As a Spiritual Director, I’m on the lookout for “fake Jesus.”
Whether during the very first session or sometime later through conversation, Ignatian contemplation or other kinds of guided prayer, the Jesus that a person has internalized arises.
Remember, a person doesn’t have to be a Christian to have an image of Jesus that dwells within them, impacting the way they think about or view anything Jesus-related.
Our image of Jesus, like our image of God, matters.
This image is often pieced together in childhood. Early paper cutouts with fuzzy backs stuck to flannel boards, the voice and actions of a parent, pastor, or Sunday School teacher, experiences in Vacation Bible School, childhood books and pictures...
In fact, it appears that even the Gospel writers may have pieced together a “Jesus” that didn’t always align with the authentic Jesus. Stephen Mitchell in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers, reveals how the early church writers included not only words and actions that Jesus likely said and did (since he didn't write anything down himself), BUT they also included words and actions they and their community needed him to say or do to fit their own beliefs!
If what “Jesus” says is in opposition to the authentic Jesus’ main teachings (especially loving God and your neighbor as yourself), there’s a good chance the writer is making Jesus in his own image. This same “making-Jesus-in-our-own-image” and having him align with our own beliefs is on blatant display this political season!
Now rather than being threatened by Mitchell’s idea, I find it’s helpful in developing skills in discernment. Remember, Scripture is “living” which means it “speaks” to us as we wrestle with it (which is to join in the lineage of the literal name of Israel!). It changes as we change and grow. Try living with a particular text, a story, a single Scripture for a month and notice how it changes (& how it changes you)! There is no end to new and deeper insights.
Back to our images of Jesus…these images are rarely questioned.
When an internal voice is associated with Jesus, a person automatically thinks it’s Jesus!
So rather than simply agreeing with them, I listen to the person describe their interaction (always keeping in the back of my mind Jesus’ authentic teachings and his nature as revealed by his authentic teachings). Sometimes I’ll hear them say things like “Jesus has to knock me upside my head to get my attention.” If during a guided prayer, a door or a place of darkness often appears, “Jesus” will tell them not to look or go through it, to only focus on the light.
Curiosity is helpful here. I’ll ask, “Whose voice does Jesus’ remind you of?” or “Why don’t you go back into your imagination and simply observe Jesus for a moment, what do you see?”
Every single time, there is surprise.
The response is often:
“My whole life I thought it was Jesus’ voice I was hearing but it was actually my father’s!”
"Oh wow, now that I'm looking closer, He looks like a flannel board Jesus. Kind of flimsy, not able to open the door.”
“Jesus doesn’t really have much substance, he’s ghost-like, but as I watch he’s becoming more human.”
And when Jesus becomes more human, more of his authentic self, they experience His great tenderness and strength. In doing so, their own tenderness and strength is called forth.
With this Jesus, they find they are able to open doors and enter into places of darkness they never thought they could. With this Jesus, they are able to love the parts of themselves and the people they never thought possible.
In other words, in coming in contact with the authentic Jesus, they are able to love their neighbor as they love themselves!
It’s what we tend to do. Most Christians have an entire theology built on it. Someone/something must pay for others’ sins.
Sin is burdensome, whether it’s our own or the world’s!
It can’t be ignored (at least not forever). If ignored, it will still be felt in our physical bodies or relationships. The more it's ignored, the greater the natural consequences from the unacknowledged harm to ourselves, others, and/or the created world. So it’s no surprise that people have been trying to figure out what to do with the problem of sin for millennia.
We are a ritualistic people. In Leviticus 16 found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), it was a ritual with an actual goat (hence the term, “scapegoat”) that helped relieve the communal burden. The impurities of the community were transferred to the goat through the “laying on of hands.” Then the goat was beaten and released into the wilderness to take away the sins of the Israelite people. The despised goat symbolically took on their sins and carried them away from the community. In the New Testament, the writer of the book of John records John the Baptist pointing out the role of the scapegoat being taken on by Jesus when he proclaims, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
It’s human nature to look for a scapegoat, especially when we do not want to or do not know how to deal with sin. Watching small children (as well as our current politicians) will make that apparent quite quickly. Their mantra: "Make it someone else’s fault!"
It’s especially natural if we’ve grown up with a theology that espouses it. It’s too easy to believe that when Jesus takes away my sin, I no longer have to deal with it or the consequences of it (someone else has paid the ultimate price after all). The danger of this theology is that it can shift the focus to worshipping Jesus because of his offering of “fire insurance” for the life to come rather than following Jesus as a disciple in this one.
