All Things Bright and Beautiful

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“All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

This was a song I learned as a child, and believed the words. I still do.

Something has been resting heavily on my heart for the past several days that I feel like I need to address in my writing. It has to do with this little song, whose words keep playing and replaying in my mind, and about God and God’s creation.

Last week I read that the United Methodist Church, the church I have been affiliated with all my life, ordained a transgender person as a deacon. I read with great interest the article about the ordination of M Barklay, one of God’s bright and beautiful creations. I read about the struggles this person has gone through in reaching this important point within the organized church, and the devotion and dedication to God and God’s work M is so passionate about. I am proud of my church for taking this step of inclusion and acceptance of people who don’t quite fit into the male / female mold, one that many of us hold onto so tightly.

What disturbs me about this were the many comments I read from Christian people condemning the church for this action and for labeling M as a child of the devil (the worst that I read) or a person not worthy of representing the church as an ordained deacon, according to scripture. I was amazed at the hatred, fear, despising, and condemnation that littered the comment section of the online articles that I read.

It makes me sad.

The Lord God made us all, as we teach our children in Sunday School. It is a miracle that any one of us is alive and walking on Planet Earth. I look at my own life and marvel that I am here at all. At any one point in the history of the world, one small thing could have happened to keep a baby from being conceived, and thus, I wouldn’t be here. In my imagination, I can just see my caveman ancestor returning to his cave after a long day of hunting and gathering, wanting a little affection from his cavewoman. She had a busy day, as well, and was exhausted. I can imagine in my mind her hugging her caveman mate, and saying in cave language, “Not tonight, Honey. I have a terrible headache.” But she didn’t. A cavebaby’s life was begun, and here I am, along with a long line of other ancestors, my siblings, and my two sons. And whether any of us are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, or something in between really doesn’t matter. We have been given the gift of life, which is beyond any labeling that may be tacked onto our backs by others.

God created all things bright and beautiful. To those Christians who condemn homosexuality, gender differences, the concept of “two spirit” people (a Native American term. Read about it!), and anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow belief about God and God’s creation, I feel very sorry for them. I don’t believe that gender differences are a sin. What constitutes sin is us missing the mark of God’s intention for our lives. Who’s to say that God’s desire can’t be fulfilled in people who are a little bit different from us.

I think it is time for Christians, and all people who believe in God, to look at every person as God’s creation. I realize that things happen as a part of being human that make people different from one another, and can certainly make some people evil and dangerous. But we are all God’s children, even the very worst of us. And God is alive in us, even when we shut God into a dark closet and ignore the creator within us.

I wish M Barklay the very best in ministry and in reaching out and touching the people who need M the most to show God’s love to all. I look at the life of Jesus, and can see him reflected in this ministry.

I’m sure there are many who read this who won’t agree with me, and that’s OK. I am content and satisfied with my beliefs, which include believing that God is love, and that God loves everything and everyone that God has created.

“And that’s all I have to say about that” (thank you Forrest Gump for this quote).

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I Wish I Could Make Music

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I can make noise, and occasionally I can hit the right notes on a piano or on my baritone ukelele, but I am not a musician. I wish I were. As a child, I endured six years of piano lessons and two years of violin lessons. I never mastered the piano and failed miserably at the violin. Then, in my 30s I had to learn to play a plastic recorder as one of the requirements to become an elementary school teacher. I passed the test, but did not consider myself proficient on this instrument. However, as a teenager I became a pretty mean ukulele strummer at summer camp. But I was not a particularly good singer; hence, the idea of becoming a professional musician never even crossed my mind.

I recently attended a local jazz concert while visiting my cousin in North Carolina. The jazz group consisted of a pianist, a flutist, a bass player, and a drummer. It was wonderful. While the music washed over me and through me, I found myself focused on the hands and fingers of the musicians. How I wished I could play an instrument – any kind of instrument – with the passion and love that clearly radiated from their faces and the movement of their arms, hands, and bodies. Memories of all of the musical instruments I attempted to learn how to play in my past made me more keenly aware of the talent and gifts of this musical group.

As a teenager I loved to sing, and even tried out for a part in the musical “Oklahoma!” at my high school. I didn’t get the part. I was told my voice wasn’t strong enough and was too breathy. I sang in the chorus, but struggled through it. I was a second soprano and alto (never could hit those high notes), and found it difficult to find my part unless there were strong vocalists on either side of me singing into my ears. Later, I sang in various church choirs, but again, I had to be positioned near someone I could follow and drown out the melody in order to sing the harmony. I loved singing, but I simply didn’t have the gift, even though I had the desire to sing.

