Intersect 4-2-18

Intersect 4-2-18

Monday Meditation
God of Gentle Encouragement,
reveal the power of peace within,
around and through,
me, our world,
and you.

Make me, us;
make us, we;
all love fulfilled.

Give us an unquenchable thirst
for reasonable minds
and compassionate actions.

Fill us with
the awareness of Universal Unity
that leads us to dis-integrate

reality’s lies of fear and hate.

Help us bear the light
for wounded hearts;
forgotten souls;
for our own mistakes,
for Gaia’s screech
at trenches and walls
and strip mines and malls.

God who reforms without from within,
resurrect the light of Christ in our souls

and the love of peace in our hearts,
so that we might finally learn
the art of being kind.

Amen.

The Embrace

The Embrace

The Embrace

Last week we talked about Jesus’ radical idea of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus envisioned a world where all nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and social statuses delighted in each other’s diversity by recognizing each other’s inherent divinity.

This recognition of individual divine worth, ultimately, leads to the creation of entirely new societies. Jesus calls this transnational, ethnic-barrier-breaking, gender-identity inclusive, society the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is ruled by God, and God alone, not by emperors or priests, and never by blind faith.

The kingdom of heaven is the embodiment of God by all humans (all is very important to Jesus), and our recognition that a united globe of human citizens ruled by attributes we universally ascribe to God is so much better than 600 nation-states vying for power and control over little patches of land. Land which, in Jesus’ divine kingdom, doesn’t belong to anyone unless it belongs to everyone.

Jesus’ message is universal. Although his is not the first religious idea to transcend national or ethnic boundaries (the Hindus beat him by several hundred years), I do think Jesus is intentional, from the beginning, to design a universal theology that is not to be in power.

Jesus calls out the religious authorities and challenges them. In fact, he tells them they don’t belong in power! He accuses them of misreading and misrepresenting Jewish scripture and keeping “the keys to the kingdom” locked away for themselves, and even at that, they’re not using the keys!

Jesus himself denies being “king of the Jews.” When the Jewish people ultimately offer him the monarchy, Jesus rejects the idea because a human empire is contrary to everything he’s teaching: There is only one kingdom, the kingdom of God, and it is already here, amongst you, within you.

Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven isn’t about an earthly power-based organization. It’s about God. It’s about us, our planet, and the way we interact when we recognize God is the source of everything. When God is our sovereign, Jesus says, the world is more loving and peaceful. Armies throw down their weapons and instead engineer great works of human achievement. Governments work together for the principles we attribute to God: truth, justice, righteousness, unconditional acceptance and love of all humans, regardless of creeds, colors, gender, or anything else we humans artificially create to draw lines.

The kingdom of heaven doesn’t have any lines, other than those that lead us directly to God.

Jesus’ message, his revelation, is that the kingdom of God is “within you” (Luke 17.21). It’s not an organization of politicians and religious leaders. It’s not national boundaries. It’s not a single universal religion, but a celebration of the diversity of thought and being of God. The kingdom of heaven is you. YOU are the kingdom; YOU are the power, YOU are the glory.

And that’s true for all of us, no matter how distraught or destitute, no matter how safe and successful. The kingdom is in all of us equally, and too often we’re all equally unaware of it.

Until we’re not, Jesus says. So he does his best to wake us up, to make us aware because until we are each the embodiment of the kingdom within, the planet we inhabit together will remain a hellish landscape of war, famine, poverty, injustice, and disregard of our fellow human beings.

But we do awaken. We gather together to help each other awaken.

We embrace each other’s lives, our journeys and the journeys of our children. We embrace the world as people with very different ideas about the human/divine dance begin to awaken to the embrace of God. One God, many names. One embrace.

The kingdom of heaven is like an embrace.

There was a Christian pastor and author around the turn of the 20th Century, and I hadn’t heard of him until I read an amazing quote, which led me to several more amazing quotes, which of course led me to research his life.

A.W. Tozer was from a small farm town and was completely self-educated. He eventually received honorary doctorates, wrote numerous articles and books on spirituality, and pastored for 30 years on the south side of Chicago.

The kingdom of heaven is like A.W. Tozer, who discovered God’s embrace personally, then taught about the revealed inner kingdom the rest of his life. He understood Jesus’ message in a way very different from his contemporaries, because for Tozer Jesus was not sacrifice, but self.

Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”

In other words, the kingdom of heaven is like an embrace from God that the world experiences when we embrace each other in the total, uncompromising, unconditional love exemplified and taught by Jesus.