If we happen to be Christians who believe Jesus paid the price as the ultimate scapegoat (which made him the last needed scapegoat), why do we still continue to scapegoat others?—Democrats, Republicans, Black people, Indigenous people, White people, LGBTQ people, police officers, protestors, teachers, certain members of our families…
If Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat, that means we are now freed from scapegoating others!
We are a ritualistic people in need of a new ritual. If we don’t have anyone to blame or transfer our sin to, what happens next?
For those who have eyes to see, wisdom and spiritual nourishment are available to us everywhere, flowing through all religions, not just our own.
Yet we may remain blind due to fear instilled in us early on about other religions by well-meaning adults.
Rather than feel threatened, what if you allowed yourself to be curious like a child? I wonder if you, too, might discover your life enriched through other religions’ theological truths.
The words of the Tao Te Ching have been especially meaningful to me. I have read portions of this short 6th century “Book of the Way” credited to the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, nearly every day for years.
In it, one reads about what it is like to be in harmony with the Tao (the Way).
And one is invited to be aligned with “Reality As It Is” in such a way that, like Jesus the Christ, one humbly becomes the Way. In the language of Christian mystics, this is called “union with God.”
Last night, I opened my pocket edition and saw my favorite passage staring back at me:
“Do you have the patience to wait
Several years ago, a very murky, even scary, situation came up that required careful discernment as to the way forward. Trying to figure out what to do, I was reminded of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
I was also reminded of this passage from the Tao Te Ching.
So I grabbed an old Mason jar and large spoon, put on my raincoat, and went outside.
My kids were standing at the window watching with curiosity as I scooped sand from the sandbox and mud from the ground and put it in the jar while the rain kept pouring down. Then I came back inside, filled the jar with water, sealed and shook it, then placed it on top of our television cabinet announcing, “When the mud settles, then I’ll make a decision.”
They asked, “How long will it take?”
“I have no idea,” I told them, “but it will eventually clear. And the process can’t be rushed.”
What I watched externally started taking place within me…very slowly.
The anger, fear, expectations, adrenaline, helplessness, judgments, confusion, all started to settle. After a week, the sediment gave way to clarity. I could finally access “the mind of Christ” (“the Spirit within”) that is always there but can be hard to detect when my water is muddy.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, the right action that arose was non-action (a theme of the Tao Te Ching!). Even though everything in me wanted to defend myself, I knew I needed to stay silent and trust God. It was and still is the right action in this particular situation.
How about you? Have you allowed yourself to receive wisdom and spiritual nourishment from other religions and traditions? If not, why? If so, what have you discovered? How has your faith changed or deepened?
If you’d like to, but don't know where to start, I suggest the pocket edition of the Tao Te Ching!
Have you considered how what you're viewing and listening to is impacting your inner and outer world?
It doesn't take long to identify those ingesting one particular news outlet. Rather than creative conversation, the topics brought up are a repetition of the latest headlines and talking points (complete with the most recent insults). Rather than a wellspring of dialogue possibilities, it's more of a sinkhole--conversation erodes then collapses.
Seeing the impact of incessant intake of news during this politically charged season is easy, but what about the other channels and sites? What about Hallmark, for instance?
Sometimes a lovely surface is hiding a soon-to-be sinkhole.
Now before you roll your eyes, let me explain.
In the past year I started noticing my chronic dissatisfaction.
Nothing and no one was living up to expectations. And guess what? I realized that the Hallmark Now channel that we had a subscription for was a primary trigger!
Every time I watched a movie or binged on a series, my idealism would be inflamed.
Seeing those perfect little towns with their perfect flowers, lawns, and people would stir my own compulsive drive for perfection. Each show would begin a subconscious comparison of my life to the idealized Hallmark version and my house and spouse always came up short.
One day my daughter and I were watching a show when she said, "I can hardly watch this stuff anymore. It's supposed to be set in the old West and yet everyone is wearing makeup and their clothes never have any dirt on them! It's not real." She was right. It was not real.
And it was tempting me to strive for something other than life.
Real life comes from accepting reality as it is (and the people found there), mess and all.
So I canceled it.
And much to my surprise, the chronic dissatisfaction dissipated! It has brought much relief to my inner world (and to my family!).
Who knew that a channel that seems so innocent and warm-hearted, would turn out to cause so much inner and outer distress?!
What are you watching and listening to?
