Thoughts on “My Jesus Year”

A few months ago, the book “My Jesus Year” by Benyamin Cohen grabbed my attention in the book store. The fly leaf synopsis spoke of Benyamin’s dissatisfaction with his Jewish heritage, and his subsequent journey to answer the question, “What would it be like to be a Christian?” I’ve finally had time to read it. It’s funny, actually hilarious, in places. It carries a message for people of all faiths, if we can be open to listen.
Interfaith dialogue, speaking with and experiencing worship with, people of other faiths will not destroy our own. When we begin with a solid grounding in our own faith, and we step out with an open and respectful attitude to others, God speaks to us. On the last page Benyamin says, “It took going out of my comfort zone, being a stranger in a strange land, to make me realize just how much I cherish my own faith. I now have a new appreciation for our prayers, our people and our rituals. It seems odd to say it, but I guess it’s true. Hanging out with Jesus has made me a better Jew.”
I believe that Benyamin is right. Openness rather than judgment, respect rather than fear, actual experience rather than hearsay can teach us so much. Although, at times I wished that Benyamin had written more about experiences with Christians like me, his respectful presentation of the many forms of Christianity had much to teach me. This book is a good read. I recommend it.

The 23rd Psalm

This morning I attended the 8:30 a.m. contemporary worship service at Christ Presbyterian Church, Tucson. Pastor Steve had arranged the chairs in groups so that we could work together. Many of you are familiar with the twenty-third Psalm. Our job was to finish the sentence : The Lord is my…. And then write a Psalm together based on the word we used to complete the sentence. At the end of worship, Pastor Steve challenged us to go home and write a psalm on our own. Here is my creation.

JESUS is my LIFE COACH. He called me to join his team. Together our goal is not to win a game, but rather to live a life of faith. Jesus walks this life with me, giving me comfort when I am hurting, strength when I am challenged, and praise when I do well. Because he is my coach, he does not live my life for me. He gives me the freedom to make mistakes and then picks me up and supports me as I begin again. Nothing, not even death will remove me from Christ’s team. This is my place and I am secure. When I feel like giving up, when I want to quit, even when I choose to follow another coach, my Jesus will not give up on me. He offers me advice, pushes and prods me, gives me strategies for living, and responsibility to care for others. He will never abandon me. He asks only for my love and gratitude. Jesus is my shadow and my friend. I am truly blessed.

Tucson, Arizona
For the last two weeks I have been enjoying the sunshine in Tucson Arizona. The desert is amazing in the spring. The landscape is awash with brilliant reds, yellows, oranges, blues and more. Flowers are literally everywhere. My mom lives in a well-manicured subdivision, similar to a city subdivision in Ontario and yet very different. Instead of wide expanses of green lawns, the yards are covered with brightly coloured gravel, raked to perfection. Rocks of every size, shape and colour add texture. Tall, short, skinny, barrel shaped, flat and always prickly, the cacti are in bloom. And of course there are trees – huge spreading eucalyptus, tall swaying palms, lebanon cedars, mesquite – the list goes on and on. This desert is not miles and miles of sand. It’s green and beautiful.

Why a “Good Friday” Service?

On Good Friday we hear the crowd call, “Crucify him. Crucify him!” and we wince. That’s not us. We weren’t there.
Years ago, I asked a counselor, “What is hell?”
His answer rings out in my mind, every Good Friday morning. “Think of hell as knowing and feeling in your entire being, all the pain you have caused in your life time.”
I spoke of Hitler and the crushing weight of pain he would endure.
The counselor shook his head. “How many wars have been fought to put gasoline in your car?” he asked.
I didn’t want to see my role in the world’s pain. None of us do. We close our eyes to the fact that many in the world go hungry in order to support our comfortable life style. We choose to see only our small bag of garbage rather than the mountains of garbage world wide. We ignore the pain given by a careless word of criticism and are ignorant of the ripple effect that word will have for strangers. We do not know, nor do we want to know the pain, the violence, the destruction we have caused in our life time. The little we do know is already more than we can bear.
On Good Friday we read Jesus’ word’s, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” In today’s words: “It’s not about me,” he says. “It’s about these your beloved children. Their fear, their desire for power or love, has taken over. They don’t understand the pain they are causing the world, pain that will last for generations. Please, forgive them.”
We celebrate “Good Friday” each year, not just to be reminded of what we do to bring chaos and destruction in our families and our world, but also to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness. We have the courage to open our eyes and hearts to understanding the far reaching consequences of even our smallest sin when we are assured of God’s forgiveness. Good Friday tells us that God loves us at our worst. We are forgiven. New life will happen. We can begin again. Easter Sunday is coming.