Now the only way I make music is to turn on Pandora on my computer or satellite radio in my car and listen. I especially appreciate listening to the musicians who are not only performers, but also composers. To be able to write a song, then figure out the music to go along with the words, and finally perform it while playing the piano or the guitar is something worthy of my deepest admiration. How I wish I could do it!

I sing along sometimes, especially if it’s an old favorite whose words come to me easily. And there are a few songs that I can actually pick up the harmony and pretend that I am a real musician while driving down the highway.

Music is the love song of the universe. I can’t imagine a world without it.

Someone once asked me if I believed in God. I answered that, yes, I do believe. This was followed by the follow-up question, why? My simple answer was:

Because I believe in music.

And What a Taxi Ride That Was!

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I was in the back seat of a taxi last Thursday afternoon, riding from LaGuardia Airport to the corner of 29th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, where I was to be met by my son, Brian, for a few days’ vacation in the city. I had taken similar taxi rides before on previous visits, and I looked forward to seeing his smiling face and spending time together.

Traffic was horrendous. It wasn’t time for rush hour to begin – it was a few minutes after 2:00 pm when I climbed into the taxi at the airport. My driver was a nice young man with a heavy accent, dark hair, and smiling face. From looking at his ID on the back of the seat in front of me, I deduced that he must be from a middle-eastern country, perhaps Iraq or Afghanistan. I gave him the address of Marble Collegiate Church, which was where I was meeting Brian, and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Two minutes into the ride, my comfort zone disintegrated, and I scrambled for my seat belt. This was one aggressive, and maybe, crazy driver. He weaved in and out of traffic, honking his horn every minute or so, while mumbling to himself in a language I didn’t understand. At times, it seemed to me that he was going around in circles, but in actuality, he was simply trying to find a better route to escape the snarling traffic. He got on his cell phone, talking, I assumed, to dispatch, as he tried to maneuver his way into Manhattan. He was frustrated, and impatient with the traffic situation.

Finally, we came to a dead stop. A tunnel entrance loomed ahead. About that time, Brian texted me, asking me how long until I’d be there. I asked my driver where we were, and if he could give me an approximate time of arrival. He apologized to me, saying that he didn’t know. Twenty minutes, maybe, not sure. The traffic was worse than he’d seen it in a long time. In his heavily accented English, he apologized again, with frustration evident in his voice, saying that maybe he should have gone a different way. I assured him that I understood it wasn’t his fault. My son just wanted an idea of how much longer it would be. It was taking longer than usual for me to get there from the airport.

We began to move at a snail’s pace toward the tunnel entrance. As we approached, we saw a sign indicating that the left lane of the tunnel was closed. All traffic was merging into a single lane, explaining the congestion. I commented that maybe once we got through the bottleneck, things would start moving again. He agreed. Inch by inch, we moved forward. Soon, we were inside the tunnel, and he told me that it wouldn’t be long now. But once we got fully inside, traffic stopped again.

Oh my! I began looking around me. I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel from behind me or in front of me. I began imagining every Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone thriller move I had ever seen, and was beginning to think about getting out of the taxi and walking. The tunnel walls, the echoing noise, the claustrophobia were all bearing down on me. I could get out and just tell the driver to pick me up at the tunnel exit. After what seemed like an eternity, we began to move – a little. Whew!

That was when my ride really got interesting. Brian texted again, and again I asked my driver how much longer. I explained – again – that my son was meeting me where he worked.

“Where does your son work?” he asked.

I told him that it was a church.

“You’re going to a church?” he asked.

“ Yes, my son works there,” I answered, “and he will meet me on the sidewalk outside the church when we get there. That’s why he wants to know about how much longer it will be.”

My driver was interested. From out of the blue, it seemed, he asked me if I was religious. I told him that I was, and I asked him if he was religious.

“I want to be,” was his simple answer.

He then began asking me about my religious upbringing and what was the most important thing I had learned as a child about God in my church. I told him that I had learned lots of Bible stories, but the main thing I had learned was that God is love, and that Jesus taught us that we should treat others the way we wanted to be treated (the good old Golden Rule!). All the while, I was thinking, I can’t blow this. What can I say that will be the right thing?

As we crept forward, we saw that the reason for the delay in the tunnel was a stalled car. It had been moved over to the closed lane by the NYPD, allowing us to progress on our trip. Passing it, I knew it would be only a matter of minutes before I’d be getting out of the taxi. I wanted to say something that would help this young man.