Be curious. How is it really impacting you? How might it be influencing the way you view those around you?
Is it time to change the channel, click out, or cancel the subscription?
I told a friend the other day that as more political signs go up around me, the angrier I become. Most assuredly I wouldn’t be as angry if they aligned with my own ideology…how telling!
My reaction reminds me of the immense draw to live on the level of agreement.
Do I agree or disagree? If the latter, criticism comes quickly followed by detaching from the author, politician, doctor, Facebook friend, family member, neighbor…write them off…case closed, act as if everything is fine.
But this kind of dissociation never works for me in the long run. It's not case closed. Pretending, ignoring, and stuffing feelings ultimately turns into back pain and headaches which is not loving myself (which then leads to the inability to truly love my neighbor). See last week's post for more on loving oneself.
The growing rift, polarization, and lack of neighborliness leads me to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parable of an enemy coming to one’s rescue in a time of need (see The Good Samaritan). Or his words in the famous Sermon on the Mount,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…" Matthew 5: 43-44
Ugh. How do you actually do this?
Realizing that we see our own reflection in the faces of others—both the shadow and the light—can add to the pressure. The shadow within is hard enough to face, it can be twice as hard when I see it in the face of others (if I’m even willing to admit I do)!
Who wants to admit that the narcissism detested in someone else can be a mirror reflecting the narcissism residing within one's self? Note: This doesn’t excuse or downplay the narcissistic actions by the other.
When Jesus boldly expanded on his Jewish lineage saying that not only are our neighbors those who belong to our family/group and those on the margins of our family/group, but so are our enemies, it must have stunned his audience.
Even though it was consistent with his teachings about the Kingdom of God and his prayer that life on earth reflect life in heaven, we sadistically like the idea of some people not being included.
But the love of God includes everyone. Jesus reminds his listeners, right after telling them to love their enemies, that God sends rain for those who do right and those who do wrong. And like the moon reflects the sun, we're to reflect God.
So how do we integrate the shadow and light of others, especially that of our enemies? And why should we even try?
When it comes to why, enemy-hating takes up a lot of space in our inner world. It crowds out what is life-giving.
Jesus knew the fruit that hate bears. It depletes our inner energy and resources, crippling our ability to live a life of Love within and without.
“Hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater…hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater, so that his resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment.”
Whoever we hate holds power over us. When we release the hate, we release their power over us, and free up that energy to love. Hatred, like love, may start out small (one act or one person), but it quickly overflows into everything and everyone.
So again, what are we to do? How can we begin to release criticism, anger, and hate?
Since curiosity is helping me release the anger and criticism toward myself, I’ve been experimenting with curiosity in the shift toward loving my neighbor/enemy.
What might happen if I chose curiosity over criticism with my "neighbor"?
Another political sign went up, this time with a flag on the porch of someone I’ve never met. Going past their residence, I looked at the signage and their house with curiosity:
After a few wonderings & questions (without providing hypothetical answers!), I found my face softening and a willingness to actually have a real conversation rather than a hardening and hiding in my anger. Honestly, I was surprised.
I experimented with a friend when the conversation turned to politics and we wanted to criticize a group of people. When we shifted to curiosity, the critique faded. Surprise again!
The most recent opportunity happened when someone disagreed with my schooling choice for my kids. I asked some questions instead of focusing on defending myself. They began asking questions. We left the conversation still having differing opinions, but smiling and looking forward to future conversations.
Curiosity may be the spiritual practice for this season.
May it be a step on the path of peace, a way of wisdom, a beginning in embodying the love of God, especially toward all of those putting up political signs!
Finding yourself triggered more than usual with thoughts and feelings of rage, resentment, and judgment? I know I am.
And it's not just toward others (we'll focus on that next week)!
What are we to do with inner voices of critique and judgment, chronic dissatisfaction and frustration? How do we not let ourselves be beat up by them? Is there another way?
Jesus once summed up the entire Scriptures by saying, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38)
“Loving your neighbor as yourself” is to “loving the Lord your God,” as the moon is to the sun.
The former reflects the latter.
Like the line from his prayer to the Father, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,“ Jesus teaches and prays for wholeness—inner and outer continuity, authenticity, alignment. Oneness with God, self, and neighbor.
“Loving yourself” is inextricably linked to “loving your neighbor.” Think of those best friends necklaces with two halves, both are needed to make the heart whole.
So let's begin with our part--ourselves.
Tell me, how are you loving yourself these days?
