NOTHING

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 & 23 — New Revised Standard Version

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless…

NOTHING

NOTHING THAT IS NOT
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

There is a difference between
nothing and Nothing.
I mean a lowercase nothing
and a capitalized Nothing.
The kind of nothing that is
empty and desolate
and the kind of Nothing that
is deep and warm and
kind of sparkly.
One nothing is like a desert
prickly and dry and a barren wasteland.
The other lush and full
and verdant and fecund.
I am thinking about prayer.
Prayer as emptying.
Prayer as letting go.
Prayer as absolutely Nothing
Before I continue let’s
consider God for a bit.
How we pray depends entirely
upon our image of God.
So, what is your image of God?
What is mine?
Is one image of God better than another?
Thinking of God as a traffic director,
or a Santa Claus, or a Great Sugar Daddy,
or a dealer in physical commodities
who therefore doles out
alms, charity, handouts, subsidies,
stipends, welfare,
or quick fixes in times of disaster,
or physical healings,
or the goodies we most want,
may not be the most fruitful way to consider God
in terms of our spiritual growth.
Thinking of God as one who companions,
who walks with, who suffers with,
through Whom we gather
wisdom and insights
and in Whom we find solace and comfort
is another.
The Nothing of which I write comes
from this latter consideration of God.
Begging God for stuff and health and life
does not grow us.
This is praying from our brains
and it is a form of surface prayer.
Asking God to show us more of God
is a sure bet to discover the very
necessities we need.
Deep prayer is a means
to start learning about
and understanding and knowing God
at the deepest level of our souls.
We generally tend to think about God
in negative terms—
terrible things happen to me
because God wants me to learn a lesson.
God watches me and knows when I do wrong
and will punish me for it.
God killed God’s son so I can be saved
from a fiery hell that God has created
for us to go if we don’t follow God.
These are all ways that we create a God
that is untrustworthy and treacherous.
The Idea of God as a loving God
and as a God who actually cares for us
more than God cares for
God’s own weak and needy ego
takes a hit with this kind of
negative God-thinking.
In deep prayer we learn of a God
that is tender, nurturing,
generous, and patient.
We learn of a God that loves, just loves.
We also discover that this loving God
will transform us if we will learn to pray
without expectations, or demands.
If we will learn to come to God
with an open soul,
then this open soul
can learn and discover—God.
So how do we do that?
How can we learn to
pray without begging,
pray without expecting,
pray with an open soul?
Over the rest of October
I am going to answer these questions,
but for now I will offer that
the first step
in this kind of praying is
learning to sit in silence—
earn to love solitude.
The second step
is sit with patience before God.
The third step
is to trust God with our open souls.
The fourth step
is to learn to listen with our soul.
The last step
is to let go to our
preconceived notions of God.
The step after the last step
is to begin the steps again
understanding that there
really are no steps.

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RACISM 101b, White Fragility

Acts 10:34-36 “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.
Matthew 7:12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
Matthew 25:41-46 ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Racism 101b

