The Honest Faith: Shut Up and Get to Work

Remember how I said that I would probably not write any more controversial posts a while ago, yeah, I think I lied. The thing is when you stand for what is right or kneel for what is right, there will always be controversy. I have made a new friend recently. This was through the journey I took a few weeks ago down the rabbit hole of the #EmptyThePews hashtag on Twitter. He is also a writer, podcaster, and one who has been in church life for a long time. His name is Steve Austin. He wrote an article earlier this week that was rather convicting and illuminating which inspired me to write this post. It is called How to Stop Being a Christian Asshole. As I read the article and reflected on my own work. Especially the fact I felt like one of the vultures and tried very hard not to be one, but as a writer, you write when you are inspired to do so. Needless to say, his work inspired me to write this week.

I know there has been a lot of talk about Christianity changing the world. I heard it all growing up. I even felt like I was a part of it for a very long time. I had delusions of grandeur that I would be the next St. Paul or Billy Graham. I used to have visions of changing the world. Of course, all of that was shattered. I wrote about that in my book. But there has been this idea that unless you do something big, the world will not change. We get stuck in this cycle noticing that something bad happened, we voice our displeasure we think there is nothing we can do to make a difference, and then go back to our normal lives. We live in this weird false dichotomy of this “all or nothing” mindset. So we post our feelings about the latest protests or horrific events and then move on.

What if it isn’t all or nothing? What if we can change the world just by changing small things in our everyday life? Would you do it, or is it too easy to be lazy and stay in the cycle? It could be that as a part of my delusions that I think this is a false dichotomy, but I don’t think it is. I think that we as human being shape the world around us every single day. Whether you are just some person, or a leader of many you have the power to change the world. The funny thing is it isn’t by selling all your stuff and moving to a third world country to teach the finer points of astrophysics. I know you’ve probably heard this before as well, but do you believe it? Do you live it?

How many times have you gone to Starbucks and not noticed the barista that is taking your order, or making your drink? How many friends do you have that are struggling due to the larger issues going on in the world? Do you have friends who have family that immigrated to this country? Do you have friends who are immigrants to this country? Do you have friends or family in Puerto Rico or the Carribean Islands? Do you have friends that are black? Are you black? Do you know someone impacted by systemic racism and violence in this country? Are you impacted by that? How often do you ask yourself these questions?

Take a look around at those you call friends. Look through your Facebook friends list. I can almost guarantee that you know someone who is impacted by recent events. Do you think about them before you post something? Have you tried to understand their situation? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but I want to get right down to the heart of this matter. The truth is the way to make a difference in the world is already there. You already have it in your grasp and it is waiting for you to do something. It also may not be what you think it is either. I’ve written before about the little things like making a phone call, or leaving a note, or sending a direct message to someone. I truly believe it doesn’t take a grand gesture to make the world a little brighter for someone.

Earlier this week there was all kinds of hullabaloo around the #TakeAKnee protest in the sporting world. I’m not a big fan of sports. I’m more a fan of the competitive eating sport, but I certainly, like everyone else on the planet, heard about this back in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick started doing it. He started doing it to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to bring light to systemic racism and violence toward black people. There are quite a few who do not understand the movement or why they are protesting. There have been a ton of people posting opinions one way or another on social media, and in person. There have been many many voices weighing in on the situation, yet surprisingly, or maybe not, they are just talking about the protest instead of looking at the problems that are causing people to protest. We are blowing a lot of hot air, into a climate that has too much hot air already. (see what I did there?)

Ever notice that for some reason this is what most churches do? They talk about issues on Sunday mornings and discuss what they can do about it. This discussion ends up going into endless government or board meetings and never amounts to any changes being made. This isn’t all. I know it isn’t all. There are some churches who do some amazing things, however, in my opinion, they are few and far between. We get stuck on the false dichotomy of all or nothing. We talk and talk and talk about the things we can do and never do anything. This is the same with the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” which has since become meaningless because without action faith is dead.

So what then? I’ve been one who has said before that we should sit down and talk to work out our differences, the problem is that we are sitting down and talking with the wrong people. We aren’t talking to the ones who disagree with us. We are talking to those who do, and we end up in the same place we were. So what then? I propose we should stop talking about issues, stay with me now, until we fully understand what it is that we are discussing. Instead of talking about things to nobody in particular, maybe we should find those who are impacted by current events around us and ask them what we can do to support them. See the work of kindness and love is not a big grand gesture. Most of us don’t have the time, money, or resources to help out in places that were severely damaged. But we can make a difference in one life. Just one life every day.

I want to start a viral trend. I think it would be neat to do that. Not because I want the fame or the popularity. In fact, the more notoriety that I gain the more anxiety I get, so yeah I’d like more readers and listeners, but it’s not something I am running after for this. I want to do it because I want to make the world better. I want my son to grow up in a world where people are kind to each other. I want my son to see that you don’t have to lash out at people on social media to get your point across. That you can change the world one person at a time, one day at a time. It isn’t that much really. All it takes is one smile at your cashier. Maybe speaking up and saying, “Hey you know I see you in here a lot, and you bring some comfort to my life knowing that you are here. I hope you have a good day.” That’s all it takes. 2 seconds. Just a bit of your life. To make the world a better place. Maybe it will inspire that other person to do the same. I know this has been done before with the pay it forward thing and all that other stuff, but people stop doing that. I want to remind people of how simple it is to change the world. You only have to take it one day at a time, one person at a time. #1Day1Person

We are told so often by haters, critics, and those who dislike what we have to say that we are alone and that we don’t matter. There are enough of those voices. You don’t have to add to them. Instead of saying something like I kneel or I stand. Shut up, and get to work. Make the world better for one person, ask your friend or acquaintance what you can do for them to help them. Show someone today that they are not alone, that they matter. I encourage you to take it one day at a time, one person at a time. If you feel led to do that, challenge others to do the same on social media with the hashtag #1Day1Person. Because to that one person you are telling them that they are not alone in this world, and that they matter. Because you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone, you matter. Go and tell others the same.