How would you characterize your inner conversations? Are they best friends necklace worthy? Is your inner landscape characterized by harmony and peace? What/who is your inner world reflecting?
Given I resonate with a One on the Enneagram, inner critique and compulsive improvement of myself (& others) along with their counterparts of rage and resentment are easily accessible. They are often lurking, looking to supplant the inner voice of Love. When that happens, I cannot relax so compulsive doing is often the result (and a red flag).
Recently, someone brought up a class series I taught a while ago and said that what continues to stick with her most was how I started every class with the invitation to be curious.
I usually write these three phrases at the top of the dry erase board or handout:
“Be curious. Be compassionate. Be aware”
Given the subject matter is designed to go deeper, I know most classes will challenge our surface-level survival self (our ego). In response, people can expect to experience resistance (and all manner of feelings). That's not bad. There's wisdom in the resistance if we look.
Given what we're presented with on a daily basis right now, there's plenty of subject matter to challenge our survival selves, isn't there?!
At any moment, fear may be triggered, or anxiety, anger, resentment, rage, envy, sadness, guilt, shame, even numbness and avoidance. Instead of harmonious, our inner world begins to look like a daily war zone where there isn't the space or ability to give and receive love since it's all about surviving the day.
What can bring peace to the inner chaos? Certainly not more "shoulds"!
Fortunately, God offers us paths of peace.
One that I've found is choosing curiosity over critique. It almost immediately relaxes inner tension, opening me to the inner voice of Love. Remember, it was Moses’ curiosity that caused him to stop what he was doing and take a closer look at the burning bush. From inside the fire, the Voice of Love spoke to him.
Try it. Be curious.
Once becoming aware of the tone, physical sensations, and triggers, then the next time you experience them, rather than continuing down the path of self-condemnation which can lead to inward or outward lashing out, pause.
Turn your compassionate gaze toward that inner burning (or numbness) and be curious:
Let's play with this concept of curiosity with ourselves. Next week we'll consider curiosity with others.
Recently my daughter started fencing.
It's been the perfect socially-distanced sport...masked, gloved, and if you come within 6 feet, you get stabbed!
Still in her uniform after practice one day, she put on her helmet, pulled out her épée, and walked outside as I sat on the porch. She began practicing her stance. Noticing it had changed since June, I asked her what she had been doing differently.
"Well, my coach said I would get tired if I was constantly holding my left arm up in a flexed position and he pointed out how I kept rising into the stance. He told me to relax my arm and settle into the stance instead."
Then off-the-cuff she added, "So don't rise to the challenge, Mom, relax into it!"
Rather than "en garde," it caught me "off guard"!
"Don't rise to the challenge, relax into it!"
Her words and the image they created have been in my mind ever since. Why?
Well how often have you heard or been taught to "rise to the challenge"?!
And are you, too, worn out from all the rising?
So let "en garde" be a reminder.
Be ready for action by relaxing into your stance. Paradoxically, this allows one to better (and more naturally) be in position to meet the challenge, whether it's with épée in hand or not.
How might you "relax into rather than rise to the challenge" today?
Do you know the difference between Self-Comfort and Self-Care?
Yesterday I presented “Resilience for Spiritual Caregivers,” a slideshow from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology (I attended their online webinar in May).
It's so important for those of us caring for the souls of others to not neglect our own. Yet it’s all-too-common for neglect to happen, especially during times of anxiety/trauma/crisis.
One insight from The Seattle School’s Resilient Leaders’ Project was the differences between the coping behaviors of “Self-Comfort vs. Self-Care”---
Both are very much a part of our specific stories (what we turn to for comfort and care differ for each of us).
Both have their place.
Self-Comfort behaviors are…
-short-term solutions which are often detrimental to our long-term health.
-often isolating, done in private.
-support our long-term well-being.
-increase our sense of connection to self, others, & God.
Binging on Netflix all day may help me cope for a short while by forgetting my own story. But losing myself in the stories of others while sitting on the couch is not what my mind, body, and soul are deeply craving.
It may be okay in the short-term; it’s not a good long-term solution. In fact, self-comforting behaviors can turn into unhealthy patterns (addictions) if not recognized.
A pandemic and the current political climate will certainly bring out the need for self-comfort (which can be a cause for self-shaming)! Rather than criticize ourselves, we can try being curious and compassionate instead. We might ask questions like:
-Why do I try to comfort myself with food (or where did I learn to comfort myself in this way)?
