Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Little Corner of the World

There was a party going on in heaven, a jubilant celebration and the only humans who caught a glimpse of it were a few terrified lowly shepherds.  Here's what they witnessed.  The glory of heaven broke through the skies as Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  An angel stood in the midst and made the greatest declaration the universe would ever hear--the savior of the world was finally born!  In the glistening light that pierced the darkness, a great company of angelic beings then suddenly appeared.  They all sang loudly and triumphantly: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."  They had been waiting for this moment in time from the foundation of the world.

The angels sang of peace brought to earth by this tiny infant, son of God and son of man.  But, looking at the world around us, one has to wonder, peace?  What peace?  Usually we think of peace as a socio-political phenomena dependent upon world leaders and global treaties. And, of course, that will happen universally when the Prince of Peace finally returns to our planet.  But most translations of this scripture similarly indicate the peace that Jesus was to bring was for those "on whom his favor rests."  That would seem to be referring only to those who are already in a relationship with Jesus.  Is it exclusive to believers?  Or is it supposed to start with believers?

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me" are words from a familiar song.  Though it sounds simple, individual attempts at ordinary everyday peacemaking are not easy.  How does peace on earth begin with me?

Everyday life can be overwhelming with lots of things that are out of our control: events, circumstances and especially the actions and reactions of those around us.  So here's a good place to start--taking responsibility for the energy that is in our own personal space.  I love the imagery of managing the energy in my space, i.e. realm of influence.  For the longest time I didn't recognize I had my own space. I always thought I was in someone else's space.  So when I first heard it expressed in those words, it really spoke to me.  It simply means monitoring our reactions to what is taking place around us.  When the vibes in our own little corner of the world are peaceful, conciliatory and gracious, then this will positively spill over onto those around us and they will experience the peace of Jesus no matter who they are.

I think we become accustomed to, or comfortable with, our negative reactions toward a lot of day by day stuff that goes on in our space. More often than not, we think it doesn't matter.  We may feel justified in responding curtly on the phone or impatiently with a family member.  I'm kidding myself if I think my huffing and puffing and grumbling to myself when the garage door isn't working AGAIN doesn't affect someone within earshot at home.  Watching my husband retreat to his office is proof of that.

We can all rather quickly come up with our own list of pet peeves and annoyances--people who take forever at a checkout; unsolicited opinion-givers;  people who love bickering; noisy neighbors; grumblers; people who can't make up their minds; worry warts; people who are unresponsive; people who are rude; party poopers; people who are 24/7 annoying and the list goes on...right?

Here's the good thing though--don't miss this...a peaceful reaction to life's little irritants makes us less apt to end up on someone else's annoying-people list.  No one wants to be a pet peeve A-lister.

The same heavenly peace, planned from the foundation of the world and that Jesus brought to the earth, miraculously resides in those "on whom his favor rests."  That's amazing, isn't it?  But here's the deal. It's meant to spill over from your realm of influence into someone else's space.  That means it's contagious.  It will "spill over" any time we have a peaceful, conciliatory response to an otherwise bothersome or contentious invasion of our  individual space.  It can be in a kind word to a harried checkout clerk.  It will show up when bickering is avoided.  It's there in the form of patience expressed toward someone who can't make up their mind.  It soothes when rudeness is overlooked.

None of us will be able to pull this off 100%.  But hopefully sharpening our awareness of the need to become peacemakers within "our space" will help.  "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me," in my little corner of the world.  How's the energy in your corner?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beauty...not the Beast

Beauty and the Beast--such a beloved fairy tale.  One of my several ultra-talented granddaughters played the  role of Beauty in her annual middle school musical production.  In fact, her physical resemblance to Beauty as portrayed in the Disney movie was striking.  The student who performed  the role of the  Beast eventually turned out to be her first boyfriend in real life.  So not only was the play a success, there were happy endings all around!

Speaking of beasts, when I was a child I had the misfortune of being labeled as someone with "the mind of a beast."    That's not very nice, you say.  Well, I have to agree with you there.  I mean, I was rather spoiled, I must admit.  But that's a far cry from having a beastly mind.  Being impressionable and young, this misnomer left a lasting negative imprint regarding how I felt about myself.