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The Story of Esperanza Reyes: Chapter 9

Chapter 9:

During one of her lessons, Esperanza told this story.

Listen! A family was needing someone to make meals for them as they had no time to do it for themselves. The first person they hired was the least expensive and had no experience. The food that that person made was immediately spit out for the corn was uncooked and the chicken was dry. Another cook had made a meal that was hard as stone, so a bite could not even be taken. Another had bits of eggshells and rocks in the beans. So that some of the food was good, but not all of it and made it hard to consume. Then they found the person they needed. They found a cook who made a glorious meal that fed them for first and second servings, they even had leftovers for lunches.

Esperanza looked out over the crowd and said, “Those who are able to consume, let them take it in.” After the lesson, when it was just Esperanza and her group, they asked her, “What does that mean?” She looked at them with a loving smile. “You already know all the secrets I have to tell. The best way to teach this many people is through stories. For those who understand, they will be given more understanding. But those who don’t understand, what little understanding they have will be wasted. So whatever I do or say they won’t understand, but rather think that I mean what they say.” She opened her arms wide to them and smiled. “You are all so lucky! You get to hear what kings, presidents, and prophets wanted to hear.”

She went on to explain the story to them.

Okay, here is what it means. The food is the what the Divine has to say to the Divine’s people. The cooks are those who study it. The first cook is someone who has only studied a little and tries to use what they know, but fails. The second is one who has studied but completely misses the point of what they have studied. The third is one who has studied and understands, but gets the message mixed up with all manner of bad thinking. The last are those who study, understand, and keep studying so as to always prepare what the Divine is saying for others to consume easily. Nobody when turning on a light puts a bowl over it, or hides it so that it cannot light the room. No they make sure it gives the most light to make the room bright and welcoming. The truth will always find a way out. Those who study will always bring the truth of what the Divine is saying. Don’t ever think you’ve done enough study. For those who begin to understand, more understanding will be given.

One day, Esperanza and the group decided to go out on a rental yacht to do some fishing and relaxing in the Gulf of Mexico. As the day went on they were having a great time and Esperanza fell asleep in the cabin of the yacht. A great thunderstorm developed and began to pummel the yacht. It was being tossed from side to side. The pumps failed and the bottom of the yacht began to fill. with water. Peter and Iago went to wake Esperanza. “Teacher, We are all going to die!” She groggily woke up and made her way to the deck of the yacht. She looked around and yelled out “STOP!” Just then the rocking slowed and the winds stopped. The clouds parted and the sun shone once more. She looked at her group and smiled, “Why are you afraid?” She patted Peter on the shoulder went back into the cabin and promptly fell back asleep. The group marveled at this. “How did she do that?”

They docked later that day off South Padre Island. There at the docks, she was met by an addict. His clothes were ripped and stained and he looked like he hadn’t had a good meal in months. When he saw Esperanza he cried out and knelt before her. “Why are you here, Daughter of the Divine?” He twitched a bit and scratched the back of his neck. “Are you here to torture me?!” She took his hand in hers and looked him in the eye. “What is your name?”  He said, “They call me tweak, because I take everything. Please don’t make me stop, it’s all I have. Just send me to prison, they have good stuff there.” At this, she lifted him to his feet and gave him a hug. She whispered in his ear and suddenly he transformed in front of their eyes. His body stopped convulsing and his mind seemed free. She looked him in the eye again. “The prison system will not help you, they hurt those like you more than help. Come let us get you a good meal and some clothes, you can tell me about why you feel that drugs are all you have.” They went and had a lovely dinner after they bought the man some new clothes and gave him the opportunity to clean up. He told them all about his life and his losses. About struggling with PTSD after he returned from the service in Iraq. He told them about how the VA was so backed up they couldn’t help him and the only thing that calmed the rage in his head was the drugs. But that rage was gone now. He seemed like much calmer person. When it had come time for the group to leave, he begged to come with them. Esperanza smiled comfortingly and shook her head. “You have more important things to do here. You are no longer needed as a soldier. Instead, your family, your community, and this world needs you as who you are now. Go find that your place is here among those who need you now as you are.”

When the group returned to Leakey there was a great crowd that had gathered to greet them. One of the Rabbi’s named Jeremy came and fell at Esperanza’s feet. He wept bitterly saying, “My daughter is dying. She has cancer. We… We’ve been to every oncologist and they can’t do anymore. Please, I’m desperate.” She went with him and the crowd followed. As they were going there was a man who fought Leukemia for many years. He had suffered through doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment, remission, and reappearance for more than seven years. He had spent all that he had on doctors and treatments. He now lived on the streets as he could no longer afford treatment or housing. He heard reports about Esperanza and came up behind her in the crowd. He reached out and brushed her jacket. He thought, “If I touch even the hem of her clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately he could feel the fresh blood coursing through his veins. Esperanza, feeling that power had gone out from her, immediately turned and looked around. “Who touched my jacket?” Philip said to her, “Uh there are tons of people here, we are kind of crowded?” The man knowing what had been done to him came ashamed and raised his hand. She looked at him and smiled. “Because you believed, you have been healed. Go, be free.”  At that moment Jeremy’s phone rang. He answered, and began to shake. The phone call was his wife telling him that their daughter was dead. Esperanza placed a hand on his shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’ll make it better.” She told the crowd to stay behind only Jeremy, Iago, John, and Peter were allowed to come. When they arrived at Jeremy’s house there were many family members weeping. She looked at them and said, “Don’t cry, she isn’t dead, but sleeping.” They grew visibly angry at this but Jeremy held them off by holding up a hand. Esperanza turned and went to the daughter’s room. She took her hand and said, “Child, get up.” Just then she got up looked at Esperanza who ushered her back to the front rooms. There she saw her mother and family. She said in a groggy voice, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” At this, the crowd gasped. Esperanza told them all to say nothing about this event.

