

Namaste,

~C

Back to the Psalms…

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Almost 5 years ago I got “stuck” in the Psalms of Ascent. As time went by I managed to get “unstuck”, but before I could finish the series.

From time to time I revisited the section of the Psalms known as The Ascents, but always came away with, “I got nothin’.” Then life hit me – again. Now I can say, “I got somethin'”; what that something is has yet to be determined.

After a much-needed rest, I’m ready to get climbing again. How about you? Are you ready to go up to worship?

Blessing, They are Blessed – Psalm 128

Goodness or Power

Occasionally I see something on a TV show that makes me think. That happened to me tonight about midway through an episode of Once Upon a Time.

That’s Snow White (Mary Catherine) and Prince Charming (David) up there arguing with Regina (Snow White’s evil stepmother). Mary Catherine is holding the dagger that can control Rumplestilskin (or kill him, giving the murderer his power). Cora, (Regina’s mother, not shown in the photo), supposedly wants nothing more than for her daughter to be queen. The truth is, Cora wants nothing less than ultimate power. She will do anything to get it.

Further along in the scene, Regina holds the heart of one of Mary Catherine’s childhood servants in her hand, threatening to kill her if Snow refuses to give up the knife. David tells her to give them the knife to save her servant (now friend), and that they will find another way to defeat Regina and Cora. Cora mocks Mary Catherine and her determination to choose the good (always choosing to do what is good) at any cost. In the midst of the argument Regina venomously spits at Snow White:

goodness doesn’t win, power does.

Snow White’s goodness won out and she gave up the dagger in order to save her servant/friend, only to watch Cora push her through the clock tower window to her death. In that one small encounter, power won out over goodness, and Mary Catherine knew it. That got Snow White to thinking… it got me to thinking too.

Struggling with what just happened, Mary Catherine tells David that being good has not been worth the cost. She wonders if expecting evil to change to good was naive and that maybe all along she has been the one who needed to change. She is ready for their happy ending to come, even if through evil means. She determines to suffer no more losses at the hands of those who embrace evil. Thus begins her plan to murder Cora.

I turned 49 yesterday and perhaps staring 50 hard in the face is making me do a bit of thinking about life and death. Some questions have been wandering through my brain as a result. Why does a serial killer escape while a friend’s 9-yr. old daughter is having surgery on a brain tumor? Why do gang leaders ensnare a hurting, lonely youth while a mother of 6 is killed in a highway collision? Why do the stars of Hollywood bask in their imagined fame while a sinkhole steals away a man’s brother as he climbs into bed at the end of a long day? Why does a mother lose 2 sons and a husband while a woman in her 20’s finds out she has breast cancer? Why does one evil leader get called to task while another nation performs ethnic cleansing unchallenged? The list goes on and on and on.

My conclusion in the face of these quandaries? A resounding, “I DON’T GET IT.” Yeah, that was my answer: no clue. It just doesn’t make any sense. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? or some such question of why evil exists. But that’s not really it. I get that we live in a fallen world, I get that sin has touched everything from nature to our genetic code. I guess my problem is the lack of rhyme or reason to it all. It just doesn’t make any sense. Kind of like Snow White wanting her pursuit of goodness to produce the happy ending she expects; that evil continues to thrive and wantonly take the ‘good’ (not ‘good’ in the sense of moral uprightness, but ‘good’ in the sense of life, love, and justice) out of the world isn’t making any sense to her right now. Me either.

Power should not win over goodness.

Yet more often than not, it does. Having been steeped in 30+ years of Evangelical thought, it’s difficult for me to think about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, power and weakness without some reference to the Christian God. And I cannot think of God without thinking of the church. I begin to hear whispered memories of Christian friends of mine supporting America’s assertion of power around the globe, as if God sanctions war when America wages it (against the ‘lost’ or the Muslim or the evil dictator). I can hear preachers talking about God torturing the wicked in a never-ending fire … warnings (or encouragement) to parents that what they teach (or fail to teach) their children will come to fruition ‘one day’ … gloom and doom prophecies of a coming apocalypse through a world power called ‘Antichrist’ … a painting of Jesus riding a white horse through storm clouds while a flaming sword of death and judgment issues from his mouth.

But, is that how God wins over evil … through ultimate power? Does God win because His power trumps everything? Really? Apparently that is what one preacher I heard recently believes. To him it all boiled down to God’s holiness – defined as the perfection of God that destroys (or at least severely punishes) imperfection. He would tell you to fear God because He’s holy and His holiness makes Him more powerful than anything else, somehow giving Him the right to punish those of His children who fail Him in some way. In that paradigm, fear gives you the ability to obey, and thus avoid the otherwise inevitable consequences of your sins.

Huh. Really? I don’t know. I don’t think Regina and Cora are right. I don’t think that power wins. Something deep inside me and something fundamentally communicated through Jesus’ death have convinced me that it’s not about raw power. At least not power as we understand it. Not the power to conquer through fear and torment. Not the power to rule over others by the strong trumping the weak. Not the power resulting from one’s ability to take life. That is the power of the tormentor, the abuser, truly the power of evil itself.

In many ways isn’t this the image of God the Christian church has painted for us for millennia: a conquering King who is going to force everyone who has ever lived to bow the knee to Him through fear and torment? Oh, sure, He offers pardon through some sort of belief in His Son, but even that is coercion borne of fear. Sounds more like a ‘benevolent’ dictator to me than a Creator-God of love.