Let’s see if we can’t imagine the kingdom of heaven. After you read the following guided meditation, close your eyes for a moment and let your mind travel deep within the kingdom of heaven. You might even want to record the meditation in your own voice, and let your self be your guide:

The kingdom of heaven is a hug from God. Think about how absolutely complete and perfect that feels. That’s the kingdom of heaven.

Now, take that divine embrace and expand it to everyone in the room. Imagine we’re all encompassed by a lush, comfy blanket of stars, the body of the universe surrounding us in love.

Expand your mind. Open the lens of your inner sight, slowly pulling your frame of reference out a little farther. See the Earth embraced by God. See the moon, Mars, the solar system flying past as you watch God’s embrace expand beyond anything you’ve ever seen.

Through the vastness of space, marvel as you travel beyond the Milky Way, galaxies and universes flying past until uncountable shimmers of love engulf you.

The kingdom of heaven is the universe embracing itself. It is endless, all-encompassing, unconditional, barrier-breaking, line-erasing love. And this entire kingdom, all the universes it contains and all the love it cannot hold back, it’s all right there, in you.

The Care and Feeding of Dangerous Ideas

The Care and Feeding of Dangerous Ideas

In  a fabulous GE commercial found here, the narrator says, “Ideas are the natural enemy of the way things are.” Ideas exist to create change, to upset the accepted wisdom. Ideas move the entire species forward. From stone tools to iron horses, innovation displaces and disrupts the status quo. New, especially radical, thinking is often met with distrust and disdain. When the person that invented the wheel showed it off, my guess is everyone’s first reaction was, “Hey! I don’t know what that is, but if you lay it flat, it would be a great table.”

It’s tough for people to accept new ways of doing and thinking. We become entrenched in “the way it’s always been done,” so much so that most of us never think about doing it differently. Sometimes, we simply fail to recognize there is a better way. Other times established interests, especially political and religious interests, fight tooth and nail to maintain control over their kingdoms. But now and then, someone with incredible vision comes along. They’re able to think differently, to see a better way of doing something.

In Jesus’ case, he saw a better way to be human. And like so many radical ideas, being a better human meant the entire human system of politics and religion would be toppled. Jesus has a single radical vision and everything he does and says is about teaching us how to fulfill that vision: the creation of the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom ruled by love and love alone. Jesus’ kingdom has a single principle: love. Love everyone. Love God, love your neighbor, yourself, your enemy. Love everyone.

And why does Jesus say we should do this? Because God loves us. It’s the order of the universe for Jesus. God loves us—radically, as it turns out, so we too should love each other radically. Jesus calls this world of universal love “the kingdom of heaven” (sometimes translated as “the kingdom of God”).

“The kingdom of heaven” isn’t about the afterlife. For Jesus, it represents an entirely new global governance paradigm, here and now. The kingdom of heaven is about a world ruled solely by God. It is the end of human kingdoms and the beginning of a new era in which all humans live and prosper together by loving God and sharing God’s unconditional love with each other.

It’s a beautiful vision, as long as you’re not currently in control. To the Romans and the Jewish priestly class, entangled in the governance of the Jewish people, Jesus was talking treason.
It’s obvious from scripture that Jesus understands this. Which is why he is so careful about the way he says things. He knows he needs to preserve these ideas for future generations—including ours. Jesus knew he wouldn’t live to see the ultimate outcome of his teaching. So he couches his singularly most radical idea—the kingdom of heaven—in language that needs decoding, language that requires an understanding of his political and religious vision.

He saves the idea of the entire species united through God’s love in the parables. All of the parables—sowers, weeds, treasures, growth—they’re all about the kingdom of heaven and this extremely dangerous idea: We don’t need borders, we don’t need politicians, we don’t need high priests. We need to live in the kingdom of heaven, and if we want to do that here and now, we need first to realize something else radical: the kingdom of heaven is within you (Luke 17.21).

Just as the kingdom of heaven is a challenge to political systems, it is a challenge to religions that declare “you must go through us to commune with God.”

Jesus’ kingdom of heaven includes direct, personal communication with that thing we call God, which we understand as the connective tissue of the universe. Radical. Still today. Jesus is telling us we can BE ONE with God, like him, and that through that communion, we create the kingdom of God on Earth. Right here. Right now.

The parables are Jesus’ way of couching this radical thinking in metaphor. It’s the way he cares for and feeds his dangerous ideas. Because he knew that dangerous ideas take time to take root (remember that parable) and spread (remember that parable)? He also knew that the entrenched powers would do their best to eliminate everything he ever said and taught. And they do a pretty good job. The Romans destroy the Gnostics and their spiritual wisdom texts. They usurp Jesus’ message of the kingdom over and above Rome and instead make Rome the Holy Roman Empire.

