Past, Present and Future Americas

Comprehending history is our best hope for a better future. Without knowledge of why things are in their current state, we cannot hope to effectively direct the future. It also helps us to better recognize warning signs.

This article looks at how the United States developed, the attributes common to each internal “nation,” and what the forecast for our future looks like.

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-11-nations-of-the-united-states-2015-7

Reflection on Love

“…A bad person can receive the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20] To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.

Excerpt from St. Augustine’s Love Sermon, italics added for emphasis

I haven’t figured out much of anything, but I feel like if someone were to ask me what God called us to as his children, I would summarize it thusly: Let love overflow from you; let love be the foundation of your words and your actions. Have every step be a movement born out of love.

This does not mean things like grace, truth, justice, etc. aren’t important. They surely are and we know they can co-exist; in fact to love is to be honest rather than deceive, to show grace in the face of injury, to seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized. But if we lead with justice, we often miss opportunities for grace. If we lead with truth, we sometimes lack compassion. The foundation must be love. If it is not built on love, what will lead you?

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16

Reiterated, perhaps because it is so hard for humanity to fully understand, is the fact that God is love. It is not saying God feels love but rather that God’s very nature is that of love; that to love is to be in relationship with God and to be unloving is to not know God.

How are we to love? This is perhaps the hardest part, because we are not called to love just the people we like. Not to limit it to only our family and friends. Jesus was perfect but he didn’t love only perfect people. He spent a tremendous amount of time loving those who were seen as untouchable, despised, neglected, marginalized and cursed. What is Christ’s response to these people? To all people?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18

We are not meant to love from a distance because God does not love like that; God is relational and personal. It is worth noting that God is love because our God is Triune. A solitary God before creation could not be love without having another to love. Love is communal; it requires plurality. We cannot truly love in solitude and although our God is one, our God is also three.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” Genesis 1:26

So we see that they were together from the beginning; that they were one but also separate (I know, it can sound confusing and we can’t fully comprehend it but think of it more as 1x1x1=1 instead of the more confusing 1+1+1=1). Most often we can understand God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit more easily through their relationship. Described by St. Augustine through the lens of love, the Trinity can be discerned through seeing God as the lover, Jesus as the Beloved and the Holy Spirit as love.

“And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'” Mark 1:11

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

Love is such a big part of this story; in fact I would say the entire story is about love. Jesus even told us the two most important commandments were to LOVE God with all our hearts, soul and mind and to LOVE our neighbor as we LOVE ourselves. To know God is to love the way God loves. It is a reckless sort of love, a love the abides even in the midst of rejection, disappointment, failure, and disobedience. It is love at a cost to oneself. A sacrificial love; an abundant love. It is a love that whispers in the darkness, “You are loved and you can love.”

 

Book Review – Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference

“We focus on disability and our Christian tradition because we have learned that disability is an enduring, fundamental aspect of humanity that has been manipulated and wronged by society… We searched our faith tradition for signs of disability and, indeed, we found the divine Trinity.” (Tataryn, 7) This statement is the crux of this book, helping readers move from a space where disability is at best, just a burden the person is meant to bear or at worst, a result of sinfulness or God’s wrath to a space where they recognize the Trinity in the embodiment of each person and our call as a community to be inclusive.

They start by examining what disables those in our community: our marginalization of people different from socially acceptable “norms” and the point of view that they are, “objects of pity and recipients of charity.” (Tataryn, 15).  What disables people is less often their different embodiments but rather the exclusion of them from the rest of society; of being viewed as not entirely whole, of having something missing, of being lesser. “By perceiving and treating disabled people as Other, we accept societal taxonomies of gradated human value, thereby rejecting the fullness of humankind and limiting our spiritual growth, both personal and collective.” (Tataryn, 15) It is necessary that we work to shift from the medical model of disability that views various embodiments as a tragedy that we strive to fix to the social model which instead says that disability is rooted not in the person but in the society that disables them.

