From My Reading – September

“When we have an understanding of the great themes of Scripture, the whole book from Genesis to Revelation, we see it as communicating a divine pattern to humanity. One basic message is finally communicated to all Spirit-filled people who enter this faith dialogue with the Scriptures. The message of “Good News” is this: You are loved. You are unique. You are free. You are on the way. You are going somewhere. Your life has meaning. That is all grounded in the experience and the knowledge and the reality of the unconditional love of God. This is what we mean by being “saved” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, June 27, 2021).

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“Caring is first a way to our own aging self, where we can find the healing powers for all those who share in the human condition. No guest will ever feel welcome when the host is not at home in his own house. No old man or woman will ever feel free to reveal his or her hidden anxieties or deeper desires when they only trigger off uneasy feelings in those who are trying to listen. It is no secret that many of our suggestions, advice, admonitions, and good words are often offered in order to keep distance rather than allow closeness. When we are primarily concerned with giving old people something to do, offering them entertainment and distractions, we might avoid the painful realization that most people do not want to be distracted but heard, not entertained but sustained” (Henri Nouwen).

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“Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth” (Frederick Buechner).

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“I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day…without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough” (Tish Harrison Warren).

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Monoclonal Antibodies and Me

Those of us who have paid attention to the COVID19 pandemic may have heard the term monoclonal antibodies.  These fascinating antibodies are created in a lab to trigger the immune system to destroy cells that have a particular specific antigen, or foreign substance or toxin in your blood.  A particular antibody that targets the COVID19 virus has been developed to be given to people  who develop COVID 19 and has saved many lives.

This week I was astonished to learn of the use of another monoclonal antibody, Daratumuab:  to treat my cancer!  In 2014, the appearance of a blood clot in each leg prompted my doctor to send me to a cancer specialist.  His tests revealed that I have multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer.  I was treated for about three years and then taken off the medication in hopes that the disease was controlled.  It remained controlled until this spring when the “numbers” start rising dramatically.  It was decided that I would try a new treatment that has proved very promising.

Cancer is a disease caused by changes, also know as mutations, in DNA that change the way cells work in a variety of different ways.  One way to destroy cancer cells is to use antibodies to protect  the body against  these foreign substances.  An antibody is a protein that sticks to a specific type of protein called an antigen.  When an antibody finds an antigen, it triggers the immune system to target and destroy it.

Last week I had my first injection of the monoclonal antibody Daratumumab.  Daratumumab is a targeted antibody therapy that looks for CD38, a cell surface protein found on myeloma cells. When Daratumumab  binds to CD38, it inhibits the grow of CD38 myeloma cells and causes cell death.  And the cancer is gone.  I will have weekly and then bi-weekly injections of this monoclonal antibody until the end of December.  In May, 2022, I will have another blood test to see how successful this treatment has been.

Stay tuned!

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“The Space in which the Noise Arises”

“Silence is helpful, but you don’t need it in order to find stillness. Even when there is noise, you can be aware of the stillness underneath the noise, of the space in which the noise arises. That is the inner space of pure awareness, consciousness itself. . . .”(Eckhart Tolle).

There is a lot of silence in my house.  It has been nearly eleven months since my husband died. He was always ready to listen my comments and stories and frustrations. I would vent and he would smile. When he was very sick, I would look for things to say that would make him smile. I still have the urge to “tell Fred about this.”

So this year there has been silence but not a lot of stillness. Sometimes silence is helpful; sometimes silence just brings a realization of aloneness. But I am beginning during these quiet times to go beneath the silence and settle into “stillness.”  Because there is no one immediately present to hear my complaints or my silly chatter or my furor over the politics of America, I am learning just to sit silently in my recliner and allow stillness, which Tolle calls the “inner space of pure awareness” to float around me. I’m not consciously deliberating or praying or solving a problem; I am just present. The difference between my silence and my stillness is that though my mind is quiet, I am listening.

It was during one of those times of being “still” that I came to a stunning awareness about my life which has changed everything for me.  Fred’s death had provoked a lot of looking back about how different we were and how differently we responded to the traumas in our lives. And now in the stillness, I suddenly became aware of one of the saddest facts of my life:  “If you don’t have a mother, it’s hard to be a mother.” In my case, my mother was there, but not present to me or even aware sometimes that I was there, too.  This awareness provoked opportunities to share my new understandings with my two sons (who are in their fifties and were probably quite baffled when I started these conversations.) This time of stillness brought me relief from pain and a shedding of long-held guilt and a closer relationship with my sons.