The establishment takes Jesus’ radical idea and perverts it year after year, century after century, until it reaches us today, unrecognizable from anything Jesus taught or lived. Those people he entrusted with the care and feeding of the kingdom of heaven either assimilated or died fighting.

As current followers of Jesus, we’re called to reintroduce Jesus’ radical idea of the kingdom of heaven to a world that mistakes this idea as a reward in the afterlife. For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is a here and now world without borders. It is a world without judgments based on traits like skin color or forehead size; where resources, wealth, and ideas are freely shared with each other; where we strive to lift each other to ever new heights of human accomplishment by perfectly attuning ourselves to God.

Yes, his is a utopian worldview, but Jesus is convinced that it is possible, because he knows we are the caretakers and co-creators of this radical idea that people can and should live together in peace and harmony. That’s an idea I’m more than wiling to nurture. How about you?

Spiritual Exile

Spiritual Exile

JEREMIAH 29:13-14
When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.

Jeremiah wrote this as part of a letter to exiled Jews in Babylon. He wanted them to understand that this was not going to be a quick trip. Much of the population of Jerusalem–princes, craftspeople, bakers, and aristocrats, would die in this foreign culture. Their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would be the first Jews in the diaspora, communities of Jewish exiles who maintain their national identity, culture, and religious traditions even while surrounded by a foreign culture. 

In scripture, it is often God’s chosen people–the Jews, people God has promised never to forsake, who are exiled all the time. This begs the question, “If the ancient Jews were God’s beloved people, why are they constantly losing their homeland? My conclusion is that there must be some spiritual benefit to exile (because I believe every action in God must be loving and beneficial).

The idea that we may find ourselves exiled even while knowing we are beloved also indicates that exile, while horrific, can also help solidify a people’s ethnic cultures and spiritual traditions. Exile might even help us develop new, profoundly meaningful ways to commune with God. The Jewish people doubled down in Babylon and created a pocket of Jewish social, religious, economic and spiritual culture within the empire. They evolved the way they worshipped and experienced God, because now God had to be with them in exile, rather than comfortably at home in the Jerusalem Temple. It was most likely in Babylon that the Synagogue system, so fundamental to the structure of all houses of worship in all religions since, was first developed.

In Babylon, the Jewish people were in both physical and spiritual exile. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrifying reset that sort of deportation must cause. It’s not willingly moving to a cave in the Rocky Mountains to “find God.” The Jews were kicked out of their ancestral lands and forced into a new, much more morally ambiguous culture. Try to imagine a foreign power invading your home and forcing you to relocate. I imagine it might make one question everything they ever believed.

But Jeremiah makes it clear that exile, while painful, can also be a time of tremendous spiritual growth. Jeremiah reminds people that God says, “I will be present for you.”

While we gathered here today might not be the victims of forced relocation, I do think we often share a sense of spiritual exile with our ancient Jewish ancestors. Perhaps now, more than ever in our recent memory, we feel especially exiled, as we attempt to live into the example of Jesus while surrounded by a completely foreign culture. And I mean that on every possible level of interpretation. 

When our religious contemporaries tell us Jesus is narrow-minded, that God favors some (and favors the rich) over others; when what I truly consider the “Christian values” of love, compassion and unconditional acceptance and forgiveness are rarely mentioned in “Christian” conversations; when we who believe Jesus was more concerned with the plight of the poor and the responsibility of the rich to relinquish their wealth for the common good; we, too, might feel like spiritual exiles.

I’m not talking about the times in our lives when we seem out of spiritual gas. Personal spiritual ebb and flow is natural. What I’ve been thinking about lately is the possibility that the entire human race is in spiritual exile, like the Jews in Babylon. Furthermore, I think perhaps we’ve been in exile for so many generations, that we’ve forgotten we are not in our homeland any longer. We’ve forgotten we’re in exile.

Our ancient Jewish ancestors were afraid of this sort of spiritual forgetfulness  Remember, Nebuchadnezzar took “all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths; none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land” (2 Kings 24.14). Almost everyone from the Kingdom of Judah is sent away. Once in Babylon, there’s argument early on about how much the Jewish people should assimilate into Babylonian culture. Ezekiel warns them about becoming too cozy with their captors, claiming God would never allow the Jews to assimilate. But in fact, they do assimilate, and even flourish. Daniel becomes governor!

Ezekiel warns the diaspora about getting too cozy. Ezekiel knows that assimilation often leads to forgetfulness. The more we conform to a culture, the more we lose sight of from where we once came. Statues of our ancestors turn to dust, bugs eat our literature and soon, history forgets our people ever existed.