<  Chapter 8 Chapter 10  >

 

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The Honest Faith: Sin

Speaking of definitions, let’s go back to the start. What makes Christians, Christians? For many the ideas of St. Paul speak to this in the book of Romans, especially the 3rd chapter. In it, there is that phrase that most will repeat out of context “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God”. From there most would immediately point to another work by St. Paul, Ephesians 2. “For by Grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Finally, the coup de gras, going to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. So we know that there is this idea that we are all sinners, and therefore we need Jesus to believe in him to save us from the consequences of sin. That’s the basic idea of Christendom right? So what is sin?

If we go back to the original languages, Greek and Biblical Hebrew, we have a term that is used for spear throwing and archery. In Greek, we have hamartia which means to miss the mark. This term was often used for spear throwing and meant to miss the target altogether. The Hebrew word, hata, is an archery term for missing the “bullseye” but still hitting the target. In Latin, sine, which the English word sin may have come from, means without or alone, by oneself. This last one is a bit odd since the Greek word syn means together or sun. So what does it mean to be a sinner then? Does it mean that we miss the mark? What mark? What bullseye should we be aiming for?

The idea of sin is a transgression against a divine law or command. So if we take this idea and apply it to the teachings of Jesus, we would need to know which laws we needed to keep, correct? So let’s ask Jesus, “What is the most important law or commandment?” “He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’” Luke 10:26-28. So if we are to take Jesus at his word here love is the target we are aiming at. Love is the greatest law and commandment. Love for both God and our Neighbor.

Before I get too much further I need to put a little disclaimer. For those of you who have read my work before, I know this is much more Bible-y than I normally get. Bare with me. For those of you who may be reading for the first time, or maybe not. I just have to say, I understand. I was there once. I know how scary it can be too closely examine tightly held beliefs. I know that it feels like the top of Pandora’s box, that if you take just a little peek it will unleash all sorts of evils into your soul. I know that fear. I had that fear. I know all about Pascal’s wager. I know all about the horrors of hell. I know. I see you. I hear that small guilty voice in your head. It spoke to me once too. It tells you that, “if you do this you will be alone. Nobody will love you. You don’t matter.” I get it. I’m not asking for you to get rid of your faith. I’m not asking you to become a heretic. I’m not asking you to throw everything to the wind. All I ask is one question. “What if I’m wrong?”

This thought has come to me in many different ways over the course of my life. One of my earliest memories that haunts me is of street “witnessing” with my youth group when I was a punk know-it-all jackass teen trying to convince some guy outside a gas station of his need for God. What if I was wrong? What if he already found God? Did I cause him to have less of a relationship with the Divine? Then in college when I was taking Bible courses and learning deeply about what the Bible really said. I thought, “What if I was wrong about all this stuff before?” letting go of tightly held beliefs was painful and difficult. But it freed me to learn more. It freed me to find a God that loved more deeply and fully than I could have possibly imagined before. Still, the question remains for me for almost everything, “What if I’m wrong?”

So let’s apply that to this topic. What if we’ve been wrong about sin? Yes, I understand it is the need for God and the fact that all humans are imperfect and we don’t get things right. What if we are wrong about our focus on it? Have you ever considered that? One of my prompts for this was someone asking me about atonement. I wrote an article about it, which I don’t know if it will be published or not. But, I thought a lot about it. Did God set up this cosmic need for a sacrifice in case someone screwed up? Why? Why would God do that if God was all knowing, all powerful, and all loving? God had to know someone was going to screw up eventually, right? I read through many different theories on the atonement. I read about how it all came back to this idea of a transactional idea of cosmic justice that is based on very human ideas. I even read about Jewish sacrifice.

The ancient Judaic tradition of Sacrifice and Offering is not really the same concept that many have of it now. Many people picture half naked muscle bound priests chanting in an unintelligible language raising a ritualistic sword or dagger over a poor defenseless child or animal. Dark and dirty scenes from famous movies flash into the mind like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where a shaman is chanting one of the names of the god Kali before he plucks the heart of the human sacrifice from his chest. Yeah, sacrifice was never really done that way or meant that way, to begin with. If we go way back we see the sacrifices brought to God by Cain and Able. There is this whole thing where the animal was more appropriate than the veggies thing, and something gets lost in translation. In fact, the sacrifice ritual was never meant as the cleansing in and of itself. Tracy Rich from the website JewFAQ.com puts it this way, “qorbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.” The act itself didn’t remove the sin or even clean the person; it was the act of doing something because we as human beings are wired that way. We feel as if we need to do something in order to gain full forgiveness from God or even the person we wronged.

So the whole idea of the atonement got to be mixed up in this idea that we were “cleansed by the blood of the lamb”. No, that’s not the case. The case is that God forgave us for everything up on that cross. Jesus said before that, we are already forgiven. So this brings me around to the question of sin. What if we were wrong? What if sin doesn’t matter anymore. What really matters is how we treat each other, the world, and everything given to us. Jesus wasn’t our scapegoat. Jesus didn’t take care of things just so we could squander everything we have and take advantage of it and people. No! That is what Paul talks about in Romans 6. The point was that we needed to take responsibility for our own actions. Fess up to the wrongs that we did, and try to make them better. We see that in the Qorbanot. We see that in the Christian Bible. Sin was not the thing we needed to worry about, it was a symptom of the fact that, you know what, we are bad human beings.

We got so focused on sin we lost sight of what really mattered. We forgot to love our fellow man, our world, and everything in it. We forgot what it meant to love. We got mixed up in this idea of morality and ridding ourselves of “sin”, contrived or not,  that we forgot what Jesus told us was most important. LOVE. Love God, love others, and love yourself. That’s it. Jesus didn’t mention be sinless in that. No, in fact, that’s what the people who asked were looking for. So maybe missing the mark is just practice at trying to be a better human being. It doesn’t matter if we sin because God already took care of that. What matters is that we love and we live, and we do it to the fullest. We need to show the world, all creatures, and human beings alike, that they are not alone, they matter to us. Just as you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone. You matter to me.

