Saturday, January 30, 2016

Great Expectations

" Jesus began to speak to those in the Temple. All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. 'Isn't this Joseph's son?', they asked?
'I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed -- only Naaman the Syrian'.
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of town and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.  But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way." -[Luke 4: 20-30].

When Jesus spoke in the Temple, it was as a visiting rabbi, who were allowed to preach in the synagogues. In this Scripture, Jesus was speaking in Nazareth, where He grew up.

Perhaps you have spoken to a group, and what you have to say is not what they had expected. Or, you walk into a room and the audience apparently expected someone younger, or older; or, a tall male rather than a short woman. The audience becomes the quintessential "tough crowd."

When Jesus speaks here in Nazareth, He reads from the prophet Isaiah, regarding the coming of the Messiah. Then, He announces, "Today, this Scripture [prophesy] is fulfilled in your hearing."

The reaction is swift: 'Isn't this [an ordinary man from Nazareth] Joseph [the carpenter's] son?'
In other words, 'You are just Joseph's kid, who do you think YOU are?'

What Jesus says next enrages the crowd. He points out that He is not here to rescue just the Israelites after their return from Babylonian exile. He has rescued instead, not Israelite widows, but a widow from Sidon, who is not Jewish. Jesus has also rescued Naaman the Syrian, a Gentile. Hearing themselves compared to the "wicked" Canaanites and Gentile infuriated the Israelites.

The Israelites expected a political leader from the line of David, a strict observer of rabbinic law, a brilliant military strategist who could deliver the Israelites from oppression, a judge who is wise and fair, but a human being. The notion of God as man was heretical. [Judaism 101: "Mashiach: The Messiah."]

So, the crowd drove Jesus out of town. They even tried to throw Him off a cliff.

Jesus was NOT as they expected. The crowd mocked Him: "He's the carpenter's son." They drove Him out of town. They tried to kill Him.

All my life, I have dealt with difficult people. People with whom I have a fundamental difference. People who have been cruel to me. Incredibly rude. Gossiping about me behind my back. Telling lies about me. Judging me, when they know nothing about me. Maneuvering against me, because they feel threatened by what I represent.

Am I "too smart" for a woman? "Too kind",  for a woman from the North ? "Too humanist" for someone coming from a well-established family?

All I know is how I bristled, when my family tried to mold me, like a piece of clay, into their image. I am creative and soulful; my family tried to turn me into a hard-nosed business woman.  I am a gentle and sensitive lady; my parents sent me to work with the "Wolves of Wall Street".   My family was stripping me of my essence. I became a cipher. I could not become them; I could not be myself. I became a ghost, nothing, empty, useless.

And yet, my tactic when I meet a difficult person, has always been to try to change the other person!

Recently, I have begun to see that maybe I have had a bit of a "God complex." I have been going around trying to "tweak" the difficult person, to my liking. Rather egotistical of me, to believe that the other person will change, just for me! I am spending vast amounts of time and energy, trying to shape others in my image, just as my parents did to me. I don't guess the other person likes this, any more than I did. . .

OR, I have been running away and hiding from difficult people, thereby foregoing the opportunity of speaking the Truth to them.

I notice that Jesus simply speaks the Truth to the crowd. He does not try to defend Himself, or change Himself to force them to like Him. He does not apologize for Himself, or sweeten His talk, or water down His message, to make His preaching more palatable.

When the crowd becomes aggressive towards Him, mocking Him and threatening violence, He does not flee in cowardice. Nor does He accept their abuse.  Nor does He stand His ground and speak louder, or gesture emphatically, so as to act out His message. Jesus walks THROUGH the crowd and disappears. He concludes, "Some folks are not ready to hear my message."

This is not a devastating defeat for Jesus. To the contrary, this is the start of His brilliant ministry, where He goes about "teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease."-- [Matthew 4:23].  In other words, at the first sign of resistance, Jesus did not give up! He keeps going. . .

 I know now that I cannot transform another person. Only God can do that, and only if He gains the cooperation of that person!