Stillness is, I’m learning, different than silence.  And God can be even more present in our stillness. In the stillness we somehow become free to deal with often decades old “noises” that are painful and loud and stubborn –  that God wants to heal.

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“A Character – Transforming Life”

The goal of salvation is not to get us into heaven.  Properly understood, heaven is not a goal at all, but a destination . . . . Heaven is only a glorious byproduct of something far more central. Salvation is a life, and when we have this [life] physical death becomes merely a minor transition from this life to a greater life  . . .  .The real issue is not so much us getting into heaven as it is getting heaven into us. . . . The daring goal of the Christian life is an ever-deeper re-formation of our inner personality so that it reflects more and more the glory and goodness of God . . . . You see, this life that comes from God and is the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, is a character-transforming life” (Richard Foster in the Renovare Weekly for August 13 – first presented at a 1999 Renovaré International Conference in Houston).

I began reading the article containing these quotes from the Renovare Weekly while trying to work my way out of a purple funk.  My cable network was down and every attempt I had made for more than hour had been fruitless until the help desk agreed to set up an appointment for a tech to come  on Wednesday from 9-10. This was on Saturday. I was upset because of the loss of cable TV for several days (while the bill keeps on accumulating).  But I was just as upset because dealing with cable companies is not my job; it is supposed to be my husband Fred’s job, and sadly, he is no longer here!

But as I read, I was captured in a time warp. I was being profoundly affected by the words of the man who stood about two feet away from me in a lecture room at Spring Arbor University who was calmly sharing these same ideas and concepts that changed everything about my life forever. My spirit, my heart, my brain, even my career were never the same.  And strangely as I read through the whole essay, Salvation as a Life, I totally forgot about the irritating cable problem!

Some of these phrases may now sound like clichés: “Heaven is not a goal but a destination.”  “The real issue is not so much us getting into heaven as it is heaven getting into us.” “The life that comes from God is a character-transforming life.” But for someone like me who had been in and out of churches for decades because all they talked about was “sinners being saved” and “finding eternal life” and never as seriously dwelling on  the life of  the Jesus who had grabbed my heart, these words like this filled my soul and had me searching for more from Richard Foster (and his comrades Dallas Willard and James Bryan Smith and Bill Vaswig and others). 

Many years after slowly and daily learning how to “re-form myself” and attempting to “live my life as if [Jesus] were I,” I can say “Thanks again” for the “cable lesson” – Appreciate what you have instead of complaining about what you don’t have!

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For a beautiful story about the kind of transformation Foster describes in this post, check out Sharing the Hope that is within You, a story about Jim’s new life.

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From My Reading – August

“You can be bored by virtually anything if you put your mind to it, or choose not to. You can yawn your way through Don Giovanni or a trip to the Grand Canyon or an afternoon with your dearest friend or a sunset. There are doubtless those who nodded off at the coronation of Napoleon or the trial of Joan of Arc or when Shakespeare appeared at the Globe in Hamlet or Lincoln delivered himself of a few remarks at Gettysburg. The odds are that the Sermon on the Mount had more than a few of the congregation twitchy and glassy-eyed.

“To be bored is to turn down cold whatever life happens to be offering you at the moment. It is to cast a jaundiced eye at life in general including most of all your own life. You feel nothing is worth getting excited about because you are yourself not worth getting excited about. To be bored is a way of making the least of things you often have a sneaking suspicion you need the most. To be bored to death is a form of suicide” (Frederick Buechner).

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“God created us with unceasing desires. That is, the things of this world are metaphysically incapable of satisfying us. But it’s more, I think. It’s not just that things are incapable of satisfying us, it’s that we’re incapable of being satisfied. We can be gratified temporarily with a breakfast of bacon and eggs but never satisfied permanently. To be human, is to never stop needing. Therefore, we must find a source that never stops giving. And this is what we find in the Eternal Three: Father, Son, and Spirit—they are the never-ending source of sustenance and supply, the everlasting spring of care and concern, the infinite root of fulfillment and well-being. Human life only makes sense, if it is rooted in divine life” (Jonathan R. Bailey in his blog for June 6, 2021).

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Moral distress “arises when we are aware of a moral problem and we determine a remedy, but are unable to act on it because of internal or external constraints” (Joan Halifax in Standing at the Edge).