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The Story of Esperanza Reyes: Chapter 8

Chapter 8:

As Esperanza and her group returned to Leakey, a police officer approached the group. Some were filled with fear at this. The officer approached Esperanza he said, “Miss, my son… He’s lying paralyzed at home. I think he’s becoming sicker. I need help.” At this, he began weeping and hiding his face.  Esperanza put her arm around him and comforted him, ” I will come and heal him.”

The Officer looked sternly at her, “You don’t have to come, I’m not ordering you or anything. I just… Just say a word and he will be healed. I know it. I just do.” At this Esperanza looked at him with amazement. She turned back to her group and said this, “In all of my travels I don’t think I have met someone who believed in me as much as this man.” She smirked, Peter pulled out his phone and began to record, “I tell you many will gather at the table and see those they have not listened to but should have. You will see that had you listened, you may have believed like this man does.” She turned to the officer, “Go home, your son is healed.” At that very moment, the officer’s phone rang. He answered and immediately collapsed in a joyful weep. He looked up through tear welled eyes and managed, “Thank you!”

Shortly following that encounter, Esperanza and her group were in a city called Brady. There was a large crowd gathered as she yet again went viral. As they were walking down the street there was funeral moving out of a church. The pallbearers were carrying out a coffin of a young man. This young man was the only child of a woman who had been widowed. There was a large crowd with her as her son was killed in the line of duty while serving in the military abroad. When Esperanza saw her, she had compassion on her and said, “I understand. I’m so sorry.” She went and touched the coffin, the pallbearers stopped where they were. She said, “Young man, get up it is not your time.” Just then the coffin rattled. The pallbearers set it down and backed away in fear. He opened the coffin and sat up. A large gasp of fear went through the crowd. He rubbed his eyes, and looked at his mother. He asked, “Why are you crying?” Esperanza slowly retreated and left. The crowd began asking after her, “Where did this woman come from? How is she able to raise the dead? This is certainly the end times!” The story spread far and wide. Many questioned the validity of this story. Many took it to mean all manner of things.

Some of Juan’s followers found Esperanza in Brady. They asked her, “Are you the Messiah, or should we be looking for someone else?” They had asked her this question after her lesson and had seen her sit with many following the lesson hearing, healing, and sharing with those who gathered. She smiled at them and said, “Go tell my cousin what you heard and saw here. You saw those who have been paralyzed walk again, the blind regain their sight, those with Auto-immune diseases cured, the dead raised, addicts cleansed, and the poor fed and given a chance to succeed. These people are amazing for not taking offense at the things that I have said and done.”

After Juan’s followers left Esperanza spoke again to those gathered about her cousin: “What did you expect when you went out to see him? Were you expecting something grander? Were you expecting the spectacle of it all? There is more spectacle at the white house. There is more spectacle on television. What then did you want from him? A prophet? Yes, that he is. I tell you not a person alive or dead is greater. Though even the least of those in the Kingdom of the Divine are greater than he is. For all that has come before we have witnessed people trying to bring about the kingdom by force. There are those who try to force themselves into the Kingdom, but I tell you he knows the way. He taught about it. Those who listened to him know all are welcome in the Kingdom, no force is needed.”

When they heard this many turned to each other. There were still many gathered. Many who were considered sinners and unworthy. There were many in the LGBTQ community. There were drug dealers, prostitutes, porn stars, and more who had been shunned by even the most accepting of Jesuit churches and communities. They turned and rejoiced because they had been symbolically cleansed by Juan. Though there were still priests and rabbis who were gathered. They rejected what Esperanza had to say because it threatened the power systems that benefitted them.

Esperanza continued, “How should I put it? Many these days act like children pointing fingers and mocking those they disagree with. For Juan, who did not go out eating and partying with others and led a life that was ‘Holy’ they said he was from the devil. For me, who goes and eats and drinks with all of you they call me fat-ass and a drunk, a bleeding heart liberal snowflake! Though you can really see who is wise, and who isn’t.”

Soon afterward, She traveled on throughout the hill country of Texas meeting, talking to, and healing many. She brought the good news that all were loved by the Divine. The twelve were with her. There were also some others who had become close friends, these were some who had been set free from addictions and illnesses. There was Mary who spent the most time with Esperanza, as she had said Esperanza gave her life back to her. Chad was also with them, he was the husband to Joanna, the assistant to the Governor of Texas. There was a gender queer person named Sam, and many others who also accompanied the group on many journeys.

While Esperanza was giving a lesson to a large group of people, her family had come to see her. Sam had come up to her during the lesson and told her, “Your mother, father, and siblings are here and asking to speak with you.” She took the opportunity to use it in her lesson, “Who is my family?” She looked out at the crowd gathered and motioned to them. “Here, this is my family. Everyone who loves their fellow man, everyone who cares for the life they have been given, and the world they live in; they are my family. For when we care for what we have been given, we are connected.”

<  Chapter 7  |  Chapter 9  >

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The Honest Faith: Definition

Update: I have received feedback that people may interpret that I am saying I am a prophet and that my truth is the objective truth. That was not my intention. My intention was to say, much like prophets of old I am interpreting the patterns and finding what may seem true to me. That like everything else should be weighed and measured with what is perceivable and knowable elsewhere. This is to say, we as human beings are bad at divining truth all the time, so let’s try to err on the side of love for all of creation.

So as not to fall into the standard cliche of writing by starting with what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines some word as, I’ll let you do the looking. Over the past few weeks, and months I’ve been writing about finding my way to the real definition of my faith. I’ve encountered some resistance, I’ve even felt very alone in my quest. I’ve had those who tried to tell me my struggle was of my own making, I don’t listen to those voices anymore. I’m struck by how the search for clarity has become a taboo or even offensive proposition. When did truth become an expletive?