BUT I CAN speak the Truth. I can remain calm, and true to the message. And, if I have lost the person's attention and respect, then, I can pass on through, and go on my way--  speaking and BEING the Good News, and bestowing the blessings of healing upon others.

[Related Postings : "The Tyranny of Conformity", Jan. 20, 2016"; "Confronting Sin", Sept. 3, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Theology of Prosperity

" Brothers and sisters: As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body; so also, Christ.
For, in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Now the body is not a single part, but many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or, if an ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I do not need you.' . . But, God has so constructed the body, that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it. --[1 Corinthians 12: 12-30].

  This passage was first written by Paul, as an argument that Gentiles, who did not start out life as circumcised Jews, were just as welcome at Jesus' table, as the Israelites who descended down through the Old Testament House of David.

Today, this Scripture has much more far reaching implications than who is welcome at the altar, to partake in the Eucharist.

Mother Teresa used to say, "If we have no Peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." She was pointing out that we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ. If we remembered this, and lived in such a way, there would be no racism, no violence against each other, no wars.

Martin Luther King, similarly, said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

But, these passages are talking about a whole lot more than world peace or racial justice. They are going to the heart of what it means to be Christian!

I remember vividly the talk around the dinner table in my parents' house, when I was growing up. The rhetoric consisted of "Us vs. Them". People who were poor,  people of color, immigrants, minorities were spoken of as "Those People." It was as if we had been invaded by aliens from a distant and dangerous planet.

The saddest part of this is that my parents could not look at, and fully accept, their own immigrant history; including, most especially, the Irish roots on my father's side of the family.  After my paternal grandfather died, my father left her alone, to her own devices, in a place far away from us.

The corollary to "Us vs. Them" was the argument that, since we were educated and were not poor, that somehow, we were cosmically favored.  My father used to say that our family was superior in every way. My brother and I would laugh at how preposterous that sounded. But my father would say, 'Why ARE you laughing? I am deadly serious.' -- Honestly? This kind of talk used to hurt my feelings as a child. It STILL does. . .

Vast swathes of Americans today believe that 1) they are Christian; 2) that their comfortable life means that God has somehow favored them or that they know a better "way"; and 3) that this somehow makes them superior. Thus, these "faux Christians" believe that they are in the right to snub those who are poor or marginalized.  This is the Theology of Prosperity.

Yes, in the Old Testament, God says, "See, I have set before you today, life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, then you shall live and the Lord your God will bless you. But, if your heart turns away and you do not hear, then you shall perish. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses."--[Deuteronomy 30:15-20].

BUT, prosperity alone does not prove God's favor. We are not blessed because we are prosperous. We are prosperous, because we are blessed by God -- for following His commandments.

God powerfully commands, in the Old Testament, "You shall love your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" -- [Deuteronomy 6:5].  And, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." --[Leviticus 19:19].

These commandments become, in The New Testament, Jesus'  "Greatest Commandment":  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment, and the second is: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " --[Matthew 22:37.]

Paul takes things a step further. He says that if we treat others rudely, and as not part of the whole body of the church, of God's world, then it is as if we are cutting our own hands off.  We are treating our hands as if they do not belong to the body. But imagine if you cut off your own hand? The rest of your body would be in agony.

I have encountered a lot of rudeness in life, and oftentimes from people who call themselves Christians. Once, in the last month of my senior year in college, I did a little experiment. I let out word that there were some prominent and accomplished persons in my family history. Suddenly, fellow students who had never had the time of day for me, were flocking around, making a big fuss. But, I was the same person before I revealed these things about my family, as I was afterwards.

IF someone treats you differently depending on whether they think you are black or white, educated or simple, rich or poor-- then, they cannot consider themselves as truly Christian; for, they are violating the Greatest Commandment. Jesus treated the Samaritan woman the same as the high priests; and the tax collectors and sinners the same as the holy.