How many generations does it take to forget home? Two? Twenty?

Have we forgotten our home, our real home, our spiritual home in the everlasting presence of a God who promises, time and time again, to release us from captivity and gather us back?

What if everything we sense, this fabulous mental construction of civilizations, nation-states, commerce, wealth and poverty, debauched excess and shameful social struggle, war and peace, is not home, but an exile we’ve forgotten about because we’ve been here too long? Are we so assimilated into the cultural idea that we’re worthless sinners that we’ve made it so? Have we locked ourselves inside our minds with no hope of returning home?

And then I remember what God speaks to Jeremiah: I will bring you home after your long exile.

And in fact, that is what happens to the Babylonian diaspora. While the Jews did flourish in Babylon,  they never forgot their homeland, their heritage, their God. In exile, they confirmed their understanding of covenant with God and each other. They learned how to live as faithful people in a culture that had a completely different set of standards. Their faith grew. And when God did finally bring them home, they had new ideas and a profoundly deep faith to teach to those who had remained behind.

Judaism transformed and flourished in exile, and those lessons–about who they were as a people, about the ever-present nearness of God, and about what it means to be God’s beloved through the most desperate of times, would inform and prepare them for the horrors they were yet to face thousands of years later.

We who claim to be followers of Jesus–people who understand that a personal relationship with God changes the world, we also live in a culture that has very different ideas than ours about how people should behave in society. We might do well to remember our Jewish ancestors and take a few pages from their exilic playbook. but first, we need to understand that we are in exile, then double-down on our faith that God remains near, that we remain beloved, and that at some point, we’ll all return to love.

A Prayer for the New Year

A Prayer for the New Year

A Prayer for the New Year

God of mystery and majesty,
clear our clouded minds
and show us you are here,
among us and within us.

You are we and we are you.

Reveal yourself everywhere, in everyone!
Show us the cosmic multitudes of our being
reflecting your grace to
and through us.

Pull the threads of love
tightly interconnecting our heartbeats.
Weave us together
a multi-colored, complex
tapestry of divine diversity.

Make us your love, compassion, and justice
in the world.

We pray through your eternal being,
our hearts racing with expectation
as you awaken the Christ within us,
and the vibrant reality beyond the veil
is finally revealed
to have been with us,
to have been us,
all along.

Amen.

Esoteric Jesus

Esoteric Jesus

Welcome to Esoteric Advent! This season, we’re exploring the mystical side of Jesus, both his teachings and his birth story. To do so, we’re using many of the texts found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in the 1940s. These nearly-lost Coptic papyri are from a number of different Gnostic schools, all of them focused on esoteric teachings. A great number of them are specifically Christian in nature. The Nag Hammadi codices remind us that early Christianity was imaginative, inventive, and multi-faceted. Most importantly, they are exceptionally spiritual in nature.

Esoteric means “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people.” The Gnostics didn’t think Jesus’ message was intended for a small number of people. Rather, they knew that his message was (and remains) a teaching that’s difficult to understand and too easy to interpret literally.

Jesus’ remark in in Luke 8:9-10 describes the Gnostic’s point of view perfectly:

Luke 8:9-10 (CEV): Jesus’ disciples asked him what the story meant. So he answered:
I have explained the secrets about God’s kingdom to you, but for others I can only use stories. These people look, but they don’t see, and they hear, but they don’t understand.

This is the very definition of esoteric knowledge: only a few will understand.

Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 13 and Mark 4. When an idea appears in more than one Gospel, we can infer that it was important for the early church. In fact, the idea that Jesus was conveying a sort of “secret” knowledge spurred the development of several Christian esoteric schools.

These schools created some of the earliest Christian writings we possess. The Gnostic scriptures reveal new dimensions of both Jesus the Christ and early Christianity. The Gnostics were much more concerned with the Spirit and our spiritual path to personal enlightenment than with establishing an authoritative church that dictated how, when, where, and what people could believe.

Whereas the new “orthodoxy” was teaching that only they held the keys to Jesus’ kingdom (and could prove it by tracing their authority back to Peter, whom they considered their founder), the Gnostic schools taught that any individual could learn Jesus’ teachings and develop a personal, intimate relationship with God—just like Jesus. No authority was necessary. Rather, the entire community helped one another achieve what they considered an enlightened state of being, and they did it without creating deacons, priests, bishops and the like.

The orthodoxy branded this as a heresy. How dare these people think they could understand Jesus and ascend to the level of Oneness with God! The arrogance! The nerve! Only THE ONE TRUE CHURCH can claim apostolic authority!

