Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: gospel (page 1 of 5)

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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Begin at the Beginning

I had one of those moments last week. A time where I could hear the kids screaming from two rooms away. Dinner needed cleaning up, the bigs needed help with their homework but refused to be helped, and the youngest wanted to take another bath. I remember laying (okay, hiding) on the bed, thinking, “Never would I have imagined that this would be my life.”

Then, I thought, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

It’s not perfect. Far from it. Put aside the constant messes, which ticks up my anxiety pretty quickly. Our voices are constantly  rising, though not nearly often enough in song. The kids sometimes don’t get along, with one particular child constantly sneaking into rooms and stealing candy, legos or drawing on private notebooks. And did I mention how LOUD it is around here?

Here’s the thing: it’s good. I have a good life. I have good kids. I have a good husband and a good marriage. I’m not alone. Lots of us have some good things going for us. Good jobs, good friends, good retirement plans, whatever’s in your bag.

For us go-getters, this can cause problems. We say, “what will make it better?” I’m all for that.  While I applaud a striving for betterment, it can take us down a dangerous path, toward the idea that only when it is “better” – usually envisioned as perfect – then it will be good enough.  And do you know when that will be? A day short of never. This leads to constant dissatisfaction and an inability to see the goodness in some of the most simple and beautiful of things.

It’s fine to improve. You’re reading words by a girl who keeps a Life Plan. I goal set. I consider the most time-efficient way to shower. (Seriously.) So these words don’t come from some lazy, “oh, it’s fine” sit-around-and-watch-COPS deadbeat. Don’t think I’ll dismiss striving for excellence as futile.

In the Christian tradition, we tell the story of a long, long time ago (think, the beginning) where there was a guy, a girl, a snake and two trees. Short story made even shorter, some bad choices were made and now we know why the world is filled with suffering.

Here’s what we forget: in chapters one and two of the book of beginnings, God creates everything and calls it – what? say it with me now – good. He calls it good. Water, plants, sky, sun, bugs, animals, fish… good, good, good, good, good, good, good. When he gets to his finale, the human, he says it’s very good.

Not perfect.

In our current state, we’re aware that we live with hardships and challenges, personal shortcomings and collective failure. On the tough days, when you know you messed it up or screwed someone over, we’re hyper-aware of this secondary way of being.

In our modern life, we need not look far to be told how imperfect we are, how we’re getting it all wrong. Advertisers capitalize on our awareness of imperfections all the time – that’s why wrinkle creams and flashy cars exist. They want to sell us something to cover up the not-so-great.  There’s no need to convince us of our un-goodness. We’re totally aware, thank you.

As we long for something better, we turn our eyes to what we think we ought to be. That first story; the beginning. We want to be good again.

But we think good means perfect.  So we don’t find the good. We don’t know what good looks like anymore because we’ve been told it needs to be skinnier, shinier, faster, sleeker and with toddlers that don’t throw fits. Also, it’s supposed to be easier, and if you’re doing the work, and it’s hard, you must be doing it wrong, because a good life should appear effortless.

Let’s return to our real beginnings, the one where God looked us up and down, in all our naked glory and said, “that’s some of my best work yet.” In the beginning, God made us in the image of God, an image we still reflect.

We’re not perfect. But we’re good.

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