And, there is nothing worse than a Christian hypocrite -- the kind of person who sits in the front pew on Sunday, but snubs you on the way going out.  Pope Francis has called hypocrisy perhaps the worst of sins, " a virus; "it does not have a color, but rather play with halftones. It creeps in and seduces with the charm of the lie."  (That is about as perfect a description of Satan as I have ever heard. )

The next time that someone is rude to me, all the while calling herself Christian, I will offer a mysterious smile and say, "I love you, too! Body of Christ."  Then, I will walk away.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Tyranny of Conformity

"Brothers and sisters: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another, the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another, faith. By the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing. . ; to another,  mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another, discernment of spirits; to another, varieties of tongues; to another, interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes." -[ 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11].

In the little town where I grew up, there were two hair salons. The one where I had gone, since I was a tiny girl, ended up closing when the owner retired.  I decided to try the other salon.

When I got there for my appointment,  I sat in the stylist chair. I spent a lot of time threading the layers of my hair through my fingers, brushing it out, and giving explicit directions about how I wanted my hair to be cut. All that explanation did not matter. I ended up looking like all the other women who exited that salon. We all had the same haircut.

I found that odd. And somewhat creepy.

This Scripture in 1 Corinthians emphasizes that God created us all to be different. On purpose.  He did not create us all to be CEO's. Or for us all to have gifted musical abilities and end up becoming  multiple Grammy award winners.

Growing up, I was told that I would work in the financial sector. This is because my father did it, and my grandfather before him. I literally had no choice. I was told, "Major in this subject, go to this graduate school, work for the same company as your father, and work in such and so department." I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not comply, tuition would be cut off, and I would be out on my own. What I felt?-- Fear.

As a dutiful daughter, I did as I was told. But, I started developing a serious depression by the time that I reached graduate school. Then I began my job after graduation. I would cry every Sunday night as the sun went down, because that meant I would be back on the job the next morning. The job that I hated.

So, I had to lead a double life. My work self-- who was assertive, regulation-bound, unemotional, always rational. Only outside of my work could I be myself. No wonder I was getting depressed and anxious. I also began to feel enormously guilty for being "unable" to be exactly like the successful business people in my family.

At the same time, I would wonder, 'Can my mother really tell ME who I am?' If she saw some trait or gift in me that she did not like, she would hiss at me, "I NEVER taught you that!!"  Was it in her purview to mold me, because she had given birth to me? OR, was it God all along who had created me, according to the gifts that had come from HIM?

But it was never "allowed" for me to understand that, perhaps, I was cut from a different cloth.
Once, when I proffered my hope that I might be different than my family, my mother sneered at me, "Yeah. Right!"

Once, at my job, a temporary employee arrived for a few months. I used to talk to her before the start of the day, or at lunch time. As she got to know me, she came to see that I am gentle, creative, spiritual, and soft-spoken. I am not the business type -- at all.  So, she turned to me and said, "What ARE you doing here?" I started to wonder, what was she seeing about me that I could not see? Was I losing my whole sense of self?

And if vast swathes of us are forced to pursue professions that are not our gift, we risk universal mediocrity. We stretch ourselves thin, trying to excel at something that is not our gift.

This is the cost of forcing everyone into the same mold. We end up with not only anxiety and depression, but something more. Our gifts come from the Spirit. When we suppress what comes from the Spirit, we manufacture two selves: our public persona; and our private self whom no one can see. We lose our soul.

Today, the American Dream is for everyone to go to college. The pressure to get there is enormous. If you don't go to college, you are considered a failure. The New York Times [April 25, 2014] reports that 65.9% of high school graduates go on to college.  We mourn that 40% of high school students are not cut out for college!

But, in 1900, half of all students did not achieve 8th grade. The percentage of high school graduates who went on to college in 1900 was 6.4%.

No, I am not advocating ignorance and lack of education. BUT, Steve Jobs did not complete college. My house painter, who makes more than I ever did, did not go to college.

Must we ALL be the same? Must we ALL drive the same cars, wear the same haircuts, the same clothes with the same designer logos, must we ALL go to college, must we ALL conform to someone else's mainstream-media worship of materialism?

In America today, if we are different, we are wrong.

I am certain that God did not create us as carbon copies of each other!  God gave us ALL our own gifts-- wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, etc. He gave us these for the benefit of our world.  He never intended for us to shrivel in the face of conformity, and thereby, become a shadow of our true selves.

"Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken." -- Oscar Wilde.

[Related Postings, "Burying My Talents", November  13, 2011; "Talents From God", November 19, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Would Martin Luther King Say?

"The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible."

Eric Garner -- New York
Michael Brown, Jr. -- Ferguson, Missouri
Tamir Rice, 12 years old -- Cleveland
Walter Scott -- North Charleston, South Carolina
Freddie Gray -- Baltimore

[January 15 is Martin Luther King's actual birthday, which we celebrate as a Federal holiday this year on Monday, January 18, 2016.]

Each year, at this time, I reflect on King's legacy and enduring message. Often, I wonder what he would think today, about how far we have come in race relations in America.

Above is a partial list of the unarmed black males who have been killed by police between July 2014, and April 19, 2015.  Sure, there must be plenty of people who get into altercations with police. But there is a whole generation of black males largely "missing" from American society -- 1.5 million according to a study by The New York Times in April 20, 2015. These black males are in jail. Or, they are dead.

You cannot tell me that if there were 1.5 million white men missing in America, that there would not be an uproar!

I remember decades ago, when I was in graduate school in the American South. One evening, I was driving to my graduate student apartment, when I saw one lone car pulled over on a country road. Surrounding the vehicle were about 6 police cars, in a fanned out "star pattern".  Thinking at first that  that it was some kind of road block, I slowed down. My companion in the car said, "No doubt, the person they stopped is black." I said, "Isn't that excessive?" My companion said, "You are in the Deep South."

I did not want to believe that this was routine.  . .  until a female friend and classmate of mine was stopped by police, while driving home one night. She was the designated driver, who had not touched a drop of alcohol, who was driving the speed limit and obeying all traffic signs. But she is black, and she was driving in a car with about four other black women.

When the officer asked for her driver's license, he pointed out that her out-of-state license had expired two weeks ago. She was going to return home over Christmas break to renew it. Most of us would have gotten a mere warning. Maybe a ticket.

This young lady was arrested, handcuffed, had her mug shot taken, and she was booked at the precinct.

So, sadly I am not at all surprised at the outcomes of these recent cases. This kind of thing was happening decades ago and it is STILL happening!

I hate that these injustices have ended in violence. When violence is the result, we all lose. Martin Luther King said, "Violence is impractical, because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all." Look at all the terrorism in the world today. We end up just destroying each other. The violence has become so shocking and revolting, do we even know what we are fighting about any longer?

King also said, "A riot is the language of the unheard."

Today, some of those voices are being heard. But, in a meeting with the Black Lives Matter organization in August 2015, Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton said, "I don't believe you change hearts, I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources." Many roundly criticized her for this statement. I have to say that I, too,  was very disheartened to hear this.

In contrast, Martin Luther King said, "You can't legislate morality; you have to change hearts first." I would hate to see us all accepting a world where we give up on changing hearts.

In the climate of today, sadly, I see fewer and fewer chances to change hearts. The Millenial Generation has been taught to be so delicate around issues of race, that even mentioning another person's color or ethnicity has become taboo. We pretend that we are all the same, rather than confronting and accepting our differences.

Progress is NOT measured in the Silence. Martin Luther King said,  "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the Silence of our friends."

When we pretend that we are all the same, we drift backwards. It is only in acknowledging our differences and accepting -- even loving each other -- anyway, that we can create a more just society. When we are not even talking to each other, we are willfully ignorant.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscious stupidity."  -- Martin Luther King.

[Related  Postings: "Baltimore", May 13, 2015; "Martin Luther King's Dream", January 15, 2014; "Race in America", August 1, 2013; " The Prophet: Martin Luther King", January 15, 2015; "The Need For Martin Luther King", Jan. 16, 2013; "Remembering Martin Luther King", Jan. 16, 2012; "Martin Luther King", Jan. 17, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Baptized By Choice

" The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, 'I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' "  ---[Luke 3: 15-17].

I was baptized, way back when,  as a baby girl or toddler.