It all stemmed from a terribly convoluted misunderstanding of Old Testament scripture referring to ancient Israel and how the surrounding "gentile" nations were perceived.  The inaccuracy led to a modern application of some ethnic groups being regarded as inherently superior to others by dent of birth.  And, though not widespread, the notion that some nations had "mind of a beast" tendencies surfaced in the former teachings of my denomination. This only added insult to injury and the damage was done. It's not a new concept for sure.  Religious discriminatory views, whether inadvertent or not, have been around for centuries and can sadly still be found.  I should mention this happened to me decades ago and in no way reflects the current belief system of my denomination.

Because I was a child, of course I lacked the wisdom and experience to sift through and recognize faulty, foolish information.  So for years, I was convinced I was inferior and even a little freaky simply because of the ethnic background I inherited the day I was born.  I always had the feeling I was on the outside looking in.

OK, enough of the beast, where's the beauty?  It's Jesus!  He leveled the playing field forever.

In the homes and streets and marketplaces of first century Judea, there was a marked class system.  Most members of that society found themselves on the outside looking in.  Though the entire nation was under Roman occupation, wealth, education and political favoritism awarded a small number of them the upper hand and superior lifestyles.  The rich, privileged and authoritarian religious leaders strutted among the people, adorned in their holiness by virtue of their own righteousness.  They always sat proudly in front row seats.  Religion was a thing of endless, impossible-to-achieve rules. The exhausted weary masses were weighed down with little or no hope of ever rising above their inferior status.  And some, such as the insane, slaves, lepers, women and children and "gentiles" were considered less than inferior.

Then Jesus was born in their midst and walked the dusty roads and byways of ancient Judea.  He was more interested in people than pomp and pageantry or pedigree.  The core of his ministry was then and still is to draw all humankind unto himself.  As he moved through the crowds of untouchables, sinners, mentally disturbed, poor, hungry, needy, diseased, scorned, fearful, helpless, brokenhearted--what stands out is his humility and warmth, his tenderness and compassionate outreach. He tells the rejected and heavy burdened to come to him so he can give rest to their souls.  He doesn't ever discriminate but is instead relentlessly redemptive--freeing everyone from what distresses or harms, releasing humanity from debt and blame.  He created us all.  He loves us all.

When I discovered the beautiful, unconditional acceptance of Jesus, the negativity that I had assigned to myself as a child because of my ethnicity began to dissolve. I finally "got it"and am turning that chapter in my life into a brand new one.  The personal impact of this transformation is every bit as dramatic as the gruff, clumsy old beast in the fairy tale changing into a charming prince.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movin' on up...

"Movin' on up to the East Side..."  Catchy words from the theme song from the old 70's American sitcom The Jeffersons who finally got a piece of the pie.  They lived in New York City, worked hard and moved up the ladder of financial success.  That's a model for a lot of things in life--business, entertainment, sports and can be worthwhile.

But back in the 60's when I was a young bride and brand new pastor's wife, lo and behold within our church denominational structure there was a wobbly ladder in front of us we were expected to climb.  It involved an elaborate hierarchical system with ranks (levels of achievement) that quickly spiraled out of control though it looked good on paper.  A pastor earned a higher rank usually based on performance and sometimes tenure and now and then a little bit of luck as to who he knew.  Each promotion provided "greater" authority and more prestige than the previous.  After all, if it works in the secular world, it should work in the ministry, right?  Wrong....

It produced stress, pressure, favoritism and performance comparison--an atmosphere that could easily sideline a heartfelt attitude of service and individual gifting which should define a pastor.  It generated an unfortunate layer of anxiety fostering doubts as to whether or not the "powers that be," including God, were displeased with someone who failed to be promoted to the next level.  Was that an indication he was less spiritual?  Maybe he had a secret sin.  Uh oh....