The same pastor who believed the only pertinent part of God’s character we need consider was His holiness (moral perfection) also stated, and I quote:

Love doesn’t win, God wins.

Wow. Sounds an awful lot like Regina telling Mary Catherine that good doesn’t win, power does. Hm. It’s a good thing I was listening to this man over the internet instead of in person. I would have been carried out by the church leaders when I stood up and shouted:

GOD IS LOVE!!

I fear the church has forgotten what real power, Biblical power looks like. So focused on recognition, visibility, numbers in attendance, financial prosperity, moral agendas, self-protection and even vengeance … I find it hard to tell the church from any run-of-the-mill modern-day corporation. Where are the characteristics of humility and meekness Jesus spoke about in Matthew 5? Who is issuing the corporate call to lay down our lives in love for those around us? Who is reminding anyone in the churches today that the Kingdom we are building is not of this world, and neither are the weapons we use?

You know, I hear the argument a lot that Jesus came the first time to save, He will come the second time to judge. Really? Last I checked God does not change. Throughout history God the Father has been dismantling man’s idea of power and success. He continually chose the marginalized, the outcast, the weak of the world to carry out His plan and purpose. His Son submitted to death at the hand of His very creation to live out His example to us of what true power looks like. If you think He’s going to suddenly change into that mean-spirited, angry, judgmental, punishing God you’ve heard about all your life, you are sadly mistaken.

I hope Snow White comes to her senses. I hope she listens to Prince Charming again and realizes that good always trumps evil. It’s hard to see it in the midst of the struggle, but that’s what the message of resurrection is all about. Just when we think it’s really the end, just when we think evil has won, just when we decide the body has started to decay … that’s when Love says, “arise!” Evil cannot win against a God who IS love. Not on your life. Not on HIS life.

I hope the church comes to her senses. I hope she starts listening to Jesus and realizes that God is good, God is love, and His love never fails. Unbeknownst to us, love is the greatest power in the universe. And I’m here to tell you (over and over again if I have to) …

Evil doesn’t win, Love does!

God in Christ, Reconciling the World to Himself

Daily Prompt: Quote Me

by michelle w. on January 4, 2013

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

I don’t memorize Scripture very well. There. I said it. I mean, I can usually find a verse by searching a few of the words I remember. You know, the gist? And then there’s remembering the ‘address’. Yeah. I can usually get close … let’s see, like “I know it’s in the Old Testament…”

The title of this post is the small portion of the section below which I can actually remember. Here’s the whole thing:

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I spent almost 30 years in what I call Evangelical World. In this world there is one goal and one goal only: Get everyone saved. This proved to be a very frustrating goal for me, as it turns out. Early on I found that I wasn’t very good and convincing people that they need saving. Apparently, I wasn’t very good at ‘praying people in’ to the Kingdom, either.

And then something really amazing happened: God blew up my theological box! What’s a theological box, you ask? Well, everyone has one. It’s the framework you have in your mind that forms your understanding of who God is (or is not). Even if you are an atheist, you have this box. Your box just happens to support the thought that there is no God. This is a theological box none-the-less.

So I haven’t quite gotten to why this verse moves me. It’s simple, really. In Evangelical World only a select few get in to God’s Kingdom. Only a select few will make the ‘right’ choice and find their way into God’s family. And in that world view penal substitutionary atonement is the prevailing (usually only) understanding of the atonement. As you can see from some of my other blogs about the atonement, this view basically says that our sin made God really mad (Evangelical World refers to this as ‘God’s wrath’). It also teaches that God is morally perfect and because we have sinned (missed the mark of perfection), God requires some sort of payment. They believe that Jesus paid God off by dying in our place. But these few verses turn that idea entirely on its head.

In them we see God’s real plan – the reconciliation of the world (as opposed to a select few). We also see that instead of the idea that God is mad and Jesus is loving (kind of like God the Father is wanting to spank us in a serious way – snuff us out – because of our sins, but Jesus stands in between God and us saying, “Don’t hurt them, Father, punish me instead!”), we see here that the Father and the Son are united in their quest to reconcile everything (and thus, everyone) to them. I mean, you cannot get any more intimate than to be ‘in’ someone, can you?

God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.

This moves me because it speaks a word of hope – something Evangelical World has completely neglected, even lost. As long as the Gospel remains available only to a select few, the world (Greek word ‘cosmos’ – the entire creation!) will be left out of the equation. As long as Evangelical World understands the Gospel in terms of the Law rather than Grace, they will have no hope to give.

Our God is a God of hope, love, peace, joy, and, above all, reconciliation. He Himself reconciled us (not because He was angry and needed a sacrifice, but because we didn’t believe He loved us). When man sinned, God did not change, we did. In Christ He showed us that absolutely nothing we do can turn aside His love for us, for His creation, for His beloved children.

That’s why this quote moves me. I hope it has spoken a word of hope to you as well.

QUOTE: God Needs No Defense

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God. As if ultimate reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy, begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street and think, “Business as usual.” But, if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening. 

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves, for evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open battlefield of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush. 

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

 Matthew 25

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

.  .  .

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’