Next they begin explaining what this inclusive community looks like. While the social model uncovers the root of disability, the Trinitarian Paradigm, as a supplement, “emphasizes the vital, universal need for human relationship.” (Tataryn, 22) They walk us through this by examining the conflicting perspectives throughout Christian history which skew us toward a viewpoint that frames an individual’s value in predominantly economic terms. Starting with the Hebrew Scripture, we start to understand the difference between seeing a person’s body as possessing divinity or demonic traits based on their embodiment.  When we examine Genesis, we see it points to a God who is a Creator and fond of diversity; to the fact that community is not built on similarity but on difference. “By ordering, that which has been created ‘man’ has created hierarchy, which produces in ‘man’ a further need: a relationship of equality, a ‘partner.’ …Human community is based in the difference between ‘man’ and woman.’” (Tataryn, 29) It is sin that divides us, not our differences. It is sin that creates the antagonistic, hierarchal attitudes of one group towards another. Ultimately, we reach Leviticus, whose purpose was to address sin. “Leviticus’s purpose is order, ritual, and the authority of the priestly caste, not complicated by human diversity.” (Tataryn, 32) They also walk us through some of the reasons why it is supposed that disability and ritual impurity are linked to one another, ultimately leading to the conclusion that if read through the social model we can see that the liminality is most often an outcome of life processes more than sin or God’s wrath. “But the prophets distinguish between those who are vulnerable or weak and those who are faithless and suffer as a result.” (Tataryn, 38)

Next examined is how Jesus disables the idea of institutionalized disability within society. “Jesus’ action is one of nullifying the established norms that have disrupted community. By approaching and engaging with individuals who have been rejected by the cultural and ritual codes of community, Jesus subverts the taboos of exclusion and practices radical inclusion.” (Tataryn, 43) It walks through various examples of this, noting how Jesus highlights human dignity, personhood and faith as well as the repentance from sin. It even notes the writings of Paul and Luke that strive to counteract the trend of physiognomy in their time (the belief that one’s physical traits reflected the character of a person). There’s considerable coverage of Paul and his encouragement of others to rejoice in their weakness because that is where God shows up. “In context with the day-to-day living of Jesus of Nazareth, the Resurrection instead signals a celebration of divine love known through the fullness of being human, without margins.” (Tataryn, 50)

Next we examine the role of community, or koinonia, in being a space where love and relationship for all people is lived out side-by-side. Examples from the prophets as well as Abraham and Sarah emphasize the importance of an inclusive community. “The Suffering Servant embodies the stigma linked to disability: causing disgust, shame, and sorrow. Yet the Suffering Servant embodies most completely the relationship between God and humanity, challenging us to look beyond our prejudices in building a new, fuller community than previously imagined.” (Tataryn, 53) In order to better understand what this call looks like and how we got to where we are, the authors dive into a wide variety of theologians from both Eastern and Western orthodoxy. This helps us to see how we get to our understanding of the Trinity today: one of relationship to one another. Operating out of this knowledge is a challenge that the church continues to struggle with. “Unconsciously, our church communities tend to conform more to the tyrannical societal norm than to the dictates of Christ. But with conscious awareness, we can become communities of love that drew people so compellingly to follow Christ in the nascent Christian Church.” (Tataryn, 71)

Next examined are the various models of Christian community: understanding that caring means having relationship with others, that caritas is a necessary outcome of faith and not the exercise of charity as we see today: we potentially give charitably to have others love our neighbor for us. It also looks at the relationship with God in the context of solitude (like the monastic tradition) or service (where oftentimes acting out of pity is confused for loving our neighbors). Amongst several other models, they also examine what is termed a Holy Fool, where “…the Christian (not necessarily a monastic) acts contrary to social norms, shunning public approval, creatively embodying Christ’s radical transformation of the natural world.” (Tataryn, 78)

Following this they engage in an examination of the sacraments: “…we exist in relation to God, to each other, and to the cosmos. Thus, our faith is rooted in our materiality, and this sacred substantiality, as it were, is manifested sacramentality.” (Tataryn, 84) By understanding that all creation is laced with divinity, because the Divine touched all of creation, we can recognize that God is present through creation. Early in the church moments of time that were viewed as particularly imbued with divine presence were called mysteries. As more and more structure was built around these things, societal prerequisites became linked to being able to engage in the sacraments. This attitude has been examined by the church in recent decades.