We’ve all read and shared articles about “Fake” and misleading news becoming a trend. We’ve participated in the virality of works that added to the echo chamber of our own opinion. We are all guilty of the sin of not listening to opposing voices. Now I’m not saying that blocking or not listening to the voices that attack you is a sin. Not at all. That is a bit of self-preservation because after all, you matter. I’m saying the purposeful, and blatant pushing aside actual conversation so as to prove one’s point. The ignoring of opposing views so as to remain in one’s own protected reality. I would think many could accuse me of doing such, however, I do invite conversation and opposing views when they are presented in a manner that is constructive and without ill intent. If you have seen the difference, you know the difference. Though we have all been guilty of this, even me.

I’ve written before about how I am interested in the evolution of words and language. I find it interesting how when a word is used to mean a different thing than its original meaning that it doesn’t evolve right away. It is with constant use and reinforcing of that words new meaning that it evolves into that meaning. Take the word prophecy, for instance. It is just meant to mean the utterance of a prophet. A prophet is more often than not, a trusted religious advisor who seems to be able to see what a Divine being has going on for certain things. What is interesting is that you have prophets throughout history who disagree with each other. Even in the bible, you have contradictory prophets and prophecies. Many times it is over what should or should not be done in the case of national matters. Yet, recently, the word prophecy has come to have another definition which makes it synonymous with “Fortune Telling”. Which has, in turn, evolved prophets into this idea of sooth sayers and predictors of future events. I use this as my example because I had a great Professor in college who taught a class on the prophetic books of the Christian Bible. In his very first class, he had the lights turned off and the shades were drawn. He had candles lighting the front of the classroom, with new age music playing in the background and a crystal ball adorning his desk. He came in and started drawing lines on the whiteboard which made him look like Charlie Day in that Meme that has become popular. This was all build up for him to say, false. These prophecies were not spoken or written to tell the future, but we interpreted them as such because we view them through the lens of the future. Some happened, others didn’t yet they were speaking to a certain time, to a certain people, and were not meaning forward looking except maybe by a few years.

I loved that class. It was one of my favorites in college because it taught me more about exegesis than most of my other Bible courses. I learned how to read a prophecy within the historical context, and how that could be used later to believe it was future telling. Granted, from my upbringing I have always thought fortune tellers were a bunch of hogwash and occultism. I wanted to be a prophet myself, though I didn’t know what that really meant. I wanted to interpret what God had for the world and be the ‘Holy’ equivalent for those future tellers. For some reason that was not hogwash? I wanted to be the Gandalf the White Wizard of modern Christianity. Needless to say, I think I did become a prophet, however, it was nothing like I thought.

Prophecy was about divining definition from the patterns of everything around us to speak truth to a situation. Though, what I didn’t realize was that people don’t like the truth. The truth may set you free, but it is also painful to realize how wrong you may have been. Prophecy was not sooth saying, but rather truth saying. It was due to this that many prophets met with horrible ends. They suffered many atrocities for the truth that they spoke. Some spoke for kings and rulers, some spoke against kings and rulers. All spoke up when they saw wrong happening. All suffered in order to prevent wrong from continuing. I tried and still do try to speak truth to power. I still see part of my duty is to prophesy about those wrongs that I see happening.

I use this in my example of definition because we have developed the inability to listen to the truth. We keep waiting for a supernatural occurrence, pattern or sign to show us what the truth is, instead of listening to those who may speak it around us. Not that I’m always speaking the truth, I fail a lot. I’m a human being. It happens. Though if you notice none of the prophets was anything more than human. They just interpreted patterns. Some of them got some things right, all failed from time to time. They were human. It happens. We attributed a higher meaning to their words or actions because we viewed them through the lens of the future. (short aside, Nostradamus I think was just a crazy guy who saw some wild patterns that happened to get some things right) Truth can come from anywhere and anything. Some people see patterns differently than others. Many studies for years and years to be able to interpret certain patterns, like weather, science, and astrophysics. Those people are experts for a reason, they studied past patterns and what they meant. So they are able to say with certainty what future patterns would result from current trends. I don’t mean to equate scientists with prophets, just saying that they have more right to speak truth to situations such as massive hurricanes and the cause of them rather than fortune tellers and diviners.

I saw a lot of diviners being given credence recently. In the American continent, we have suffered 4 major natural disasters in as many weeks. 3 Hurricanes and a massive earthquake. Diviners have been saying these are signs from god that the end is here, or that we are being punished for some contrived slight against an assumed moral code. These have been a bit displeasing to me as the evidence clearly points to climate change being a factor for these things happening. Now, sure they could still be signs of such things, but ultimately I think we should take the much bigger hint that we haven’t been great stewards of the earth. That is a much more evident pattern. We ignore what is right in front of us in order to divine a much greater and supernatural meaning to aid us in our complacency? Can there not also be an admittance that you haven’t been that great in taking care of the environment? Can you not also see that climate change is a thing? How is this symbolic message more important than a commandment we received in writing, to use the scripture you so often like to reference? I’m not asking you to go out and wrap your arms around a tree. I’m asking you to take a look at whether or not you’ve been a good steward and what you can do better. That’s simple.

The way we define things is important because we give meaning. As much as we like or dislike something we participate in the act of evolving a word, phrase, statement, or even the way we interpret patterns from the world around us. Those definitions and meanings are important because they can either be used to give life or take it away. We can either help or hurt those around us with what we say and do. We can either contribute to making someone feel alone and like they don’t matter, or we can help with spreading the good news that they are not alone and that they matter. Speaking of which, You reader, are not alone. You matter!

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The Story of Esperanza Reyes: Chapter 7

Chapter 7

One fall Sunday afternoon, Esperanza and her group were at a park. They were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. There was plenty of food and drink for all. Everyone was having a wonderful time. A rabbi and a priest happened by and called Esperanza out from the group to talk to her.