And it went to silly extremes at times.  While training for a year under a minister with a higher rank, my husband had to be super careful not to order restaurant menu items that cost more than his superior's;  otherwise he'd be in big trouble.  And I remember once we had to drive a cheap, temporary rental car that was slightly beat up to a church convention.  A fellow pastor expressed sincere concern. He was worried my husband had been demoted.  It all became exhausting.  I'd like to say none of it had a negative impact on me personally, but that wouldn't be true.  The problematic laddered structure was eventually dismantled within our denomination because it didn't work.

Being overly focused on promotion is not a new concept.  There is a gospel story describing a mom who felt comfortable enough with Jesus to ask him if her two grown sons, who were also disciples, could have top positions of authority during his reign as Messiah.  Jesus cautioned her and her sons, saying he didn't think they really grasped what they were asking.  They insisted they understood--no problem.  The conversation was within earshot of the other disciples and tempers flared.  Insults, accusations and bickering broke out over exactly who should be the "greatest."  Jesus had to step in and break up the fight.

Jesus' heart must have been heavy because after being with him day in and day out, his disciples still didn't get it.  And this "who is greatest" issue had come up before.  The disciples thought they needed to be in charge, maybe even "lord it over" a few people.  The Lord patiently explained to them they were missing the point.  They were already doing what they had been called to do; following Jesus and assisting him in his ministry.  Anyone wanting to be "greater" among them needed to have the humility and attitude of a servant.

To further clarify their misconception, Jesus also told them that he, the Son of God, the Lord of Lords didn't come to earth to "lord" it over others, or to be served.  He came to serve, to love and redeem and be a ransom for many.  It wasn't necessary for one disciple to be deemed greater than another.  They didn't need a promotion ladder and there was certainly no room for "movin' on up."  The same holds true for us today.  Jesus is still mercifully and graciously reaching out to the whole world.  He asks us to follow and assist him with a servant's heart.

If you want to read the story of the mom and her two sons, please click onto 1st Century Soccer Mom under recent posts on this blog.

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2012 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Don't See Me...."

One of my lovely granddaughters was quite shy when she was a toddler.  If someone paid attention to her, she would often say, "Don't see me!"  She was so precious and we all did our best to accommodate her.  But probably, in reality, that was only her "shyness" talking.  At the end of the day, most of us do want to be noticed, not in the celebrity sense of the word  but we want to be acknowledged as a worthwhile individual.  Everyone wants to know: "Do you see me?  Do you hear me?  And does what I have to say matter to you?" That's how I've heard Oprah explain it and I agree with her.  Each person has a story and every story is worth telling and every story is worth hearing.

But we all know how "some" people would much rather see and hear, and especially be seen with a perceived VIP.  If we're honest that probably includes all of us to one degree or another.

One day Jesus was walking through town with a VIP (synagogue president) on their way to raise up the leader's gravely ill daughter. They were mobbed by people on every side.  Now there happened to be a woman in the same town who was truly a "nobody."  She was shunned by society and deemed untouchable due to a disgusting disease which rendered her ceremonially unclean according to Jewish law.  On top of that, having a disease or disability in that day was often viewed as a curse, something the afflicted brought on themselves as a result of  sin. So all the more reason to view her as inferior and good-for-nothing.

But in spite of all the obstacles, the untouchable woman struggled determinedly, crawling through the pressing crowd surrounding Jesus to anonymously touch the hem of his garment. She knew better than to approach him directly.  Her body was healed instantly.  Now Jesus could have left it at that, right?  After all, he was on his way to a synagogue president's home.  She was just one of the crowd.  No, not Jesus.  That's not how he did things.  So he looked around intently and asked, "Who touched me?"  She fearfully and reluctantly came forward,  fell at Jesus'  feet and told him the whole truth.

Not only did Jesus want to see her and hear her, he wanted scores of people, including the VIP, to also see and hear her.  What she had to say mattered to him.  She told him her story and in that moment, Jesus raised her status from insignificant and worthless to a person of value.  He told her to take heart because she was free of her suffering, both physically and emotionally.

Share her transformation by reading her story.  Click onto The Neighborhood Misfit... under recent posts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Not Counting Women and Children...