The last few sections examine miracles, true hospitality and being icons.  The section on miracles looks in depth at the story of a family with children of different embodiments that faces a disabling and exclusive society which they are excluded from participating fully in. “Miracles are associated with faith, sin, cure, prayer, and the power of God over nature to perform the impossible… In our time, we have created disability as a deviance rather than understanding it as an ordinary human occurrence… a miracle presents a quick fix.” (Tataryn, 97) Ultimately, the point is made that rather than viewing the healing miracles as a path to a quick fix perhaps we should understand it as Jesus’ engagement in the Trinity as well as his living out caritas on the Sabbath with people rejected by society. Hospitality examines the church (and all the people that make it up) and asks why we are allowing our hospitality to be defined by society. If you truly care about somebody, that means we also care for them, and if there should be any place that defines inclusiveness and hospitality it ought to be found in Christ’s community.  Lastly we have icons, which some see as a form of idolatry. When more closely examined, “Iconographic style implicitly conveys a transfigured reality and elicits… a recognition of their participation in its meaning… The Eastern Christian does not bow before an icon to worship the wood, but rather venerates the reality recognized through the material substance.” (Tataryn, 109) This allows an extension of one’s self to the Other, in truth, to create a connection not just between those we live with in community today but to tie all humanity through all time together.

In summary, the authors effectively walk us through disability via the lens of the Trinitarian Paradigm as well as the social model, helping readers to gain a more thorough understanding of the Christian faith and what it means to those whose embodiment is different from the accepted norm. It reveals the ways in which our views of humanity are distorted and how it wrongs all of society; that being present and living out caritas with all humanity in an inclusive community is where we find a greater presence of the Trinity and what we are called into as followers of Christ.

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Social Disability and the Trinity

Seeing disability through the lens of the social disability paradigm and the Trinitarian paradigm as opposed to the medical model of disability is critical in understanding what our role as Christians is within all of society, both personally and professionally. By understanding and applying what we learn, we are able to move towards a mature spirituality that reflects the Gospel more fully and enables a deeper relationship with God.

“The disability rights movement has identified the standard naturalized perception of disability in Western culture today as framed within a medical model of disability, which has pathologized unconventional bodies and has individualized disability as a personal tragedy.” (Tataryn, 19) This view of one’s embodiment as personal tragedy rather than the perspective of it being the natural outcome of living life causes society to view the person as incomplete or not fully human. This is exacerbated by an environment of hierarchies and competition; a race up the corporate ladder or an accumulation of prestige and respect in your personal life. In a society that values particular types of beauty, wealth and abundance, it necessarily creates a lower caste of people who disgust or struggle in poverty and with scarcity. This effectively disables groups of people, as described by the social disability paradigm.

“The social model of disability locates disability within society rather than in an individual… what we presume to identify objectively as impairment in a person may depend more on social factors than anatomical facts; we may be judging rather than simply observing.” (Tataryn, 19) In effect, it recognizes that what disables people isn’t often their embodiment as it is their exclusion from society and participating fully within it. This comes at a cost to all of society because we do not reap the benefits of the gifts given to every individual. Jesus was one who wanted to dismantle this hierarchy and he calls those who follow them to do the same. This can be exceedingly difficult when society teaches the opposite. “When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.” (Vanier, 19)

A hierarchy within society that places those that do not conform at the bottom is best described as elitist; an accumulation of power and wealth in one group at a cost to another. They “win” at the cost of the rest of humanity suffering. “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside.” (Vanier, 20) Embracing the trinity within the social disability paradigm encourages us all to relinquish our egos in order to engage within an inclusive community.