They asked her, “Your friends are drinking on a Sunday, what if someone comes by and takes a picture of that?” She turned and asked them, “Are you more concerned for my friends, or for how they appear? Did you ever read that story about how David was in need and hungry? How did it appear when he and his friends ate the bread that only the Priests were allowed to eat? The weekend was made for human beings to not worry about appearances or anything else but to take time to relax. I suggest you do the same.” She turned and returned to her friends.

On another Sunday, Esperanza was teaching in a large Synagogue in San Antonio. There was a man there who had crippling arthritis. Both hands were worn and shriveled. The priests and rabbi watched her, to see if she would heal the man. They watched her, to see if she made the whole service about her supernatural healing gifts. Esperanza noticed them watching her intently. She looked at the man their eyes kept darting to and she invited him to stand where he was. She turned and looked at the priests and rabbi, “Is it against your religion to stop a service and help someone who is in need? Is it better to go on with the service and let someone suffer, or is it better to stop and help?” They stared back in silence. She turned to the man and asked him to stretch out his hands. As he did the bones set back into place and he bent his fingers without pain for the first time in years. The priests and rabbis left in a big show of storming out, mumbling to themselves about what had just happened and how to destroy her credibility.

After the service, many came from all over Texas to be healed. Esperanza had Peter ready the truck so she may stand in the bed and not be crowded by those that had gathered. She healed all that she could. She talked with each of them until late into the night. Many came seeking healing and someone to notice them. She noticed them all. She saw them right where they were. She saw beyond the masks they wore and disguises they put up to keep others out. She healed not just the physical, but the spiritual and emotional pain as well.

After such a day, she retreated to the hill country. She needed time alone to heal herself. When she returned, she met with those she called friends, who had followed her and become her closest allies. There was Simon who she called Peter, Andres his brother, Iago and his husband John, Philip and Natalie, Levi, Thomas, Jaymee the daughter of Alfredo Jimenez, Sara who was very knowledgeable about religion and texts, Jessica who was Iago and John’s adopted daughter, and Jaime who was the the one who turned Esperanza in.

As Esperanza’s story went more and more viral, more and more people came to hear her speak. She had to start holding lessons in large auditoriums and convention centers. She would always take the time to sit and talk with those who came, though. Her friends would feed them and take care of those who gathered. One particular Sunday, she gave this lesson:

Great are the poor,
for they own the kingdom of the Divine.

Great are they who weep,
because they understand what it is to suffer.

Great are the meek,
because they will be the great leaders of the Earth.

Great are they that study,
because they will understand that which needs understanding.

Great are the merciful,
because they themselves will recieve it in kind.

Great are those who love and care for others,
for in them is the face of the Divine.

Great are those who make peace,
because they are truly the children of the Divine.

Great are those who get put down or beaten up for doing the right thing,
because they know what the Divine really wants.

Great are you when you encounter difficult times for doing the right thing,
don’t worry about such things because you did what was right and good. Many people will say and do horrible things to you, but don’t stop doing what is right. Love even those who do such things, be kind to them who hate you. When they go low, take the high road. It will show them that you are human, and thus you should be treated. If you only love those who love you, how does that make a difference? If you only give to those who have “earned it”, how has that made a difference? Love your enemies, be kind, and give freely expecting nothing in return. That will show that you are one with the Divine. Be merciful, even as the Divine is merciful.

Don’t judge people. Don’t condemn people without knowing them. Forgive people. Give freely! Why do you want to judge people without knowing them or even yourself at all! How can you judge someone when you have so much wrong with yourself as well? Work on your own faults, and don’t worry about what other people are working on.

Do good! Be known for doing good! For a good tree gives good fruit. So should you give good things. Be the apple tree of good. Give good apples to all who need of them. The good person out of good treasure of his heart produces good. Everyone who does good to his fellow man is strong and can weather anything.

But to you who are rich, you have already won your prize.

To you who have eaten your fill, you will be hungry one day.

To you who laugh at others, you will suffer one day.

To you who appear to have it all together, watch out because the truth will come out.

You who injure those who do the right thing, who do good, you are shaky at best. You can’t weather the storms that are coming. When you are in need it is these who will be the ones who help you, they will not turn you away like you did to them. So get it together. You only claim to do good to appear good. If you have no intention of being good, why do you pretend? When we are with the Divine many of you will say that you were good and were kind and loving, yet you be found lacking a single good deed.

After this lesson, Esperanza again spoke with many, healed many, and was present with all who wished her company. In early evening Esperanza and her group returned to Leakey to again stay at Peter’s house.

<  Chapter 6  |  Chapter 8  >

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The Honest Faith: Old God or New God

If you haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s book “American Gods”, or even turned on a television in years, or watched any movies in the last few years, you probably aren’t familiar with this trope that is developing. There is a story concept that is making its way into media now where gods battle each other. They pit the old gods (usually the protagonists) against the new gods (usually the antagonist). This also dominates stories that you may not have thought of in that way. This is where many superhero movies are going now, with Civil War, Batman v Superman, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Wonder Woman, to a lesser extent Spiderman: homecoming, and so on using this trope. The difference in Gaiman’s work is that he does what only Gaiman can, he incorporates the importance of story into the tale.

Story in itself is extremely important. It is how human beings communicate. We tell a story with everything that we do. Sometimes our actions tell a truer story than our words could ever do. Sometimes we are better with words than actions. That is why some of us write. I know that I am not especially great at writing, but I do what I can. I write how I speak, and to me that makes sense. That is primarily why I started recording the audio versions of this blog. Our stories are what unite us as people. Countries and kingdoms have formed around a united story. Ours formed around a story of freedom from misrepresentation. Christian’s have a unified story of following the God-man Jesus. There are differences in that story for many which is why there are so many different churches. Everything tells a story.

