Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: bible (page 1 of 6)

Looking in empty places

In John’s gospel (chapter 20), within 2 paragraphs of Mary Magdalene finding an empty tomb, Jesus’ first words to the group of the disciples.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Why in my 37 years of Easter morning services have I never known what specific directions Jesus gave the disciples? I got the “go and make disciples” messages, and the running to the empty grave and even some stories about not recognizing Jesus on the road. Never once did I know that we had this Forgiveness Mandate put upon our lives.

Previous to Jesus’ announcement, forgiving only happened at the Temple. (Remember that passage where the religious leaders accused Jesus of heresy because he forgave the sins of the man on the mat? “Only God can forgive sins,” they yelled.) To achieve forgiveness status, you showed up at the temple with the appropriate size of bird or mammal, along with a tithe (and remember, the Pharisees were tacking on a tenth of mint and thyme because they were High Achievers). You paid your dues for having Psoriasis to the Temple system and moved on about your life.

And what about when you kept having to give and give to the Temple System because bad things kept happening to you? Like when you spent 3 months locked in your house because your 4 small children caught every bug and virus known to the local school system? The message was clear: You’re not blessed. You’re not on God’s good side, so give a little more.

Those without had even less. Unless you count the heaps of guilt and shame they carried around with them.

Jesus’ message of new life: We the People can forgive. You’re not tied to a suffocating system anymore.

God gave the temple as a means to serve the people. God gave processes, not because he needed the smell of burning heifer to create happiness in heaven. God didn’t need another dead dove or spotless ram from your field. God did, however, need people to walk in a sense of freedom.

And in the absence of a system which restored people to fullness of life, Jesus handed the task to the people. Regular old carpenters and farmers and guys who liked to fish on Sunday.

This passage resonated deeply with me, not just because of the weight and the task ahead of us (ahem: me. I cannot tell you the last time I went around sprinkling forgiveness into my conversation. Who am I to forgive you? That shall remain for another blog.)

My circles include plenty of people who have no use for church. And it turns out, Jesus gets that. It’s no secret the way religion can – and has, or does – participate in the power structures of society.

Now, I’ll stand by the local church. And, I know that if there’s any means of forgiveness and restoration coming from these walls, it’s not because God favors the building or the system: it’s because I’ve happened upon a group of people who love God and are participating in the great command of issuing grace to one another from a great bounty of love.

If you’re home on Easter Sunday morning, perhaps feeling a tad guilty for choosing chocolate bunnies and hard boiled eggs over organ hymns or even rock guitar versions of songs of jubilee, then I see you. I get it. And it’s okay. If the system has failed to bring you peace and forgiveness, then that’s the fault of the system. And more accurately, it’s the fault of the people who proclaim a message and then fail to offer it’s generous benefits to everyone.

What we’re all looking for doesn’t come from a system, it comes from The Spirit – which resides in the people. We fail the world when we try to systematize that which can only come from contact with the living God.

I’m walking away from this passage this morning less with a mandate to “invite someone to church” and more to walk alongside those who need to see and hear and know and feel what it is to live in forgiveness and freedom. They will not find what they’re looking for in a church if they cannot find it in the person who invites them.

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Ordinary Magic

When I was growing up, our friend Erica had one of those big backyard trampolines. Because her parents and my parents were beyond  BFF, we spent many hours trying to conquer the butt-knees-back-up and playing add-a-trick.  It was magical.

It wasn’t until late elementary that my dad decided to get us a trampoline for our own backyard. We loved it. This set of springs got plenty of wear. Then we reached a point when the only time we played Popcorn was when our friends were over. We didn’t dislike it nor were we bored with it; the trampoline simply lost its magic. It became ordinary.

Watching my own children jump with glee the other day, I reflected on how frequently this happens. We allow the magic to dust off when we make it commonplace, which I believe to be the real reason God tells us to “be holy.”

Much of the first testament gives instruction about how to keep certain things separate: men from women, wheat from beans, cotton from polyester.* Often we read this with a cultural lens that one of those things is less than the other. Not good enough. Even, dangerous. We approach the idea of holiness as if the ordinary makes the holy dirty; hence “unclean” (literally, “polluted” in the Hebrew).

I see this change through the words of Jesus. He tells people, often through parable, to let the weeds grow among the wheat. He says God will sort the sheep and goats. This makes sense, coming from a ridiculously terrible farmer who believes good things can grow in hard places.

The common, the seemingly less-than, can do nothing to change the nature of the holy. Like a life-long islander, we get used to the scenery and forget its magic. The mountains aren’t less majestic or the waves less soothing. We’ve simply made the holy, ordinary.

The good news: we can reverse this. Actually, when you read many of God’s commands and you find this great reversal at work.

Three meals a day, every day, often made from the same thing? The people could complain of another bowl of lentils but God says to bless them. Give thanks for the rain and the sunshine, miracles outside of your own control, required to make them grow. Did you know that the most devout Jews pray a toilet prayer (my term, not theirs), thanking God that all systems work like they’re supposed to? If ever there was a place to mix the ordinary and the divine, the bathroom is a good starting point.