The early Bishop Irenaeus wrote: “One must obey the priests who are in the church—that is … those who possess the succession from the apostles. For they receive simultaneously with the episcopal succession the sure gift of truth.”

I have learned that anyone claiming they have the “only” truth, or that only they hold the keys to enlightenment is either deranged, dangerously manipulative, or both. The authors of the ancient Gnostic texts felt pretty much the same.

This major difference of opinion set the stage for philosophical and political debates about church and religious authority that have reshaped the world. Martin Luther, compelled by his own religious awakening, challenged the same “orthodoxy” that had eliminated nearly all Gnostic teaching 1300 years earlier.

George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, adopted many of the practices of the gnostics, especially the idea that an “inner light” moves us to speak and serve. As the gnostics denounced the authority of the early Catholic Church, Fox denounced the authority of the Puritans, who were making the same arguments as Irenaeus: We’re the only ones who know the truth. If you disagree, you’re a heretic.

I think it’s time for this quarrel to end. There is wisdom in both orthodox and Gnostic teachings. The important difference I find is that the esoteric schools typically focus on human spirituality—our relationship with each other and the universe. The esoteric is revealed when we think about the mystical side of Jesus, about the things he says and does that he himself admits are difficult to understand, even hidden from plain view.

This Advent, we’re going to look at the stories we all know and love, and see if perhaps the Gnostics present us with some new knowledge, some new wisdom.

We all know the orthodox story of Jesus’ birth: the star, the Magi, the manger. Little Lord Jesus, King of the Jews, Son of God. We have told the story about Jesus for two millennia, but we too often to neglect its meaning. In particular, we overlook the spiritual wisdom, the gnosis the stories convey.

The birth of Jesus reveals we don’t need to go through any special ceremonies or ascend some sort of spiritual ladder to achieve Christ Consciousness. The light is within us all the time, ready to blaze into our lives just like the Christ child two millennia ago.

The esoteric teaching of the Christmas story is about the awakening of every human being and the completely different global society that awakening creates. It is a story of unabashed hope, because it means every life is of supreme importance.

The idea of God manifesting physically in all of us–no exceptions–is poetically conveyed in an early work by a sect of Sethian Gnostics:

Three Forms of First Thought (NHC XIII, 1)

Protennoia’s1 Identity as the Omnipresent Divine First Thought (35, 1– 32)

I am First Thought, the
thought that is in light.
I am movement that is in the All,
she in whom the All takes its stand,
the firstborn among those
who came to be,
she who exists before the All.

She is called by three names,
though she dwells alone,
since she is complete.

I am invisible within the thought of the invisible one,
although I am revealed in the immeasurable and the ineffable.
I am incomprehensible,
dwelling in the incomprehensible,
although I move in every creature.

I am the life of my Epinoia2
that is within every power
and every eternal movement,
and in invisible lights,
and within the rulers and angels and demons and every soul in Tartarus3,
and in every material soul.

I dwell in those who came to be.
I move in everyone and probe them all.
I walk upright, and those who sleep I awaken.
And I am the sight of those who are asleep.

I am the invisible one within the All.
I counsel those who are hidden,
since I know everything that exists in the All.
I am numberless beyond everyone.
I am immeasurable, ineffable,
yet whenever I wish, I shall reveal myself through myself.
I am the movement of the All.
I am before all, and I am all, since I am in everyone.

The Sethians are most likely the authors of this contemplation. They were a Gnostic movement that identified with the third son of Adam and Eve. We tend to group all Gnostic studies together, but there were a number of both “orthodox” and Gnostic schools. Before Irenaeus and his cronies decided to tell everyone what to believe—and enforce their belief system with the might of the Roman army—Christianity was creative, imaginative, and extremely mystical.

I’ve always found Christmas to be one of the most mystical times of the year. Lately, however, the season has become over-commercialized and so noisy I can’t hear myself think. Studying the ancient spiritual texts discovered at Nag Hammadi has rekindled “the magic of Christmas” for me.

So let’s rediscover all those Christmas movies, songs and stories that make us gasp with wonder at the ineffable intimate of the universe. Amen.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Protennoia is “the thought” of the Creator, or “the first thought” that brings everything into existence. Sometimes also associated with salvation, but as one who awakens people to their true selves.
  2. Pastor M: God’s thought that awakens knowledge
  3. In ancient Greek mythology, Tartarus is a place where souls go to be judged after death—this is an important concept here, because the Gnostics are claiming that God exists even in the souls of the damned. This idea drove the orthodoxy insane.
The Scarcity of Community

The Scarcity of Community

The Scarcity of Community
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, many of our tables overflowing with more delectable dishes than we could consume in a lifetime, I’d like to present, well, some food for thought.