The context of a story is also very important. For instance, I can say “Jack ran”. Great, that could mean any number of things. Jack could be really into fitness. Jack could be trying to get back into shape. Jack could be running for the hell of it. Jack could be chased by something. Jack could be metaphorically running away from his problems. Jack could be running to catch a plane, train, taxi, car, bus, or a piece of paper that flew away from him. Why is Jack running? In my imagination, Jack is running from a bear, silly Jack.  Even then there would be more to the story. Where did Jack encounter the bear? Why is Jack silly? Does he not know what to do when encountering a bear? Do you know what to do when encountering a bear? How has your experience shaped what you thought Jack was doing when he was running?

In school, I learned the difference between two words. First, eisegesis which is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. Second, exegesis which is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly a religious text. When I was in those classes, even though I was in college, it sounded like they were different names for Jesus. Like Superman and bizarro-Superman; Iso-Jesus, the equalizer Jesus, and Exo-Jesus, the outsider Jesus. The more I learned the more I discovered how much I was taught to eisegete Scripture rather than exegete. I read what I wanted to read, not what the author had intended. I realized I had elevated the Bible to Godlike status and was subconsciously worshiping a quaternity; the Bible, God the parent, Jesus, and the holy spirit. I realized that some of the passages I had memorized meant something completely different than what I was using them for. This was early in my college career and it made me never want to study anymore for fear that I would lose my faith. The funny thing is, the more I learned the more it deepened my faith.

I have been accused recently of being hateful. There is a problem in that. I don’t carry hate for anything except for injustice, greed, and evil. I will admit to the fact that I am angry. However, anger does not equate to hate. I am angry at actions that are being committed in the Divine’s name. I’m angry that people are supporting those who claim to be champions for the Divine, yet only worship themselves or Mammon. I wrote a political post last week. I wrote it because I was angry. I still am. I can’t stand to see others wallowing in hate for other people, and creations. It does make me mad, as it made Jesus mad. There is a whole story about turning over tables remember? Oh yeah, and God has a weird thing about figs. People have tried to say that I am the one who is bringing hate to the table. Nope, that’s not my story. I’m angry. I’m angry at the injustice, greed, corruption, and evil that I am seeing being allowed to take root in the story of our country and faith.

My fascination with the old god vs. new god trope is that I’m seeing it play out in reality as well. If you take a good look at any religion you see these distorted new gods popping up. In Christianity, you see this new version of Jesus that I’ve talked about in the last few weeks. This new Jesus is more the son of Mammon than of the Divine. This new Jesus is the Exo-Jesus, not that he is one with the outsiders, but that he is outside the Bible. This is the Jesus with long conditioned hair, a beauty pageant sash, holding a lamb, and looks like he is about to attend a Phish concert. The irony of Exo-Jesus is that he was created by eisegesis. People read into the Bible what they wanted to read. They made passages fit their worldview and twisted sense of morality. This Jesus hated the sins that made these people feel dirty and so they made Jesus in their image.

On the other hand, you have Iso-Jesus. He is the great equalizer. I found him while I was doing exegesis of the gospels. He fought against power systems. He loved people. He wouldn’t exclude them because he thought they were icky due to a sin He didn’t understand. He didn’t care about sin. The ones he cared about were things that kept you from loving or caring about people. I’ve been asking you to read my work without adding yourself into it. I invite you to re-read the gospels. This time do it without adding yourself into the story. It’s tough. Maybe you’ll find this Iso-Jesus. Maybe I found him because I did read a bit of what I wanted to read, I hope not though.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been trying to write a story to make the Gospels understandable. I kept it quiet because I didn’t want people calling me a heretic, or trying to burn me at the stake due to writing it. Mainly I’ve been writing the Messiah as a woman, and a Mexican-American in modern day Texas. I’ve been doing this because I want to have a story that is easier to understand in today’s world. I want to show what Iso-Jesus looks like to me and maybe, just maybe, I can somehow see the old God win over this new god through it. I know it’s something that has been done before, but it was a story I needed to tell. If you haven’t started it, start it, and let me know what you think. You can find the Story of Esperanza here.

Maybe I’m reading too much into things. Maybe I’m angry over perceived slights. I could be, but honestly, I want to err on the side of love. I’d rather be angry over injustices that don’t exist, rather than pretend they aren’t there if they do exist. I used the design I made as my featured image this week because it is my story in one picture. It is the reason I love both the story of Quetzalcoatl and the story of Jesus. They both spilled blood for humanity out of their love for them. They are the old gods of my ancestors on both sides of my family. Quetzalcoatl is actually my birth deity in Aztec tradition. I was baptized as a Christian after my birth as well. Both are a part of my ancestry. Both are stories that I want to be told of my life. That I loved people so much I was willing to even to give my own life. What do you want to be said of you? What stories make you who you are? Do you follow Exo-Jesus or Iso-Jesus? Whatever your answers are, I want you to know that you are not alone, you matter!

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The Story of Esperanza Reyes: Chapter 6

Chapter 6

After word had spread about Esperanza she became a sensation. People would come from all over just to hear her speak. There was one time in Leakey, that the crowd had become so large that Esperanza was forced to find some place to stand just so that she could be heard. She climbed on the back of a pickup truck for the nearby construction company. She asked the owner of the truck to pull out a little, and she taught the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck.

After she was done with her lessons she walked around to the side of the truck and spoke to the owner and his passenger. “Thank you so much for allowing me to use your truck. In return, I know of a plot of land that is looking for a contractor to build a building just on the other side of that wall over there.” They looked at her incredulously, “We just got fired from this very construction site, and you say there is another on the other side of the wall?” Simon and Andres got out of the truck and the three of them walked around the wall together. They saw there was a large sign advertising a condominium complex being built. The owner of the plot of land was just beside the sign looking at the grounds. Simon introduced himself and struck up a conversation with the owner. They worked out a contract for well more than they were being paid for the previous job. When Simon returned to Esperanza and Andres, his face was flush. “I don’t know how you knew, or how that happened, but thank you. I am not worthy to even shake your hand.” She just smiled and said, “Follow me.”