Jean Vanier, a man who did this in part by establishing communities where those disabled by society could have the freedom to live and grow together described the experience thusly: “And I come here to tell you how much life these people have given me, that they have an incredible gift to bring to our world, that they are a source of hope, peace and perhaps salvation for our wounded world, and that if we are open to them, if we welcome them, they give us life and lead us to Jesus and the good news.” (Vanier, 9) To experience this in our professional lives calls us to engage with all people, to consider the needs of all rather than most and to facilitate the growth and respect of every individual. Privately, this could look like being inclusive in those you invite to your home, who you develop friendships with, and how you raise your children to engage with others. Finally, from a spiritual perspective, this kind of engagement with others helps us to grow more mature and surrender our ego as we encounter the Trinity more fully.

In fact, by engaging with people different from ourselves, we encounter not only the person but the divine within them. “Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that person who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked.” (Vanier, 25) We do not need to be at the top of the ladder or compete against one another to “win” at being Christian but rather, learn to value the differences of others without coming against it. “Just as Christ, the God-Human (theanthropos), has united the divine and the human, so now humanity, through love, can reconfigure that which has been seen as opposite and recognize difference without opposition.” (Tataryn, 64)

To take it even further, we should look at the people God chose above all others as his people. They were not chosen because they were physically or mentally superior, more faithful or purer. “Israel is the people of God not because of their own actions or merits, but by the graciousness of the Lord. In other words, it is a community called into being by the One who has loved Israel since before its birth. The Christian community is likewise a community that is called into being, not constituted by its own actions or decisions.” (Tataryn, 52) We exist, and our community exists, not by our own merits but due to a gracious God who calls us into deeper relationship with him through deeper relationship with each other.

Thus, the Trinity and the social disability paradigm reveal the call away from disabling, competing and subjugating one another and into a relationship with all creation at all times. By doing so, we understand the expansiveness of our family and the value of inclusiveness even at a cost of not putting ourselves first. “More and more people are becoming conscious that our God is not just a powerful Lord telling us to obey or be punished but our God is family. Our God is three persons in love with each other; our God is communion. And this beautiful and loving God is calling us as humans into this life of love.” (Vanier, 35)

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community. United States of America: Paulist Press, 1992. Print.

Empathy and Being a Voice for the Marginalized

“When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy…” I struggle to understand people that have lacked empathy in the face of the fear and concern of minorities and marginalized people which rose out of the recent election; people who think it’s about who won/lost. I’ve often heard it said, “Those who voted for Trump but insist they aren’t racist/sexist/etc. are really only saying that I don’t matter at all; their wealth matters more than the wellbeing of others.” If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Let us make sure we strive to maintain the innate human dignity of every person.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

 

Thoughts on Communion

Holy Communion… One of the definitions of communion is “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.” How much thought do you put into this tradition? More specifically, what do you think Jesus was trying to say during this dinner where he offered his bread and wine to his community?

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25

When I read these verses and think about the frame of mind Jesus had to be in, and what he must have been trying to say and teach in this experience, I believe that he had to be doing more than giving a ritual to remember him by. While we cannot, of course, understand fully any aspect of God, we can understand from scripture what Jesus must have been feeling in that moment.

Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”  Mark 12:28-31

Because of these verses, I have to believe that Jesus does these things primarily for love of God and love of humanity rather than pure obedience to the Father. In his actions, he demonstrates the love for both. First, he gathers around him his disciples, the people whom he taught and loved during their time together. Here we remember that he is using the bread as a symbol for his body, and the wine as a symbol for his blood, the source of life for all living things.