Now this story has a little boy, a huge mass of hungry people, five small loaves plus two fish and a grief-stricken Jesus.  What could one even remotely have to do with the other?

Jesus, having just learned of the gruesome execution of his beloved cousin John, had been seeking solitude.  What a horrible way for John to die, his head delivered to King Herod on a platter. Herod had made a rash, stupid promise to give his stepdaughter anything she wanted after she performed a provocative dance in front of him and all his high officials and military leaders.  She requested the head of John the Baptist.  This wicked scheme had been meticulously orchestrated behind the scenes by Herod's wife. Matthew's Gospel account tells us after hearing what happened, Jesus and his disciples withdrew by boat privately, crossing over to a far shore of the Sea of Galilee.  They climbed a mountainside to a solitary place to get some rest.  I think it is fair to say Jesus might have needed some time to process the loss of his cousin.

But not far behind were the multitudes chasing after him.  Even though he sought some respite, when Jesus saw them coming, he was moved with compassion for them.  After spending an unforgettable day together, they were all hungry.  This was a problem, however, because there was no food available in such a desolate spot.

There were at least 5,000 men, not counting women and children.  It's easy to read right over the words "not counting women and children." But actually, literally speaking, women and children didn't count in that society.  They were viewed as unimportant second-class citizens, having few rights and privileges.  That's why they weren't counted.

Now the plot thickens...it's fascinating to note Jesus already had in mind what he was going to do.  But he asked the disciples to work something out anyway just to see what they would say.  Naturally, their solution was to send the people away to the nearby villages so they could buy food because the disciples certainly didn't have enough money to feed them.  This was not an option for Jesus for many reasons.  He had just spent hours mingling with these people, comforting them, opening blind eyes, mending crippled, diseased bodies, touching hearts.  In an instant, hundreds of lives were changed forever.  Emotional bonds had formed between Jesus and this happy crowd.

What did Jesus have in mind?  Here is something else that is easy to miss--only one of the four Gospel accounts of this event mentions there just happened to be a little boy present with a basket containing three small loaves and two fish.  Jesus took the basket, blessed the food and fed way over 5,000 people with it!  He could have done any number of things.  Instead he intentionally chose to give a young lad the thrill of his life.  And since it is highly unlikely that the child had baked the bread and prepared this basket, his mom now enters the equation.  Don't think for a minute that the little guy's mom wasn't equally thrilled to have her meager basket of food singled out and turned into a miraculous picnic for thousands that would be the talk of the town for months to come.

So, who says women and children don't count?  They did to Jesus and still do.

Matt. 14: 13-21; John 6:1-15

Read the mom's version of the story of the little boy with the basket of bread and fish.   Click onto Talk About Leftovers! under Recent Posts.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Candlelight Suppers...

If you've ever watched the old British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances on PBS, then you will know all about the primary character Hyacinth's candlelight suppers. Hyacinth is snobbishly particular and downright pushy.  Neighbors scatter when she walks down her street. The milkman tiptoes up to her front porch attempting to avoid her because she always tells him to make sure her milk comes from the nice clean cows she has noticed in a verdant pasture down the road. Her friend next door becomes a nervous wreck when she's invited for tea and Hyacinth uses her best irreplaceable china with a hand-painted periwinkle pattern.  The postman gets scolded by Hyacinth when he has no mail for her because she can't possibly understand why he has mail for her neighbor and not her because she is so much more important than her neighbor.

But when it comes to her infamous candlelight suppers, Hyacinth becomes totally annoying as she gets meticulously wrapped up in the preparation and arrangements.  The menu, the china, the silverware, the wine glasses, the tablecloths, the invitations, the center piece--everything has to be absolutely perfect.  But somehow things always begin to unravel and the evening inevitably turns into a complete humiliating disaster.