My cousin works in the bridal industry. Every day, she sees young women on the cusp of what they imagine to be the most amazing day of their lives. Each and every one of them are special and unique; yet she can see 5 of them in a day. The 300 dresses hang on the rack as inventory. They’re numbered.

But when a bride walks out of the dressing room, sometimes with happy tears, it’s no longer a pile of satin or lace – it’s the dress. At least, to this bride, it is. Laura’s job is no longer to take measurements and find a matching veil; it’s to honor the magic amid one of her most ordinary days.

And this is the work for most of us. Teachers may tie shoes or plan lessons on long division or recount the events of the first world war. Ordinary, everyday stuff. Or, they’re inspiring children to ask questions, to follow their curiosity and find solutions to problems. Inspiration. Literally: to breathe into. (You know who did that first, don’t you? That first, holy work of making things come to life? Oh, yes, I just compared teachers to Genesis 1.)

A dentist or a doctor might feel as if they’re diagnosing or prescribing, but to the person who finally feels relief, they’re doing the holy work of healing.

We tend to make the magical into the monotonous. It’s just another day, another school year, another student/customer/patient/client. But we can seek the divine spark in the most ordinary of all things. By the nature of creation, God’s fingerprints cling to every day, person and place. The work of holiness is to see it and honor it as such.

 

 

*I’m being funny. I know the cotton/poly blend was not an ancient stumbling block. But something was, because Deuteronomy 22:11 exists.

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Sunday Sermon: The Passage that Changed Me

As an eternal nerd, I feel nearly everything I read leaves a mark on me somewhere. Some marks are more noticeable than others. I might notice evidence of a reading in places that no one would likely see, a more private evolution. Other passages and ideas look more like a big scar across my cheek or a limp in my gait. They change me forever.

One such reading is in the Bible, the letter to the Galatians, as Eugene Peterson translates it. (He renders it in more of a thought-for-thought medium, as opposed to literal word-for-word. While I do appreciate precision in language, his work feels much more congruent to the whole, which is why I love adding this version to my regular rotation).

This passage, in chapter 5, verses 22-23 (although the original letter lacked such demarcations), Peterson writes the words of Paul:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (Emphasis mine).

This is much more beautiful, meaningful and helpful than listing the one-word Big Ideas of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control.  At different times in my life, I’ve turned to the above reading and noticed the way God had indeed proven faithful and left the sprouts of such fruit. By and large, I now read it and hunger for the fruit he paints in this picture.

As you might guess from the emphasis I added, there’s a particular element that will continue to show up over and over and over again. A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. Even after years of “Christian Living,” when I stumbled upon this little gem my world was shaken. But rather than a shake like earthquake that destroys everything you built, this rattle was like a trip to the chiropractor that returned my body to alignment.

A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. Living God’s way leads to a recognition that it all belongs to God because it was all created by God. God is in all things. I remember teaching junior high students Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Every student was given a jar of play-doh and ask to create something – anything. As we shared our handiwork, we noticed how the creator’s fingerprints were evident throughout each piece of art. The created bears the mark of the Creator. 

If it’s true of each of us, it’s true of all of us. And all things God created. Which, at last count, was every living thing. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)

This sounds beautiful, but one has to wonder why this became such a game-changer for me. It seems logical, yes? I could probably say that I believed such a theory, would agree to such a creedal statement. But reading this collection of words helped me to change my modus operandi. I didn’t simply agree with such an idea. I needed to live like it was true.

Every single person, place and thing I encounter bears a mark of divinity. The cashier at Meijer has God’s fingerprints on her. The bread that I bake comes from flour, from grains of wheat, which could only grow with the sun and the rain and the natural life-to-death-to-life processes of the seed which God set into rhythm. The trees I walk beside have lived and known God’s presence long before I stepped foot on this earth.

The world is not a group of objects set before me solely for my own enjoyment. Each and every being bears a mark of divinity. To live with “goodness” means to live with a recognition and a respect. I honor my own created goodness. And I look for, seek out, point toward that same created goodness in other living beings.

Yoga finally gave me a word for this: nameste. The light that is within me sees and honors the light that is within you.

This idea, honoring all of God’s created order, is the backbone of the first testament. (And the second, for that matter.) The laws which seem obtuse and irrelevant were God’s way of asking us to consider treating his work with respect. “Eating kosher” considers the cheeseburger abominable, but it is less about the cheese and more about remembering the life of the mother calf and the baby calf that provided the meal. God is ordering us to honor the divine image in that life. For some people, this results in abstaining out of respect. For others, it’s a blessing and a recognition that the meal comes from a place outside of ourselves but bears the same created mark as that which is within us.

In the beginning, God created humankind with an imago dei, a divine image. It remains there, underneath all that we believe we “really are”, the many ways we identify ourselves. Under the good, the bad and the ugly remains the essence of God. Living with goodness means recognizing that in all things and treating them accordingly.

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