We waste a staggering amount of the planet’s natural resources, especially food. Countries like the U.S. and Great Britain carelessly discard nearly 50% of all our food (World Economic Forum). The numbers are even worse in industrialized Asia. Around the world, people are starving to death for absolutely no reason. Some voices loudly proclaim that the Earth is depleted of her natural resources, so there simply isn’t enough to go around. This is a lie. There is no scarcity of resources. There is a disheartening scarcity of compassion and community.

One would think an easy solution would be to move food from the places with an overabundance to those without, but the realities of the global food chain make this impossible. Global food production and distribution is directly tied to corporate profits and government regulations.

Farmers are subsidized by federal governments to produce or not produce food. Transportation of goods is regulated by complex trade agreements. Within the European Union, countries like Greece suffer because of rules that force quotas on imports, exports, and which crops types are allowed to be grown where. It’s a ludicrous system, almost as bad as the U.S. system of subsidies for sugar and corn. These are political subsidies that have nothing to do with feeding our people.

The EU and U.S. rules sustain a system that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many people to eat. Moving unused food around is, well, not that easy at all. Like too much in our too bilateral world, food is political.

While we could discuss the inherent problems with Capitalist economics and its detrimental effects on the global food trade, I don’t believe Capitalism is the root of the problem. Unregulated, unfettered Capitalism isn’t helping our situation, but we will never change our economic systems unless we first change our hearts—and also the hearts of our politicians and CEOs. As long as we allow our manufacturers and distributors to concentrate solely on profit, without any sense of social conscience, we will continue to discard the precious food of life carelessly. The root of our food waste atrocity is that we have attached a value to everything we produce while simultaneously devaluing being human.

The fundamental problem causing the absurdity of simultaneous food overproduction and starvation is that products are now valued over people. Consequently, we have little or no sense of interconnectedness with human beings around the globe. Hell, we too often lack any connection within our own immediate families. This disconnectedness, ironic in a world more connected than ever, also coerces us into filling our garbage dumps with perfectly edible food that could eradicate death from malnourishment overnight.

To remedy this situation, which also affects carbon emissions and the health of our entire planet, we must change our mindset about the sharing and ownership of global resources. We need to think differently, and to do that we have a terrific example in the teachings of Jesus.

In the Second Testament, there is a miracle story about Jesus. It is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels, implying it was essential to Jesus’ early followers. It isn’t, however, a story about magic, as it has too often been misinterpreted. Instead, the story of the loaves and fishes is about community.

I’ll use the version found in John 6.1-15 (CEV) for reference:

Jesus crossed Lake Galilee, which was also known as Lake Tiberias. A large crowd had seen him work miracles to heal the sick, and those people went with him. It was almost time for the Jewish festival of Passover, and Jesus went up on a mountain with his disciples and sat down. When Jesus saw the large crowd coming toward him, he asked Philip, “Where will we get enough food to feed all these people?” He said this to test Philip, since he already knew what he was going to do. Philip answered, “Don’t you know that it would take almost a year’s wages just to buy only a little bread for each of these people?” 

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the disciples. He spoke up and said, “There is a boy here who has five small loaves of barley bread and two fish. But what good is that with all these people?” 

The ground was covered with grass, and Jesus told his disciples to have everyone sit down. About five thousand men were in the crowd. Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he passed the bread to the people, and he did the same with the fish, until everyone had plenty to eat. 

The people ate all they wanted, and Jesus told his disciples to gather up the leftovers, so that nothing would be wasted. The disciples gathered them up and filled twelve large baskets with what was left over from the five barley loaves. 

After the people had seen Jesus work this miracle, they began saying, “This must be the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Jesus realized that they would try to force him to be their king. So he went up on a mountain, where he could be alone. 

What do you think the story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people with a couple of fish and some loaves of bread is about? The early church founders (at least, the orthodoxy, not the Gnostics) told people the story was about Jesus performing a miracle and revealing himself as a demigod to the audience.

However, if we dig more deeply, we discover that this parable, likely originally written by Mark based on stories circulating about Jesus, was never meant to prove that Jesus was anything other than incredibly compassionate. The parable of the loaves and fishes is intended to obliterate our human myth of scarcity.

Observe what the disciples say throughout this story: “There’s not enough to feed all these people.” “How will we afford enough to eat?” That’s the myth of scarcity. There isn’t enough! I better make sure I have what I need, and more in case we run out!