When I read the mealtime story of Jesus' BFF,  Mary and Martha of Bethany, it reminds me just a little bit of Hyacinth's candlelight suppers. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home and was looking forward to serving up an elaborate meal.  As she is busily setting things up and cooking for Jesus, things get out of hand and she is unable to manage the preparations all by herself. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, is settled down at Jesus' feet, listening intently to his every word.  Martha finally gets fed up, bursts into the courtyard where Jesus and the others are sitting, interrupts Jesus and accuses him of not caring about her and tells him to make her sister get herself into the kitchen area immediately to help her.

Oops!  Awkward!  I'm sure it didn't take Martha long to realize she had just made a fool of herself.  But Jesus' response to Martha when she was at her wit's end was gentle and calming.  Make no mistake--Jesus is love and there is no way he could not truly appreciate all Martha's efforts and sincere desire to prepare what probably amounted to a feast in his honor.  And Mary no doubt normally would have assisted her.  But there was something Martha had missed.

It turns out, because Mary had been listening to Jesus, she had discerned that he, their best and most beloved friend, was soon to die a horrible, brutal death by crucifixion.  She had been deeply affected.  So Mary decided to remain by Jesus' side to be supportive and to comfort him during his visit.

It was a hard, embarrassing lesson for Martha to learn.  We all know how small we feel when we overact in a given situation and afterwards learn of details that put matters in a totally different light. In spite of her outburst, Jesus made it easy for Martha. After all, he knew what it was like to carry the weight of the world.  He didn't respond in kind to her snippy attitude  Instead, he lovingly encouraged Martha to become aware of what was really essential in life and helped her understand getting a little behind with dinner was not worth being all upset about.  That's reassuring news for all of us Martha types, not to mention all the Hyacinths out there!

To read Martha's version of the story, click onto This Sister of Mine... under Recent Posts on this page.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

His Heart Went Out to Her

"His heart went out to her...."  I love that!  It shows the emotional side of Jesus in a story about a widow woman plodding slowly along in a funeral procession for the burial of her only son.  The mourners were passing through the city gate just as Jesus and a huge crowd of followers arrived at the village.  From a distance he saw her crying and broke away from the mass of people surrounding him.  When he caught up with her, he gently told her, "Don't cry..."  By including the expression translated as "His heart went out to her," the Gospel writer is giving us a glimpse of the emotion and feeling that was typical of Jesus.  His heart yearned to do something for her.  He had never met her before.  She wasn't asking for anything.  Jesus was simply overwhelmed with a desire to show compassion and mercy and as a result raised her son from the dead.

Though the astounding miracle brought glory to his name, every indication is this was not the primary reason for his intervention.  Yes, we are awestruck and inspired beyond words by the miracle of her son being raised from the dead.  But in these stories about Jesus, it is easy to skip over poignant little phrases such as "his heart went out to her" and "don't cry" because they are often overshadowed by the bigger events that usually get most of the focus.  But what comfort and reassurance can be had by picking up on these few, yet highly significant words tucked into the narratives of Jesus' life.  They allow us to relate to him more personally.

And how reassuring to realize that because he cares so deeply, he steps in even if we, for whatever reason, don't ask for help.  His goodness can touch anyone anytime. Though he was surrounded by people, Jesus' eye caught the exhausted grieving widow, tears flowing as she struggled to keep up with her son's funeral procession   If his heart went out to the widow woman, we can be assured his heart goes out to all of us as well in the midst of our troubles.  That's just who he is.

 **To read the story as told by the widow who lost her only son, click onto "Don't Cry..." under Recent Posts.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It Was Like Magic!

Miracles!  Miracles everywhere!  It was like magic.  Early in his ministry, Jesus healed the mother-in-law of his new disciple Peter. She was burning up with a fever, on the verge of death and he took her hand and raised her up in the privacy of Peter's home, away from the public eye.  This would indicate Jesus intervened not solely to establish who he was, but also out of deepest concern--concern that would bond him to this special group--Peter and his wife, his mother-in-law, his brother Andrew and James and John who were also there.

Such a heartwarming, caring gesture made it easier for this new circle of friends to support the extraordinary mission that would consume so much of their lives over the next three and a half years and beyond.  It was a glimpse of his goodness.  But for the two ladies, it was more.  It represented recognition of their value as women; a show of attention that made them feel special and gentleness they were unaccustomed to receiving from religious teachers and leaders.

