Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: God (page 1 of 13)

Riding on the Clouds

I distinctly remember gathering with fellow first graders in Mrs. Beitler’s classroom to watch a 1986 Big Deal Space Event. (It turns out this was probably the Challenger fiasco. I have no recollection of the disaster ending, so the teachers must have been on their toes. Or I simply blocked it out.) My six-year-old self knew it was exciting stuff, but men had already been on moons. For the entirety of my life, in fact.

I’ve read from more than one author that the fact that God did not live above the clouds was a discovery. “We went to space and God was not there.” I shrugged it off the first time, but the second time I let it simmer. I asked a friend. Wait. You mean people were disappointed and confused when we found that outer space isn’t heaven? I’ve never known the greater atmosphere to be anything but the domain of moons and planets and less gravity.

When we discovered something new about our world, from my perspective, we learned something new about God. My 1980’s-kid self doesn’t completely grasp the challenge of simultaneously holding both truths, because both truths have always been evident to me.

Does anyone know how this shift in understanding was accepted among the most literal readers of the Bible? Was it a government hoax for a while? Did they believe that Neil was a used car salesman?  Is this why JFK was shot?

I don’t mean to belittle the belief systems of those who grew up pre-Neil Armstrong. (Because this includes basically every human being in history, save the ones born in the last 40 years. Slight majority.) Actually, I’m confident my generation will come across a shift in interpretation of the Bible with a magnitude equal to God’s change of address. How will I deal? How far in will my heals dig before I relent that perhaps we weren’t supposed to read the poetry so literally?

How did these space-not-heaven conversations go down in the generation that had to deal with it? What bridges were built to pave the way to acceptance? How many people let go of their faith because they found out it had been in an idea about God and not faith in God?

We’re raising a generation of God-lovers in a constantly expanding world. I’m hoping to arm mine with a worldview that can take what I may deem as unfathomable that they can accept as basic knowledge. The goal: they won’t need to toss the concept of God in order to hold evident truths of the universe.  So, what does it mean to have faith in God and not only the ideas about God we’ve been taught? Can we know the difference? Do we need to?

I have too much hope in the world God created to believe we’ve reached the end of opportunity for exploration. There is so much more to discover. The bigger the universe, the bigger God becomes to me. So how do I instill a faith that expands with our revelations?

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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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Because They Hate Me

We keep a pretty firm rule of One Activity Per Kid around here. This year the girls narrowed it down to either dance or tumbling. Of course, one chose dance and the other chose tumbling. They happen on the same day, starting within a half an hour of each other, making my Mondays the most miserable, mini-van living day possible. I tell people, “Of course, they chose different things, because they hate me.”

When I say that, people will laugh, because I had just personalized something that had zero to do with me. The girls chose the activity they liked best. They did not say to one another, “Hey, let’s see how much time Mom can spend in a minivan just waiting on practices to begin and end!” This is clear to everyone. Even to me.

Yet, there’s a slice of worldview hidden in these dramatic phrases. This kind of humor is funny because there’s a sliver of truth brought to the surface and enlarged for all to see. I love great humorists for this reason – they can expose that which we cannot bear to talk about, making it bearable only with laughter alongside.

I’ve used the same phrase to describe the school system when it takes a professional day following a particular hairy weekend (Halloween, time change, holidays), leaving me to bear my children alone while my husband goes off to studentless work. “They decided to cancel school, because they hate me,” I laugh. It’s not true, but why is it so easy to believe it?

It’s actually an ancient framework of operating in the world. I may or may not have the hobby of reading cultural anthropology textbooks for fun (I know; I’m invited to all the best parties…) and I stumbled upon this idea that the ancient Mediterranean civilizations functioned using the concepts of honor and shame as their basic economy. Rich and poor were pretty much set conditions and while money was helpful and important, society didn’t operate from the numbers. Rather, they used honor as the currency. When you did something good, it brought you honor and honor upon your family, tribe and even nation. This is why we read so much about names and living under the name of someone  (God, King David, etc) – to be “under the name” of someone was to share in their honor, the means of mobility within culture. This is how you got to “be someone.”

In the same way our current monetary economy functions, honor was a limited good. In order to gain honor, it had to come from somewhere, specifically someone. To take a person’s honor was to shame him. So if you and I had an interaction and I came away as right, I walked away with some of your honor, and you were left with shame. Now, there were lots of rules about how this little economy worked – amendments about gender and class and who could heap shame on you and how this played out. Everything in the culture operated on this – it was how marriages were arranged, business deals closed -the basic fabric of society.

Quite literally, if misfortune came upon a household, it was believed that someone else was walking away with their good fortune. Shame had come upon them, so someone else must have taken their honor. This invisible, but critical, social good was limited, transient and shaped their lives.

As a 21st century reader, we can believe that’s an archaic and potentially even silly way of operating. Yet, we stumble into it all the time. The guy that just cut you off, the people arriving chronically late and setting your work day askew, the parent that won’t do what they’re asked: it’s easy to begin to believe that their actions come from a place of desiring to see your life worsen. We slip into this ancient pattern of “If my life is harder, someone else’s must be easier.” As if goodness is a scarce element we must horde for ourselves.

Friends, it’s simply not true. When it comes the economy of goodness, we get to make our own money. We manufacture it as much as we spend it and have an endless supply. Try it. Once you start in, I promise that you’ll be hooked. You’ll toss it around like confetti. When you start believing you can give goodness to anyone – an especially those who inconvenience you – without running out,  your life will improve significantly.

Walter Brueggeman writes that a big work of Jesus in this world was discrediting the myth of scarcity. The Kingdom of God which Jesus so often spoke of was a place of abundance growing from small amounts. When we start to actually live into those realities, you find how often Jesus was right. We do have enough – so much enough, we can give it away without fear that we’ll run out by losing it to someone else. There is always enough goodness if you choose to live into it.

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