We do not remember our baptism, and many are not really clear about what it all means? Something to do with becoming a Christian and being welcomed into the church.

We know from this Scripture that Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. And so, baptism is how we first receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But a baby cannot know what the Holy Spirit is and what He does. This is why Pope Francis calls the family, "the first church".

I know that there are a multitudes of folks out there who call themselves Christian, simply because they were baptized. But, they do nothing else about being Christian!

There is a very good reason why I call this space, "Spiritual Devotional"-- it is because in this modern age, so many of us like to think of ourselves as vaguely "spiritual", but we have no determined purpose or plan on how to BE Christ-like.

When I was converting-- because of past persecution-- I had very really fears about how much I could openly participate as a Catholic, and still be considered a follower of Christ. It was like I was bargaining with God.

--'Well, Lord, how about if I attend Mass faithfully, I mean only rarely do I miss a week? But I don't go up to receive the Eucharist? And I don't actually convert?'   I asked my Bible teacher about this, and her eyes widened: "It does not work like that."

Gradually, I worked up my courage, I prayed and studied, and I converted. I did it! That first walk down the aisle of my church to the altar seemed infinitely long.  But no, the earth did not open, and swallow me up!

But I bargained some more. Maybe my purpose was simply to knit some Prayer Shawls, but not make the sacrifice to actually make any of the meetings? No, again!

What scares me in this Scripture is 3: 17:  "His winnowing fork is in His hand."  My pastor explained recently in a homily that, if you have no use for God, He has no use for you! Put another way, "Those who refuse to be used by God will be discarded because they have no value in furthering God's work." -- Commentary in Life Application Study Bible, NIV, on Luke 3.

Perhaps the only other verse as completely chilling as this one, is when Peter argues with Jesus about Jesus going to the cross. Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." -[Matthew 16: 23].There is no arguing with God's purpose for you; and if you do, you are not on His side, you are against Him!

What it means to be baptized then, is that we receive the Holy Spirit, in order to move and work according to God's purpose.  Being baptized means we are not passively and vaguely spiritual, but actively working to further God's kingdom here on earth.

Going to church and receiving the Eucharist is all part of that. For, when we receive the Eucharist, we receive a part of Christ, His Love, patience, Peace, gentleness, etc. It is baffling how anyone COULD do God's work without a weekly Eucharistic renewal of the Christ in us.

Catholic writer and consultant John Roberto has written and lectured extensively about being an active part of a Christian community. He has set forth Four Scenarios regarding a Christian's relationship with his/her church:
1) Vibrant Faith and Active Engagement: "actively engaged in a Christian church, spiritually committed."
2) Spiritual but Not Religious: "people are spiritually hungry, but not affiliated with organized religion."
3) Unaffiliated and Uninterested:  "people experience little need for God and are not affiliated with organized religion. This [group] reflects a steadily increasing percentage of the American population, especially 18-29 year olds."
4) Participating But Not Committed: "people may attend seasonal celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter, and celebrate milestones such as marriage but the connection to church is more social and utilitarian than spiritual."

Perhaps you prefer to "go it alone" spiritually? But I submit to you that we were not created to be solitary creatures, believing that there is no real deep meaning to life. Our longing for something spiritual, and for something bringing us to connectedness, represents our longing for God. The church is where we connect with others who are on the same spiritual path, who are also making a practice of discovering and living out God's purpose for our lives.

As we race into the New Year, and as we head towards Lent, now is a propitious time to ask ourselves:
What does calling myself a baptized Christian really mean, if I do little or nothing about it?

Was my baptism merely an irrelevant ceremony, lost to the hazy fog of time? Or was it really a call to action?

[Related Postings: "The Baptism of the Lord", Jan. 1, 2011; "Baptized by the Holy Spirit", Jan. 1, 2013; "My Baptism by Fire", Aug. 8, 2013; "Anointed with the Spirit", Jan. 13, 2014; "The Relevance of Baptism", Jan. 12, 2015.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Magi Journey

"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ' Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.'  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. . . . Then, Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage.'  . . . They set out. And, behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. They opened their treasures [for] Him. . . And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way." --[Matthew 2: 1-12].