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“A church that has been humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and presumptuous church. It may have fewer illusions about its own power and centrality. It may become curious. It may be less willing to ally with the empires and powers that have long defined it. It may finally admit how much it needs the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. That’s a church God can work with” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, June 3).

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Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive . . . But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about” (Haruki Murakami).

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“The enemy, the spirit behind white supremacy, is the spirit of the antichrist. It is not a human; it is not a political party; it is not progressive or conservative. It is a principality and power, and if we try to fight it on our own physical strength, then we most certainly will die prematurely on the battlefield. We will become casualties of war, and we might even be scarred by friendly fire.

This spirit cares nothing about the “soul of our nation.” It disregards the fortresses that some prop up as defenses for the American empire. The so-called battle for the soul of the nation is a deception. It is the fog of war that has so many in the American church distracted. The spirit of white supremacy knows that it is in a war for the souls of humans, destroying white folks, black folks, and everyone”(Natasha Sistrunk Robinson in Comment, April 29, 2021).

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Enough of God to Go Around

This post was first published on November 27, 2012. I’m realizing that the need to recognize the concepts of abundance and scarcity is even more necessary in 2021! It seems as if much of the animosity in our world can be traced to one group or another feeling that there is never enough for them. While many DO live in scarcity of one kind or another and legitimately need our help, the issue seems to have taken new life among other groups who believe that their abundance (of all kinds) is being threatened by somebody who doesn’t deserve it. It has even led to the issue of our former president desperately feeling that he should still be allowed to be president even though the election was legitimately won by someone else.

A dust-up at work the other day reminded me of something I learned from Stephen Covey years ago: the principles of scarcity and abundance.

I was raised in an atmosphere of scarcity.  There was never enough time, enough love, enough affection, enough trust.  My mother taught me at an early age that there was also never enough  God.  Embittered by the death of her husband, an army chaplain, in World War II and left to care for a three-year old daughter on her own, she was careful to teach me never to be too happy because one day “the other shoe will drop.”  Or, never to pray “Thy will be done” because God will take you seriously and take away everything you want and love.

It was astonishing to me, therefore, to read in Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that there are people in the world who were relatively free of fear, jealously, yearning and other emotions that roil around when a family is mired in a culture of scarcity.  These people were raised in an atmosphere of abundance.  There was always enough love, trust, respect, hugs, time, and all the other important things that children need.

And then I learned that the culture of scarcity  also infected my view of God.  What a shock when I read the statement, “You can have as much of God as you want.”    How could that be? I couldn’t fathom not having to fight for or perform for someone’s attention and love. I soon learned that I was not the only one who assumed that God couldn’t possibly notice me because of all the other more important people who demanded his attention.  I had to re-learn the stories I had told myself about who God was. It was  difficult  to understand what Jesus even meant by the abundant life (let alone believe that it could be mine) for someone who had rarely felt an abundance of anything good . . . hardscrabble living dies hard!

I also had to learn about relationships with people.  For example, it is possible for a good friend to love me at the same time she loves another friend. Who knew?  It is possible to assume that people will affirm rather than criticize.  It is possible to walk around with my hands open to receive rather than with tight fists hanging on to what I had.

I think attitudes of scarcity and abundance explain many problems in interpersonal relationships – even in the church.  The gospel of scarcity easily finds a home in the church.  We really don’t want new people to join us because there’s not enough of anything (the pastor’s time, pews in the back, money, parking spaces).  We can naysay all attempts to start new projects, develop new ministries or raise new monies.  It is too much of a stretch to believe that God will provide because we have always assumed there  will never be enough of anything.

On the other hand, people who see abundance are ready to charge forward.  They assume that what is needed will be provided.  They are eager to look at the old problems with fresh eyes because there is enough intelligence, enough dedication, enough determination to do whatever God is calling them to do.  They can trust in the present and the future because they learned to trust  in the past.

Sometimes negativity and fear and unwillingness to change can be alleviated if we just stop to think:   Is my attitude a doctrine of scarcity? If so, can I change my thinking?  Can I trust the fact that I was created in the image of God, and God never is in the business of scarcity?  God is all about abundance.  We need to move into that neighborhood with him.

As I reflected on the incident at work, I realized that it flared up because someone had an attitude of scarcity so powerful that he couldn’t see that he didn’t have to fear that someone would take what he needed.  He, and we, can trust that we can always have enough of God and God’s resources as we want and need.  There is always enough of God and God’s love to go around!