-What gets in the way of me doing what is healthy for myself?
Two self-comforting strategies that had turned into unhealthy distractions for me:
The first I argued was a way to keep me connected to others but honestly, it had become more of a life-draining rather than life-giving habit. My 9-year-old encouraged me to remove it, so I did. I’m reaching for my phone less and present to my kids more without the pressure to narrate my days with posts & photos.
The second offered a way to zone out alongside my spouse once the kids were in bed but kept me riled up until the point of exhaustion! So rather than the news, I’m now taking the hour before bed to read fiction and draw with color pencils...my whole being (& my family) is affirming this choice!
I still need my time watching Masterpiece dramas as well as baking (& eating) fun desserts, but I recognize these are self-comforting strategies. Binging on either day-after-day will have negative consequences!
Art, Zumba, Centering Prayer, poetry, juggling, delighting in healthy meals, dancing to 80s music with my kids, chats on the porch swing with my spouse, socially-distanced socializing with friends, talking with my Spiritual Director on the phone...when engaged in healthy and not legalistic ways, are self-caring behaviors that support me as I walk in the way that leads to Life.
May you be curious as to the ways you comfort and care for yourself. Since everything is interconnected, the ways you care for yourself (or don't) will impact those in your care!
I’m happy to join you in discerning what will best support your journey (especially during this time of global anxiety). Schedule a 30 minute or 1 hour session of Spiritual Direction &/or Dreamwork.
Learn more about The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology's Certificate in Resilient Service (going online for the first time!).
Facebook's "what's on your mind?" prompt has been taunting me, so here's what's on my mind. It begins with a conversation...
“You know what’s strange? Most people I see who aren’t wearing masks are Christians,” a friend who was standing over 6 feet away said to me. We both shook our heads.
Interconnected. That’s what we are with everyone & everything.
In not recognizing it, we are what the prophets lamented, “foolish and senseless people who have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear.” Which leads to little understanding of how God is present and at work in our world. After all, one way Jesus described the Kingdom of God is “like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough" (he also used the image of yeast to describe leaders’ hypocrisy).
The Reign of Love, like coronavirus, spreads in hidden ways.
We had Thanksgiving dinner at my brother-in-law’s parents’ home this past year. They live less than 5 miles away. Both were diagnosed with COVID-19. His dad died this week. My husband’s grandma was diagnosed with COVID-19 this week, too. And we await the test results of a dear friend as to whether or not he has COVID-19.
The politicization of COVID-19 and seeing people not taking it seriously infuriates me.
I can’t help but think of words found in Deuteronomy 30, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life that you and your descendants may live.”
The “you” being addressed is an entire nation of people. A nation is made of many individual “yous.” So the choice is both personal and communal, they’re interconnected. And they also impact not only those we see right here, right now, but generations to come (we’re seeing this truth with our nation’s racial injustice crying out to be healed).
Granted, the choice doesn’t always look or feel like life at the time. The path of/toward Life often does not.
In the middle of May, we decided that until the virus’ spread trended downward for 2 weeks or we could assure social-distancing measures, we needed to do our best (knowing we wouldn’t do it perfectly) to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” So we cancelled our vacation and we have not let Alex play on his travel baseball team (the latter decision harder than the former).
Does it make any difference? We don’t know. But those are a couple of ways our family has and continues to choose Life. Given our awareness of our interconnectivity to everything and everyone else, including all of you, we can do no less.
My 13-year-old daughter started animating the morning after a tornado blew through our town of Mount Juliet, TN, leaving a path of heart-breaking destruction. At first, it was a way for her to express her feelings. It then became a way for her to speak to others affected by the storm and direct people to give to The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. When she first showed me her completed animation, I was amazed by its heart and simplicity.
One scene in particular continues to stay with me. When the boy grabs hold of the extended hand, he bursts into tears. Rather than stifle them, the touch allows his tears to flow freely and the animation stops right there.
It doesn’t end on a sunny note (even though she wrote earlier in the video, “It’s going to be okay…We’re in this together.”). Having the promise of things inevitably being okay does not mean we are (or someone else is) okay in the moment. It does not mean we need to stop our tears or think there’s nothing to cry about (even if someone does have it worse).
There is a time to leap into action, to encourage each other that all will be okay, to gather in churches to sing praises and offer thanksgiving, to share Scriptures and words of hope to find strength for the road ahead.
There is also a time, especially as the shock wears off, to allow for tears, both individually and communally, and stop right there.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.