Here is Salome’s Story. Enjoy it and think about the message Salome has for you.

SALOME

My name is Salome. I am one of the older women who traveled with Jesus and supported his ministry with my work, my presence and with financial backing. My sister Mary, Jesus’ mother, was grateful that I was able to be part of his group. She felt I was caring for him.
As a child, Jesus’ astonished us with his compassion and caring for his family, friends and even strangers. The only time I can remember Mary and Joseph being upset with Jesus, happened in Jerusalem. A whole group of us had gone to the city to celebrate the Passover. We were a full days travel into the trip home when Mary came looking for Jesus. She thought, he was with us. My husband and I hurried back to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph. We searched everywhere. I remember Mary lamenting, “Jesus wouldn’t just run away. Someone has taken him by force. He may be injured. We have to find him. He’s my responsibility. I promised God I would care for him.” When we could think of no where else to look, we went to the temple to pray. There he was, sitting with the priests and rabbis. We were relieved and angry, all at once.
The young scamp responded, “Why were you worried. You knew I’d be here.”
I thought Mary was going to explode. Both she and Joseph kept silence on the way home, but I’m sure Jesus heard plenty later.
When Jesus started traveling the countryside preaching and healing, a number of families went with him. You’ve been told about the inner twelve men, but there were many more, women and children too. In fact it was the women of property, like myself, who contributed most of the financial support for his ministry. I remember Mary of Magdala and Joanna in particular. They gave freely of their wealth to meet the expenses of Jesus’ ministry. In our world, women were considered possessions useful only to produce children and be homemakers. Jesus honoured us as part of the leadership of his ministry. We listened to him preach, we cared for him, and the people who followed him.
For a while, it was wonderful. The crowds increased. The healing miracles seemed endless. When the rumours started we were surprised. How could anyone fear Jesus? Why would anyone want to harm him. All he talked about was loving God and loving others. Well, he did criticize some of the temple leaders and he treated women as equals. Some people definitely weren’t happy with him, but I didn’t think they’d hurt him. The Roman authorities worried about anyone among us who was popular. Once some people started talking of Jesus as the Messiah, the attitude of the Romans changed. They began to see him as dangerous, a rebel leader. He became a threat to the peace and order of the empire.
I remember the day his mother and brothers came to see him. I’m sure they wanted him to slow down, to do less, to come home and resume his work in Joseph’s carpentry shop where he would be safe. Jesus would have none of it. He wouldn’t even speak to them. He had started on a path and nothing they could say or do would stop him.
As long as Jesus stayed up in Galilee he was safe, but for some reason, he was determined to go to Jerusalem. You know what happened when he did.
Our arrival in Jerusalem was wonderful. We shouted and cheered and waved palm branches. We felt as if he truly was the Messiah and the victory had already been won. He planned all that you know. I heard him send the disciples for that donkey colt.
“Tell them the master has need of it,” he said.
He followed our parade with that chaos in the temple. Jesus saw all those poor people being cheated. He was angry, really angry. I’m sure that’s what did it. That’s what gave his enemies an excuse to act.
It wasn’t long until he was arrested. The whole time is etched in my memory. I see it when I lay down to sleep, and when I wake up. We stayed with him as best we could. We followed him as he staggered with that heavy cross beam through the streets, his body broken and bleeding. We stood, tears streaming down our faces when they nailed him to that cross. His mother watched it all, she would not leave him. Many of the men ran away in fear. We believed that being women no one would want to harm us, so we stayed with him. I’ll never forget his voice crying out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Our dreams were finished. He was dead. We went with Joseph of Arimathea and his servants when they carried Jesus’ body to the tomb. It was almost Sabbath, preparing his body would have to wait till dawn. In our culture, it is the women’s privilege to wash the body and wrap it in spices. As soon as the sun began to rise, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary his mother, and myself hurried to the tomb. We loved Jesus with our whole hearts. This was the last thing we could do for him.
“How will we roll away the stone that seals the tomb?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” Mary Magdalene answered, “I’ll bribe the guards.
When we arrived, the garden was empty. The tomb was open. We looked inside and saw two angels.
“He is risen, just as he said. Go and tell the others,” they commanded.
Terrified! Astonished! Confused! We turned and ran.
It was on our way back to tell the others, that we met him, the risen Christ. That’s right, we saw him. We fell at his feet.
“You’re alive,” we shouted, “alive”.
There are no words to describe our joy. We were so excited we could hardly breathe. Right then and there He commissioned us. He told us to go and tell the others. That’s right, he told us to carry the message. Our mission wasn’t over it was just beginning. Eventually, he talked to all of the inner group, but he spoke to us, a group of women, first. He asked us to carry his message first!