First he thanks God for his “body” and then he breaks his “body” and gives it to them.  He says, “Take it, this is my body.”  He is figuratively breaking his body for his community, but soon it will literal. Then he thanks God for his “blood” and gives it to all of them to drink. He tells them that his blood will be poured out for many, but the life that blood represents? He again shares it with his community. He is symbolically showing them what will come pass… that out of love, he breaks his body and pours his blood out for others.

Of course, this has great implications for us. He does this for us, for his community. But what are we to understand from the ways in which he sacrificially loves us?

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Jesus didn’t come here just to die and be resurrected (although it’s a big deal and I am forever grateful for that). However, if such were the case, he could have done so without the teaching, the miracles, the lifetime of being fully human. The prophets foresaw what they did and Jesus fulfilled it so that he could show us how to live. To demonstrate that those who follow him do not put themselves first but rather, prioritize others. They deny themselves and carry the cross daily, a necessary attribute to follow him. This call isn’t new; we are to do what was at the heart of our covenant from the beginning. Jesus reminds us of this when he says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

Jesus lives a life that fulfills both the prophecies as well as the Law: a law of love. A law that is a call to mercy, forgiveness, repentance, relationship, and hope. A law that is good news for the poor. To be a person of humility and justice. Because we could not figure out what that looked like, he came to show us in person.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I certainly do not want to discourage people from communion. I think it is a great tradition that is meant to recall to us not just the sacrifice made by Jesus but also to remind us of the life to which we have been called as followers of Christ. Instead of empty ritual I want to see people experience communion in such a way that their hearts are set on fire for God; that they are inspired by his example and moved to carry their cross daily.

Jean Vanier, an extraordinary man moved by God to have relationships with people who are outcasts in our time, reflects the character of Jesus who also came alongside those who were rejected by the rich, powerful and religious. Vanier created communities where people with various disabilities could live with one another while experiencing love, reedom and hope. Here is how he describes communion:

To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.”  Pg. 16, From Brokenness to Community

 

Reflections on Relationships

How many of us have confused lust with love at some point in life? Or have mistaken danger for adventure? I’ve fallen in “love” a couple times. Once was a first love, and it had many of the entanglements for confusing what is good with what was bad because I didn’t know any better. The second love was even worse, mistaking supreme brokenness for a common ground on which relationship could be built. But you can’t build anything on a crumbling foundation. At least, nothing that will stand for very long, which is probably why he hadn’t been able to maintain long-term relationships before me.

There’s a difference between someone who is an anchor and someone who drags you down into the depths of the water to drown. It took a long time for me to understand that. To recognize that I need somebody who will slow me a little bit, but who is courageous enough to not fear something just because it is unknown.

Mindy Gledhill – Anchor (Official Video)

I find boldness and courage attractive, as well as the ability to build, restore and create. It’s why I’ve historically been attracted to men who are engineers or musicians, guys who can fix a car and figure out how to repair things. They are, in a way, my favorite reflection of what I now see as the Creator. Their mind works to solve problems, to fix what is broken, to make something new. But a creator should care for creation, and not only things that are built but life itself.

I’ve almost always ended up with men who, while possessing this passion for creating, have a lack of love for creation. In other words, the respect for the lives of others was often missing. They served themselves first and foremost, which is why in the beginning I would always be fooled, for what served them best at that point was to be a chameleon, to put on the colors of love, empathy and compassion without having much behind it. They behaved as if they were playing a video game where people were just a means to an end and the only player that mattered was ultimately them. This occurred so frequently that I began to attribute the traits of these particular individuals to all men.

It’s why I had to take so much time off from dating after my last relationship. Each time I tried to venture into the field, I found myself with the same chameleons even though I had come to learn that there were many men who were not like this. I began to wonder if perhaps it was me that was the problem. What made me so attractive to predatory men while I remained so invisible to men with a heart for God and His people? I don’t know what that answer is yet, but I do know I am a different person from the one I was a few years ago. So I’ll keep focused on the things to which I feel called, and wait for the man who will push me gently towards adventure and be an anchor without drowning me.

James Morrison – You Make It Real