I grew up a believer, in a non-believing household. A nun, who gave a lecture to us in Catholic Biblical School, said that anytime you have a believer, in a non-believing environment, there is persecution.

I guess that as a child, I was not thinking so philosophically.

All I knew was what I had heard in Sunday School and in church, all about how God created us and everything else in the natural (and supernatural) world, how it is better to give than to receive and so forth. . . . By the time my parents took church away after I was Confirmed, I was already a believer. It was too late: I knew in my heart that I had heard the Truth.

And so, it pained me when I would suggest to my family that we give to charity; and they would gasp at me and hiss, "We do not GIVE our money away !!"

I would ask to continue to go to church, even after I had been Confirmed. I was told, quite firmly, "We don't do that anymore."

As a child, of course, I expected that I would be just like my family. Only I wasn't. We all want to belong to someone, somewhere. Sometimes, I would ask myself, 'What is wrong with me?' Every time I opened my mouth, for example, saying something about tolerance for minorities, or the issue with Civil Rights, I would be met with talk about "Those People." As if these folks in my community were aliens.

I would flinch at this talk, the same way that a puppy or a small child flinches when she is shown a threatening fist.

After awhile, I simply stopped speaking. What was the use, if I was just going to be shouted down, mocked, and contradicted? Obviously, I was not the one with the power here. I was the baby and the only daughter. I was small. I had no voice. Even Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, utters a loud cry but speaks nota word, when He breathes His last.

I began to wonder: Where was the place for Christians in this world?

Matthew's Scripture and other readings from this week begin to answer this. The magi came from the East to find Jesus, then returned there to spread word of his coming. The implication is that Jesus' reach extended to far -off Eastern lands. Some scholars believe these lands refer to Iran, or to Parthia, near Babylon. Others have tried to pin down evidence from a lost Syriac manuscript housed in the Vatican Library, that indicates the magi might have come from as far as China.

Isaiah 60: 1-6 predicts, "Nations shall walk by your light. . . Raise your eyes and look about you: your sons come from afar, and our daughters. . Camels [ and] dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come." Psalm 72 says, "Every nation on earth shall adore You."

How beautiful and utterly magical this notion is!-- That Christianity should sweep the earth, and all should bow down in homage and believe. . .

Yes, Christianity is available to the whole world. But, this idea of universal acceptance was far from my experience.

It was also far from a Christian's experience during Jesus' time. Men with great power, such as King Herod, were so threatened by Jesus' very existence, they systematically tried to hunt Him down and kill Him.

We complain that it is too hard, too dangerous, to be a Christian today. Were it ever thus.

My own family rejected me for my Christian beliefs.

Here was I, expecting to be just like my family. As a child, and even to this day, I want everyone to like me; and I want to like and agree with everyone.  Oh, I tried to disbelieve, for my family's sake. But I could not do it. It was not in me.

Now, I am not a baby Christian any longer. Sooner or later, we Christians have to realize that there is a cost to being a Christian. It is not a popularity contest. Even with our own families!

Before Jesus' death, He promised His disciples that "the Spirit of Truth will be with you forever. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him for He lives with you and will be in you." -[John 14: 16-17].

Today, I believe. Fully. I have received the light of Jesus' star. I shine my light everywhere I go. I try not to become threatened or disillusioned by the rhetoric of non-believers. I realize that not everyone will accept Jesus, nor know Him nor see Him.

I refuse to be tripped up into hating others, just because others are hateful. But, if things become too harsh and threatening, I leave. I continue my journey elsewhere. Just like the magi did.

If the magi had returned to King Herod, the Source of all Hate, the magi could have been killed. The magi could have precipitously caused harm to baby Jesus and His family.

We are all called to spread the Light and to follow where the Light takes us. We are NOT called to play in the dark.

WHERE will YOUR journey take you?

[Related Postings: "Epiphany", Jan. 1, 2011; "The Magi", Jan. 1, 2012; "My Epiphany", Jan. 5, 2013; "The Worship of the Magi", Jan. 1, 2014; The Epiphany of the Lord", Jan. 16, 2015]

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