He said that logic made it hard for him to believe in a God of love. His mother loved him, but she wasn’t perfect, and she made mistakes. There are bad people on earth. How can we love them? How could God be all powerful without making mistakes, like his mother did? How can God love everyone? Even the bad people? Even those who make mistakes?

I was sweating bullets, trying to help him in the few blocks and in as many minutes that we had left to travel. I grasped for the only thing I knew to say. “God is in your heart and loves you,” I told him. “God wants us to love other people as God loves.” He asked me a few more questions, which I honestly can’t remember now, I was getting so flustered, trying to say what I believed should be said in such a short amount of time.

As I got out of the taxi, and handed him the fare, I looked him in the eye and said, “Remember – listen to your heart. That’s where God is. You won’t go wrong.” He smiled at me and put his hands to his heart.

With that, he got back into his taxi and drove away, leaving me pondering this unusual taxi ride while waiting on the sidewalk for Brian to meet me.

And now, looking back, I ponder even more. About many things. About getting stuck in tunnels. About stalled cars. About terrible traffic. About meeting Brian at the church. About being in that particular taxi. About saying the right thing. About a young man’s search for God.

About listening to my heart.

Does God Need an Invitation?

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Every now and then I run upon something on Facebook that causes me to back up and take another look. The following, with the name edited out, was posted this morning, finding its way somehow to my Facebook Timeline.

“I’ve invited God over to my house to spend the day. Today will be a continuous day of prayers. My son’s brain surgery is this morning. I know all our family and friends have [my son] in their prayers.”

I wonder if anyone else thinks this is an odd statement. While it received a long list of comments of “Praying”, and other similar comments and statements of love and support from this person’s Facebook friends, I couldn’t just let it go without further thought and a comment on my blog.

I didn’t know the history of this beloved son’s brain problem. Is it a tumor that has been growing for some length of time? Is it an aneurism which requires immediate attention? Is it something malignant? Or benign? As I delved deeper into Facebook, I learned that this young man has cancer, so these questions were answered for me, after quite a few clicks into other people’s posts and timelines.

Now my questions are, “Where was God yesterday? Why was God only invited into the house today to spend the day? Why did God need to be invited in the first place? Will this person still need God tomorrow? Will God be asked to leave if things don’t go well?

I am sure that many prayers have found their way to God concerning this young man and his cancer. And I’m sure the parent who posted this has prayed many, many prayers for the health of her son. I feel confident that her home is filled today with prayers and petitions for her son’s recovery. What puzzles me is the phrasing of her Facebook post.

I don’t want to sound judgmental – I would be asking for prayers for my son should he ever face something like this in his life. My Facebook friend had her own way of letting her friends know of her need for support and prayers, and I know that God is listening and answering those prayers.

The statement did make me stop to think, however, about my own spirituality and beliefs about God. My knee jerk response upon reading this post – to myself, of course – was, why just for today? And why did God need an invitation? For me, God doesn’t need to be invited to my home. God IS my home, and God has invited ME to be part of God’s great home. I believe that God is with me in every breath that I take, wherever I am and wherever I go. Everyday. Not just when I need something from God. Not when something bad happens. Not only for today, but also for every minute of my life. God is as close to me as my own heartbeat.

I thank God for being there with – and guiding the hands of – the surgeons operating on this young man today, for being with the nursing staff that will be monitoring him as he begins the recovery process. I also thank God for the faith and strength of the parents, relatives, and friends. Most importantly, I thank God that an invitation isn’t necessary. God is with us even before we ever put out an invitation.

Always.

Spiritual Gifts? Gifts of the Spirit?

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Today in my Bible study group, our topic of discussion was spiritual gifts. Interesting. It appeared from our study that every Christian is given at least one spiritual gift, and it is important that we identify our spiritual gift/gifts in order to be Christians and to fight the powers of Satan, who, according to the author of the book we are studying, is constantly attempting to derail our faith.

I was confused. And when I get confused, I start doing research. After three hours of online research, reading Bible references to “gifts of the spirit” and “spiritual gifts”, taking four online tests to determine what my spiritual gifts are, and finally talking to my minister sister about the topic, I still am unsure what my spiritual gifts are, and I am beginning to wonder if anyone really is an expert on what spiritual gifts really are.