A LESSON IN LIVING

Feed the hungry; love the needy.
I know the drill.
Some tastes lovely; greed is, deadly.
God’s gift, free will.

The feast invites; my friend welcomes
Receive God’s love
Her smile beckons; her hands reach out
Accept her love.

More than you need; of course, that’s real
in our great land.
Enjoy the gifts; don’t waste the food.
That’s God’s command.

Table beckons, all decked in green
a gorgeous sight
Gleaming silver, precious china
This feast feels right.

The Parade appears; seven courses long
Exquisite, delicious, luscious, fine
Each course steps forward,
I’ll lose my mind.

Enjoy! Enjoy! my mantra chants.
I must eat some.
Choose with care; the words recite.
There’s more to come.

The final moment., a giant pie.
Greed shouts, “Yes.”.
Feed the hungry; they’re forgotten
I cut the slice.

With well-aged cheese, and ice cream too.
the taste divine,
Each bite brings joy; heavenly bliss
I’ve lost my mind.

Enough! Enough! Rebellion cries!
Too much! Too much!
Clean your plate; don’t waste good food
My past strikes back.

Too late, too late, my stomach screams
Sharp pain the cost.
The battle o’er; the plate wiped clean.
Free will has lost.

Listen to Your Life

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I picked up Fred Buechner’s book, “Listen to your life.” The title jerked me awake. What does it mean – listen to your life? What would I hear, if I actually stopped and listened? The question stayed with me all day.
I went to church as I do every Sunday. As a member of the choir, I sang a bouncy African song. “Lift your voices to God with singing! Praise the Lord with a joyful song!” Smiles broke out in the congregation. Their applause was enthusiastic. As part of the choir, I had brought a moment of joy to a group of people. I liked that. Listening to my life is fun, I thought.
After the service, I talked with friends, young and old. They were concerned about the back pain I have been experiencing. Once again, I listened to my life and heard about the importance of relationships and caring. That felt good, too.
Sunday evening, along with two friends, I attended a fundraiser for “A Place Called Home”, Lindsay’s shelter for the homeless. Yes, I thought, I’m glad I want to care for others.
On that one day, I listened to my life and liked what I heard. That isn’t always the case. There are days when I hear only my mistakes, my disappointments. Sometimes I hear anger or judgment or apathy. Often I am so busy, I don’t know what I have said or thought or done. I don’t know what needs to be changed, who needs to be cared for, or what I can celebrate.
As a Christian I believe that God loves each human being in this world. I believe God is present with us every moment of our lives. When we pay attention to each moment, stop and think about our day, listen for God, we can hear and know God’s presence, God’s purpose, God’s love. Listen carefully and you will hear the Spirit working in your life.