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The Creative Life

“The creative life can be quietly gratifying. The thing is to allow ourselves to become a vessel for a work of art to come through and allow that work to guide our hands. Once we do, we are assenting to a sacred adventure. We are saying yes to the transcendent and embodied presence of the holy” (Mirabei Starr quoted by Richard Rohr in “Daily Meditation” November 13, 2019).

Do you paint, draw, color or sketch, make movies, take photos or work with clay? Do you sing, play an instrument or write music? Do you journal or write letters or poems, books or blogs?  Do you knit, sew, or quilt? Do you flip houses, build furniture or design rooms? Do you care for indoor plants, create gardens of potted flowers on your patio, or plant and nurture vegetables in a garden? Do you cook, bake, decorate cookies or carve pumpkins? Do you build Lego creations or villages for your trains or under your Christmas tree?

Do you create and sustain friendships?  Do you teach in a classroom or in a Bible study  or at a gym or in art studio or on a tennis court?  Do you hangout with a pet or a child? Do you sit in a recliner, on a porch chair, on the beach or on the grass and  wonder and day dream? Do you read with a curious mind, hatching ideas or questions from a good book or magazine?

If you experience any of these wonderful ways to spend your time, I’m sure you understand Mirabei Starrs’ comment that the “creative life can be quietly gratifying.”  Becoming “a vessel for a work of art” is a beautiful way of describing our creative activities. I especially appreciate Starr’s vision that when we create, we are “assenting to a sacred adventure.” Our ability to create comes directly from the heart of God’s creative nature. When we create, we are tapping into the creative character of God. What a blessing to be allowed to participate in the very essence of who God is.

We are often encouraged to spend time in solitude to experience the presence of God and deepen our spiritual lives. It occurred to me today that undertaking a creative activity is a unique way of being alone with God. And collaborating with God’s creative energy may be one of our best opportunities to get to know God’s heart.

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Going Deeper with God: Amos 7: 7-9

Eugene Peterson’s book “Eat this Book” teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. This passage from Amos 7 contains the vivid image of a plumb line to help us determine if we are following the way of Jesus.

EAT

“God showed me this vision: My Master was standing beside a wall. In his hand he held a plumb line.

 God said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” I said, “A plumb line.”

Then my Master said, “Look what I’ve done. I’ve hung a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. I’ve spared them for the last time. This is it!

    “Isaac’s sex-and-religion shrines will be smashed,
    Israel’s unholy shrines will be knocked to pieces.
    I’m raising my sword against the royal family of Jeroboam.”

CHEW

I recently watched an episode on HGTV which showed a huge new island with a “waterfall” granite counter top being installed. As the remodelers proudly stood back and surveyed their work, they noticed that the whole island stood more than one inch off kilter. It destroyed the whole look of the new kitchen. There was panic! A carpenter pulled out a plumb line and several workers proceeded to push the island in place

In this passage Amos uses the metaphor of a plumb line as a spiritual measurement. A plumb line is a weight on the end of a string; builders use it to make certain that their walls stand straight. Like the counter top, a wall (or a life) may look right, but if it doesn’t match the plumb line it is out of kilter. Amos envisions God standing by a wall and judging Israel moral correctness by his plumb line – and finding it “out of kilter,” a failure” in God’s eyes.

What is the plumb line God uses to measure your life? The 10 Commandments? Psalm 23? The Beatitudes? The parables of Jesus? Choose one of these plumb lines. Daily for a week (or longer) measure your actions and attitudes against it. How off kilter are you?

DIGEST

What do you have to change to get in line with what God wants for your life emotionally, financially, physically, spiritually? Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help you make your crooked life straight. Pick one area and list the adjustments you need to make to line up with God’s vision for your life.

God tells Amos that the society he lives in is far off the plumb line and vows to raise his sword against the royal family that is leading it to destruction. How does America measure up to God’s plumb line. Make a list of the ways America is ignoring the will of God. What can you do to influence others to straighten up and be measured against God’s plumb line?

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“Amos promises apocalyptic destruction for these kind of oppressive worlds: The high places shall be made desolate and the sanctuaries will be made desolate and the sanctuaries laid waste (Amos 7:9) This leveling is a consequence of a stratified society built on the foundation of an unjust economy. “They sell the righteous for silver,” Amos attests earlier, “and the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amos 2:6). For a people who benefit from a system that produces such dehumanizing disparities, salvation will mean desolation. . . . To hope for redemption is to open our lives to judgment, to wonder if we are on God’s side” (Isaac S. Villegas).

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