We still use those excuses today, don’t we? We hear stories all the time about the Earth’s depleting resources, so we hoard water and buy more food than we need and let it rot and spoil in our kitchens. But the idea the Earth has somehow stopped producing an abundance of food is simply not true. The Earth has plenty of resources. We just don’t use them wisely, and we certainly don’t use them as a community.

The truth, especially in industrialized societies, is that we’ve got more than enough food to feed everyone. There is no scarcity of food, which is why we’re throwing so much of it away.

What there is, however, is a scarcity of community.

We lack an expanded idea of family, especially an understanding that we are all one big global family, a community of communities, ever more reliant on one another. Community is Jesus’ point in the story of the loaves and fishes.

Those 5,000 people that showed up to see Jesus? He understood them as his brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins, because he knew that God was the source of both his and their being. Jesus understood God as a God of abundance for everyone, no exceptions. This is important—Jesus trusted in our God of abundance to provide even when other people only saw lack and limitation.

This story is not about Jesus magically creating enough food for everyone out of thin air. If that had been the case, people would have relied on him for everything. He obviously doesn’t want this—that’s why he runs away when they try to make him their king. Rather, by sharing what seemed like a little, he transformed the hearts and minds of every person there, who then revealed they also had something to share.

One by one, as people began to feel the pull of God on their heartstrings, as they began to understand that abundance is God’s way, as they began to see each other as a community, there was not only enough to feed everyone, but there was also plenty left over, which was promptly redistributed. This idea of redistribution of resources was deeply embedded in the Jewish people of the era, by the way, and Jewish people are who Jesus was speaking to at this time (and we must always remember, that Jesus was a good and faithful Jew himself).

For thousands of years before Jesus, the Jewish people understood the land and its resources as the property of God. The idea of private, personal property was anathema to them until forced on their culture by outside influencers. Yet, even in Jesus’ era, the idea that the abundance of the planet was God’s and God’s alone was prevalent. Jesus reminds them of this when he blesses what at first seems to be a couple of fish and loaves of bread.

The miracle of this story is that Jesus creates a community out of a bunch of hungry strangers by reminding them that God is abundant and that scarcity is a myth obliterated by community. There’s no need to hoard and waste; better to share what we have and let God refill us, than to let our resources rot and fester in the grotesque landfills of fear and neglect.

For as our food rots, so too does our soul.

How do we respond to this myth of scarcity and lack of community today? What can we possibly do to change a globally systemic problem that’s only worsened since Jesus’ time?

I suggest we do what Jesus demands from his followers and embrace each other as a global community—no matter our belief system, skin color, gender or sexual preference. We can support food pantries like our Food Angels program. We can support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food program here in Collier County, Florida, both of which are affecting very real changes nationwide. We can come together after natural disasters and give our food, clothing, time, talent and money to each other, as this faith community did (and continues to do) after Hurricane Irma.

But most importantly, we need to be extremely vocal about implementing and living the alternative, equitable, just and compassionate world Jesus reveals. To do that we must rely on and trust that God’s love is abundant and universal, and will fill our cups every time we empty them, especially when it’s for another divinely beloved human being.

May your Thanksgiving holidays be blessed with the universal, unconditional love of God, and may we, in turn, bless each other, now and always. Amen.

Hope’s Path

Hope’s Path

Eleven-year-old Hope flew down the brownstone stairs and bounced outside, the formidable wooden front doors slamming closed behind her like the resounding retort of a canon. The crashing of the doors echoed off the graffiti-and-ivy covered walls of her little Roosevelt Park neighborhood. A few tourists ducked. Locals didn’t flinch. They were used to this many-times-daily occurrence, the thunder of a closing door that meant Hope was on her way.

She took the weight of her name very seriously. “It isn’t a coincidence, you know—my name, Mom,” Hope once remarked. “Of course it isn’t, sweetheart! We named you after your great-grandmother.” Hope smiled, but her mom didn’t understand. Hope was more than just a name, a deterministic label like “rock” or “puddle.” Hope wasn’t just her name. It was her calling. Hope had a duty, and she knew that from the first moment she realized she could know anything.

Cheerily, Hope said, “Good morning, Mrs. Ferguson,” as she raced past her next-door neighbor’s porch. Mrs. Ferguson, weathered but merry after a lifetime of battles large and small, waved and struggled to get out of her chair. “You don’t need to get up,” Hope said. “I’m late for school! I’ll come visit this afternoon!” And she zoomed on. Mrs. Ferguson chuckled and gently sat back down, Hope’s boundless energy filling her with memories of the days when she too bounced off the fences, trees, phone booths and bus benches that lined their streets.