Jesus said, “I am with you always, even onto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

A Glimpse of Heaven

The news is filled with the disaster in Haiti. Pictures of thousands of collapsed homes, dead bodies, and wounded and broken people flash across our television and computer screens. Misery, grief, fear, desolation shout at us from the eyes and voices of the Haitian people.
At the same time, we are witnessing a miracle. The world is not ignoring Haiti. We are responding. The world’s compassion and action is amazing. In Canada, we are opening our wallets and giving generously. We’re giving clothing, tools, medicine, bandages, whatever is needed. We’re offering our time and talents. We want to help. . From within us, God’s love has been set free.
Just as I was beginning to think that the world was being taken over by evil, our news has shown me an outpouring of goodness that is overwhelming. Children, teens and adults are doing everything they can to help. Gone is the apathy that plagues our society. Gone is the greed and the need for security. In this time of economic downturn, even our government has designated millions for Haiti. Our armed forces, already stretched to the limit of their resources by the war in Afghanistan, has sent troops, trained to bring order in the chaos. Many who seldom pray, are praying. God’s goodness has risen up within us. We have set aside our concerns of race and our desire to judge. For at least this little while, we are living the words of St. Paul, “If one suffers we all suffer…” (1Corinthians 12:26). As human beings we are being the best we can be.
I believe that our response to this crisis in a small island nation, is giving us a glimpse of the love we will find in heaven and I am truly grateful.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” (ICorinthians 13: 12-13)

Let Your Light Shine

We’ve been to the manger. We’ve brought gifts. The party is over. The regular routine and/or chaos of our daily lives has begun again. Today, as I write this reflection, my eyes rest on our nativity scene still sitting on a table in the corner of our living room. The stable, made by my daughter and her husband the first Christmas after they were married, looks dejected. . It’s been nineteen years and the grass roof is ragged. The inexpensive olive wood figures, special only because I brought them home from Israel, are lifeless and hard to see. Several weeks ago, when I set up the scene, the only old fashioned Christmas light bulb I could find, was a dim blue. Thus, the scene is in darkness except for a wavering blue light shining above the baby Jesus.
Our beautiful Christmas tree, it’s hundreds of tiny lights still sparkling triumphantly, casts a shadow on the quiet humble manger. For a moment my mind is caught by the humility and darkness of the crèche and the magnificent brightness of the tree. The difference, of course, is the number of lights.
I am reminded that Jesus, as God with us, was one man, one light. His task was to bring the light of God’s love to one, twelve, twenty, maybe even a thousand souls. Since his birth, men and women have received his teaching, his healing, his forgiveness, his love and been called to pass it on to others. Each time love is offered, a new light shines in the darkness. Already there are millions of love lights shining around the world. Today, I have a vision of world so full of light, that the darkness of greed, hatred, war, poverty is gone. That is the Christian hope, and I believe the hope of all religions.
I want to be a light for at least one person every day in 2010. I want to carry God’s torch of love even on the days I feel cranky, exhausted, hurt, defeated. The Wise Men came to Bethlehem and brought their gifts just as we do every year. They listened to God and returned home a different way. My prayer for 2010 is that all of us, religious and non religious, strike out on a new path committed to love, understanding and acceptance. Let’s see how much light we can give the world this year.

A Christmas Reflection

In North America we are in the midst of preparing for Christmas. The stores have put up their decorations, and stocked their shelves. The frantic shopping and endless parties have begun. At a meeting this week, I heard a pastor say, “I’d like to do away with Christmas. It’s ruined.”
Many Christians lament what has happened to our wonderful Christmas celebration. Complaining doesn’t bring change. I remind you that Jesus is born not once a year but everyday with the birth of every child. We can close our hearts and minds to our society’s commercialized Christmas but we cannot stop the birth of Christ..
To regain our religious celebration we need to begin with ourselves. As you do your Christmas baking, ask for God’s blessing on the people who will be enjoying it. With each spoonful of cookie dough onto the pan, name and give thanks for your family and friends. Stir prayers for peace into your Christmas pudding.
Listen for God message to you in the Christmas Carols, the jingling of the Salvation Army bells, the excited voices of children, the tears of a grieving friend.
Search for places to share your many blessings. Give gifts of time at nursing homes, with kids activities, visiting the lonely. Remember that Jesus enjoyed a party. He’ll be present with you as you celebrate. Light the advent candles of hope, peace, joy and love for everyone you meet.
In your mind keep a running conversation with the baby Jesus. “Is this what you would have me give to my child…my spouse…my friend…a stranger? On December 25th read the Christmas story. You are the Wisemen searching for the Christ child. You have given him his gifts..
Remember, Jesus will be born. We need only open our hearts to receive him.