She walked back with the men around the wall. Two more of Simon’s construction crew were still there, Iago and his husband John. Iago and John were known as the sons of thunder for their loud boisterous personalities. Simon loudly exclaimed to the group, “Come, we are buying this amazing person a beer tonight!” They all loaded up the equipment and headed off to drop it off at the company lot and return to the pub.

At the pub, Esperanza was having a grand time with the guys from the construction company. They had discussed how Simon got the company started and how he had persevered through many difficulties. Iago brought up the old Chevy commercials and how they used to say, “Like a Rock”, he described Simon in that way. He had been the steady companion and greatest boss they ever had working tirelessly not just for his business but for his employees. Esperanza turned to him and raised a glass, “From now on you shall be called Peter, for you are our rock!”

Many other patrons saw the joyous celebration in the pub. It brought life to many lives that night. A female to male trans man named Philip recognized Esperanza from her lesson earlier. He approached the group to thank her for the amazing lesson she taught. Esperanza invited him to join them, Philip asked if his friend Natalie could join them. He pointed over to a tall tattooed woman standing by the bar. She had purple undercut hair and was facing the bar. John laughed and said loudly, “The more the merrier!” Philip went and retrieved Natalie. Philip said to her, “She and those guys with her are the real deal! She has a real connection with the divine. She is the daughter of Maria and Jose from Durango, Mexico.” Natalie turned incredulous, “Can anything good come from Mexico?” Philip said to her, “Come and see.”

Esperanza greeted her with a hug, “This is an honest woman!” Natalie taken aback a bit, said, “How do you know?” Esperanza said, “Before Philip called you, I saw you at the bar.” Just then Natalie saw in Esperanza’s eyes a light that could not be explained. This brought understanding and peace with it. Natalie’s eyes began to well up, “You… You are her, aren’t you? You are the Messiah!” Esperanza’s grin grew large. She laughed a bit as she said, “Because I said I saw you at the bar you believe in me?” Esperanza put an arm around her shoulder and turned her toward the group. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

After their night at the pub, they all returned to Peter’s house. They laughed and had a lovely night well into the small hours of the morning. They all slept on the sofas in the great room. Peter was the first one awake as his wife had come to tell him of her mother not feeling well. Esperanza awoke too. and couldn’t help but hear what was going on. Before they left the room Esperanza went over to them and asked if she could visit with Peter’s mother in law. Claire agreed and they all went upstairs to the room she was staying in. Rena was in the bed and definitely did not look well. She saw Esperanza and gave her a weak smile. Esperanza went up to her side of the bed and extended her hand in a friendly gesture. As Rena took the hand it was if life radiated from her hand to the rest of her body. Strength filled her frame and she got up out of bed. She hugged Esperanza and said, “You must be hungry. Come, I’m making breakfast.” True to her word, Rena went down to the kitchen and made breakfast for the entire group.

Claire posted on social media about the miraculous recovery of her mother. The post immediately went viral and those all over the hill country of Texas began to travel to Leaky so that their loved ones may be healed by this Esperanza. By evening there was a line of cars that stretched for more than a mile. Esperanza was not put off by this, she went to each individual vehicle and spoke with the occupants meeting, and greeting many. There were many who had cancers, auto-immune disorders, STI’s, and even those who had addictions and mental health issues. Those with addictions would often look at her with recognition, but she would often tell them it was not the time to tell the world who she was yet. She again stayed with Peter, the group had not left. In fact, they intended to follow Esperanza, and she would have it no other way.

The next day, they all set out to Kerrville. In Kerrville, there was a man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder approached Esperanza. The man fell to his knees in front of her. “Please, take this away from me! I can’t anymore. I can’t live like this.” Esperanza looked with compassion and empathy at the man. She lifted him up and hugged him. His face showed the relief that washed over him in that moment. His brain had been freed. She spoke to him, “Do not tell anyone, instead go and speak to your therapist. See a psychologist and get a clean bill of health.” The man took a long look at her and ran off he immediately posted on social media about what had happened. The word again went viral and the town became flooded with vehicles. Esperanza and the group had to go out to a nearby field in order to give the lessons she had prepared for the day.

The field was packed. People from all over the Texas hill country showed up. Priests and Rabbi from Austin and San Antonio were also in attendance. The people stretched far and wide. The group put up a small stage with a PA system in the middle of the field so that Esperanza could be seen by all. During this time there was a teenaged boy who had been diagnosed with AIDS. He was not doing well and his friends had wanted to bring him before Esperanza. When they arrived they saw no way of bringing him through the crowd to her. They spotted a news crew nearby who were preparing four large drones to carry heavy camera equipment. The friends gathered their money and paid the crew to use the drones to bring the boy to Esperanza. When she saw the makeshift medi-vac she smiled. They landed him in front of her and she said to him, “Your friends must really love you, be well my boy.” The priests and rabbis began to murmur. “She can’t just take illness away. This boy has sinned, or his parents have sinned, that’s why he’s sick! God made him ill for a reason!” Esperanza hearing this murmuring turned to the crowd. “What would you have me say? ‘Go and sin no more?'” She turned to the boy and with a sarcastic grin on her face gave the boy a look that said, “Whatever”. Then she said very sarcastically, “Go and sin no more my boy.” He got up and took the gurney down from the drones and pushed it back to his friends. All who were there remarked later, “We saw some weird things today.”

As the crowd was clearing out. Esperanza saw a woman she knew as the owner of a local LGBTQ bar, named Laura. She said to her, “Come, follow me.”  She took a look at Esperanza’s group and said, “The hell with it, I got nothing better to do.” Laura invited the group to her bar and they had an amazing party that night. The Priests and Rabbi rumored about Esperanza’s group. “She parties with sinners and unbelievers!” Esperanza heard of these rumors and spoke out on social media. “I didn’t come for the people who didn’t want my help. These people want my help.” There were many replies about how they were not true followers or real Jesuits. Esperanza again spoke out against this on social media, “How can you criticise those you don’t even know? What about your own lives, are they so spotless. If people really knew you would they say the same about you?”

<  Chapter 5  |  Chapter 7  >

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