Hope stopped sprinting just long enough to grab her homemade bag lunch from the counter at Maxie’s Corner market. “Thanks, Maxie! I’ll be back later!” Hope yelled as she streaked in a blur of light through another door. Maxie was an old friend of the family. When Hope’s dad died last year, Maxie and his family took care of Hope every day while her mom worked. Maxie was a funny little man, the fourth generation of a family of Jewish immigrants who had always lived in this neighborhood. Maxie laughed and shouted, “Watch where you’re going, Hope! You’re going to run someone over!”

As she tore a light-speed path toward school, Hope greeted the rest of her neighbors, making her morning rounds like a doctor visiting patients. She smiled and shouted, “Hello, Mr. Oberlin! Good Morning, Ms. Stitch! What’s up, Bill? I’ll be back to visit later!” Her friends laughed as they watched Hope blaze by.

She made it to school just as the bell started ringing. With one last burst of energy, she whooshed through the classroom doors and slid into her seat. “Nice to see you, Hope!” Mrs. Sanchez joked. “Good to see you too, Mrs. Sanchez!” Hope replied. “I got a late start today.”

Mrs. Sanchez knew that I got a late start meant Hope’s mom was falling into depression again. She was probably home in bed; the covers pulled over her head, the blinds shut tightly in an attempt to hide (and hide from) the universe. Mrs. Sanchez feigned cheerfulness. “That’s okay, Hope, you made it!” Hope smiled with an honest cheer that lit Mrs. Sanchez’s heart. Hope was just being herself. It was remarkable to witness.

As the children settled into their lessons, Hope’s mind began to wander. She was troubled by her mother’s profound grief. Try as she might, when her mom got like this, there was no breaking her free from the sharp talons of an attacking raptor of melancholy. If Hope wasn’t careful, the bird would consume her, too. It was during these bouts of darkness that Hope felt least like her name. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Mrs. Sanchez?” she asked, “may I go to the bathroom, please? I’ll be back in a minute.”

Hope wiped her eyes with a wad of toilet paper and sat cross-legged style on the toilet seat—not so much to hide, as to not be bothered. She’d been on the brink here before and knew she needed to work through this or risk becoming lost. Despair was like Hope’s evil twin. She came out when Hope was overwhelmed—when she couldn’t say one more cheerful hello; when she didn’t feel like promising to be right back; when she just wanted to crawl under the blanket with her mother and shut the world off.

Hope worked hard not to become Despair. She was pretty good at staying light, but there were times when she felt empty. Not just out of gas, but thoroughly depleted,  a void in the universe. Maybe she took her name too seriously. Then she wondered whether her survival was even possible with a different name, like Betty or Jane. Plain Jane, she thought. That would be a nice name. Plain Jane. Instead of always being chipper, she could just be plain. Hope didn’t think “Plain Jane” was insulting at all. Plain meant regular, maybe even normal. Her life hadn’t been even close to normal since—well, since ever. And I’m only 11! She thought.

After a couple of moments, Hope took a deep breath and went back to class. She sat at her desk and focused on the day’s work. After school, she’d likely entertain Despair some more, but her twin would have to wait for now.

Sure enough, Despair joined Hope for her walk home. “Are you really going to stop to see everyone on the way home?” Despair chided. “They probably don’t want you to come by anyway, you know. You think everyone has time for your little visits? Ignore them. Come home to your Mother and me. We’re waiting for you, Hope! Hope? Are you paying attention to me?”

Hope heard what Despair was saying and did her best to ignore it. Hope knew that if she remained focused on Despair, she’d be sucked into the same black hole as her mother. And one of them needed to keep it together. If she wanted to rescue her mom from the darkness, Hope had to remain true to her name, her calling. She did this by remembering something Despair had helped her figure out years ago: people never lose hope. They’ll do everything they can to get rid of Despair, but even in her asphyxiating grip, people never wholly lose hope. That’s why every day on her way to school, Hope always said hello to Maxie, Mrs. Ferguson, Stitch and Bill, and everyone else in the neighborhood. That’s why she stopped for lemonade with Mrs. Ferguson on her way home; why she helped Maxie stock the shelves after school, why she listened to Bill’s tall tales. Being surrounded by her community lifted her spirits and gave her the energy to lift theirs in return. Hope is an eternal cycle of giving.

Energized by this realization, Hope sprinted the rest of the way home and bounded up the stairs into the brownstone; it’s massive doors once again booming shut behind her, alerting the neighborhood to Hope’s presence. She zoomed into her mother’s room, jumped into bed with her, hugged her tightly and said, “Hey mom, I’m home! It’s time to wake up!”