And the miracles they were destined to witness on a daily basis began anew that evening when hoards of people in desperate need of healing and deliverance lined the streets and alleys leading to the door of their home.  They were all clamoring for Jesus.  News about him had already spread quickly over the entire region.  Not only were these pitiful, infirmed and diseased individuals bound by their handicapped existence, they were also bound by a legalistic application of the Jewish code of law.  They had been taught they could not ask for or receive help until after the sun set on their sabbath days.  They were mistaken.  Jesus would have healed them any time of day or night. He had already healed Peter's mother-in-law just that afternoon.  The Lord was not unreasonable.

For many years, I too was mistaken.  I thought  my supplications to God were valid only if I offered them at the "right" time of day, just as the needy crowd at Peter's door.  But it didn't stop there, I also felt I had to pray in the "right" position, say the "right" words, in the "right" tone of voice and spend the "right" amount of time doing it. Otherwise, it would not work.  I allowed my entire day to be ruined and expected things to go wrong if I failed to pray the "right" way. How silly, you might say.  Yes, indeed it was.  But I needlessly labored under that misconception for a very long time.  Now I see how such a picky and complicated approach makes God appear unreasonable, harsh and unrealistic.

Jesus spent hours that night wandering through the massive crowd, empathetically laying his hands on the afflicted, the outcasts and misfits--many of whom were extremely unstable mentally. But it was not necessary for them to have waited until sunset to cry out for help, just as it wasn't necessary for me to pray at what I thought was the "right" time and way.  Jesus is neither unreasonable nor unrealistic.  He knows we are only human.  His mercy is unending.  His love unconditional.  We may come boldly before his throne of grace at any time, whether it be in early morning, with elegant, poetic phrases or late night with nothing but groaning and tears.  It doesn't matter. He understands.

Read the story of all these miracles as told by Peter's wife.  Click onto What A Day This Has Been! under Recent Posts.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What a Bunch of Losers!

Can you imagine the reaction of much of the Christian world today if they were faced with the kind of decision Jesus made regarding his first public miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding?  You know in your heart of hearts that many (and I include myself) would be thinking, "Well, the wedding party has already consumed all the wine way sooner than expected.  It's too bad there is no wine left, but it is just as well.  They've really had enough!"   The fact that Jesus did not have that reaction is fascinating.  It means he wasn't standing in their midst, arms folded, with a scowl on his face judging the merriment. It actually indicates he just might have been enjoying himself.

Weddings in first century Judea were a huge deal.  Running out of wine was not an option.  The reputation of the family was as stake. Jesus saved the day for the young bride and spared the family from embarrassment.  He responded to the request of his mom, even though he initially told her not to involve him because the time had not yet come for him to be made known through his miracles.  But she had a feeling he would do something anyway.  So she told the servants to follow his instructions.  She knew her son.  He was, after all, love personified.  Does that mean a supplication from  his dear mom and a desire to save the day for a tender young bride influenced Jesus to change his mind?  That's what it looks like.  Wow!  Who would have thought he would do such a thing?

This event in Jesus' life shows me I can lighten up a little bit, not be so rigid or inflexible.  Jesus didn't self-righteously turn his back on the wedding party and say, "Tough!  It's not my problem they ran out of wine. They should have had a more efficient wedding planner.  What a bunch of losers!" and watch the celebration fall to pieces.  Why did Jesus fix the situation?   He wanted the party to be a success.  He wanted everyone to be happy and the rejoicing to continue.

And I was touched the first time I realized Jesus might have had a soft spot regarding his mother.  Even though he initially told her no, he did reconsider, did he not?  And ended up turning water into wine--an unusual miracle that delighted his mom and the bridal party even though it resulted in launching his public ministry earlier than he planned.  When you think about it, Jesus life on this earth was filled with surprising happenings, unexpected stops and detours along the way enabling him to compassionately meet the needs of people, even "losers."

Note:  Read the story of this wedding as told by the bride--click onto The Bride's Story under Recent Posts.