Each of the questionnaires that I answered had one thing in common, in that with each statement, there was a choice for me to address each one with my response, ranging from (1) Never, to (5) Always True, with choices along the continuum. I had to choose a number between 1 and 5 to select which was most accurate answer for my circumstances. It was difficult for me to select the right number for every statement, and all of the questionnaires had different questions. One of them actually had 100 questions – that seemed like a lot for me to find out what my one spiritual gift might be. And the odd thing I found was that with each of the spiritual gift questionnaires I took, my results pinpointed a different gift. Maybe I was selecting the wrong number choice! The gifts listed on each survey didn’t match the lists on the others, and only a few of the choices seemed to mirror what I read in the Bible. Mostly what I learned from these tests is that I am sensitive, I am a good listener, and that I care about people. One also seemed to point out to me that I don’t do enough in the church, and that I have room for improvement concerning my gift. None of them mentioned Satan.

I need to go back and read the Bible more carefully on this subject. It’s been awhile since I’ve studied it. I remember reading about gifts of healing, preaching, speaking in tongues, interpreting what people say who speak in tongues, having faith, and the like, but I am not well versed on the subject, as Paul wrote about it to the Corinthians, and also can’t say that I agree with everything that Paul wrote.

So, as I put what I am reading and the tests that I have taken into the context of the world that I live in, I wonder about the emphasis that is placed on this in today’s Christianity. And I question whether the pursuit of my own spiritual gifts is something that I should spend a lot of time contemplating.

Now, that’s a good word – contemplate. I have become very contemplative in my faith, my prayer life, and my beliefs. As I contemplate this topic, I ponder “gifts of the spirit.” I see these as the grace gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to me without my deserving them whatsoever. They are not wrapped up presents that God holds on to and hands to me at a time God deems appropriate. If God is love, as I believe, any gift that God gives me is simply that, a gift, with no strings attached, and is given in love, and not with expectation of how I might use the gift. Just the love of God is a spiritual gift in itself.

As God is the great “I Am”, my life is a very small part of “I am.”  Simply being is a gift from God, and a very spiritual one at that, making my sheer existence a spiritual gift. I am alive, I am a child of God, and I believe that the Holy Spirit is within me all the time. God has blessed me with many wondrous grace gifts, and in receiving them, my life now becomes a part of the great “I Am,” or as Paul stated, the body of Christ.

Maybe this is what it means to have a spiritual gift. Perhaps I don’t need to look at the labels given to the gifts listed on these online questionnaires. My entire life and being is a spiritual gift from God. What I do with it is up to me. In contemplative prayer and meditation, I discern God’s will, and then in my daily life, I become the person God created me to be.

Spiritual gifts, or gifts of the spirit. I don’t think I will contemplate on this any longer today. I think, instead, I will be me, the best me that I can be. I will strive to be the me that God created me to be. I don’t need to take any tests or fill out any more questionnaires. And I’m not going to spend time contemplating Satan today – with God’s love and presence with me, I am safe in God’s arms.

Perhaps we don’t need spiritual gifts. Perhaps we are the gifts of the spirit.

I Am The Universe

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The centering thought for today’s meditation was “I am the universe.”

The universe has fascinated me ever since I was a little girl. I remember lying under the stars in my sleeping bag on a Camp Fire Girls camping trip when I was about eight years old. At first, the dark sky with all the pinpoints of lights fascinated me. But, then, suddenly, I became unexplainably afraid and buried my head underneath the covers until morning’s light. On that night the immensity and vastness of the universe was overwhelming for my child’s mind and imagination. I think that was the first time the concept of infinity made its appearance in my life. It was more than I could comprehend or handle, so I hid my face until the sun came out to welcome a new day.

The concept still haunts me somewhat, as it is one that I simply cannot comprehend. However, the universe itself is fascinating to me, as I learn more about it and my tiny spot in it. As a religious person, and one who believes in God, I am in awe of creation as I feebly attempt to envision what God must be like to have created such a wondrous thing, and why God chose to create me.

As I ponder the meaning of life, and why I have been given the privilege to live a life and experience all that the universe has to offer, I long to explore it myself. I can’t conceive why God would create such a grand playground for us if we aren’t allowed to play on it. As I contemplate death and the end of my life here on earth, I can picture myself given the wings to fly and the capability to explore the entire universe. And because it is so huge, it will take an eternity to do so!

So, with all of these unearthly thoughts, I am brought back to this morning’s meditation. I am the universe. I am part of creation. As I learned as a child, “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the lord.” The God who made the universe is the God who made me, who breathed the breath of life into me. And it is this God who is my guide through my life and ultimately through the universe.

And now I am thinking, am I the universe, or is the universe me?

Hhhhmmmm.