WHITE FRAGILITY
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Speaking to the white people, here:
When did you first realize you were “white”?
When did you first realize that “whiteness”
had privilege just on the basis of “whiteness”?
It was May 26, 1966, for me.
My daughter, Shannon,
had been born the day before
and I had gone into a liquor store
to buy a box of cigars to pass out.
I turned away from the register and
saw there were six
black men looking at me,
and I had this overwhelming
sense of “whiteness,”
mixed in with a strong
portion of fear,
and I said,
“Hey, it’s a girl!!!”
and passed out some cigars.
They all grinned shook my hand,
took a cigar
and congratulated me.
I was still white when I walked out,
and they were still black,
but in some small way
I had been transformed by the experience.
I am white.
I am male.
I have a higher-than-average degree.
I have privilege
and access
and entitlement
and class status—
not because of me
but simply
because of the color of my skin.
Everyone
who has whiteness of skin
has this privilege—everyone—
and without really doing anything special,
except just being white.
It’s called “White Privilege,”
and it is something that
white people,
consciously or unconsciously,
feel we need to protect.
I have come to believe
that most white people
are addicted
to their own need
to maintain their white privilege
and the entitlements that
come with that privilege,
and we become nervous
and fearful when they are threatened.
We can all be in denial
about that statement
but let’s see if it is true.
This morning I am going to talk
about what is termed, “White Fragility.”
In her book by the same title,
Robin Diangelo states that it is the dynamic
by which white people control
or shut down
any conversation about race
that makes us uncomfortable
or afraid.
In a conversations
about Affirmative Action,
for example,
many times a white person
will shut it down by claiming
that Affirmative Action is just
another way to cheat the system.
Or a white person will attempt
to use the law to try to get
into a school because, of course,
their whiteness
ought to have a chance, too.
In talks about helping the poor
there are some who will attempt
to stop such talk
by proclaiming that people
of one race or another are
lazy, stupid,
and out to get their (the white person’s) share
in one way or another,
steal as much welfare
as they can from the system,
and claim that people of color
are getting more than their
fair share from the system.
Even not using birth control
and breeding more children
for that very purpose.
Many white people,
when seeing the news about
people of color marching,
or protesting, state
that they should just settle down
and let well enough alone.
I have heard white people say
that the “Black Lives Matter” movement is
just more people of color complaining
and think it should be
“all lives” matter, or
“white lives” matter,
or “blue lives” matter,
because people of color
are no better than whites,
never once understanding the real
issues that underly the protests.
Many people of a white complexion
express anger and confusion
when on Cinco de Mayo some Hispanics
fly Mexican flags,
saying that so doing is unamerican
and the flag-flyers ought to
go back to Mexico where they belong.
These are all expressions of White Fragility.
Again, White Fragility is the dynamic
that some white people use to
manipulate and control the conversations
around race in a way that
effectively shuts them down
so whites can feel safer in their whiteness.
White Fragility as a way to control
conversations about racism
is really about the desperation
of white people
who are afraid of losing their place
at a table that they own lock, stock, and barrel,
have complete control of,
even to the crumbs that fall on the floor,
and are still afraid of losing
even the crumbs.
Psychiatrist Gerald May suggests
that we humans are all true addicts
in every sense of the word,
and that an addiction
is not only about substances,
but is about anything that keeps us
from the grace and the pure love
that God has for us.
In this way we white people
can be understood to be addicted
to our whiteness.
It might be hard to admit
but our addiction to whiteness
is devastating
to us as a nation,
to people of color,
to our souls.
We cannot act out our fear
of losing our place at the table
and keep others from having a place there
without doing significant damage
to our own souls.
I believe that the last two texts
in our readings today,
Matthew 7:21
and
Matthew 25:41-46,
speak directly
to the consequences
of our White Fragility.
Not being recognized
by God is significant
to the health of our souls.
The ones who are the least—
the unentitled and unprivileged—
are the very ones
we whites are so afraid of
and fight so hard against
so we can maintain our white privilege.
In the end it is not about protecting
our privilege
or our entitlements,
but about making sure
we share them
with all who ask us to share.
I have had conversations about race,
where many times the retort
is that the notion of racism
is nothing more
than a liberal/progressive’s attempt
at being politically correct.
Just another
“snowflake whining
and trying to control the lives and freedoms
of true Americans.”
My response to that is this:
What you are so derogatorily terming
Political Correctness is, in actuality
offering another human being grace,
feeling empathy for someone else,
and I understand grace
as the ultimate healing
for our White Fragility.

RACISM 101a, how do we begin the undoing?

Micah 6:1-8 – New Revised Standard Version

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Undoing

How Do We Begin Undoing?
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

When I was in the 1st grade
I had two little friends.
I really liked them,
and played with them
every recess and at lunch.
They were black, but I did not know that—
they were just my friends.
My parents found out that
they were black and got very upset.
I was told that I had to tell them
that I couldn’t play with them anymore
because my mother said,
“they were not my kind.”
I didn’t understand, and felt sad,
but I did what I was told.
I remember that when I told them
I could see something change in their eyes,
and in that instant they went
from being my friends
to being my enemies.
I was brought up to be a racist,
but I refused.
It was a struggle.
It has many times been a painful process.
I once accused my parents of being racists,
and they became outraged, denying it,
vociferously proclaiming my wrongness.
I am not sure there are many racists
who will admit to being a racist,
or of acting in a racist fashion.
This is why racism is so hard to undo:
no one wants to own their racism.
It is still hard for me to own up to mine.
Yet, according to the information
I receive in the workshops I’ve attended,
racism is the state of our lives.
We all are racist to a degree.
It is not to be confused
with the kind of racism
that is vicious
and evil
and goes out of its way
to do harm,
but it is nonetheless insidious because
we are not conscious of it,
doing it and obviously being
a part of the problem instead of the solution.
There is no such thing as being “color-blind.”
The danger in denying our own racism
is that we will then act it out unknowingly
and harm others and ourselves through
our unthought-out words.
Racism is defined as
“prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism
directed against someone of a
different race
based on the belief that one’s
own race is superior,”
but it is more than that.
I would like to add my own definition.
Racism is when we look—
consciously or unconsciously—
at a person
of a different race than our own
and stereotype that person and discount
their validity as a human
based upon our own fear of that race,
our own fear of things and people
who are different,
or because we listen to and believe
gossip and false stories
about a particular race
told to us by people we think of as friends.
In this way racism becomes
cultural and endemic
to our personal meaning making,
to our culture and our institutions.
If you make assumptions about people
based upon their ethnicity
the assumptions are racist.
Thinking of a person of another color
as having a particular character flaw
because of their race,
is making a racist assumption.
In a very true sense,
if we think of our race
as special in any way,
and doing so gives us a feeling
of comfort or superiority,
we indeed are thinking and acting
in a racist fashion.
So, how do we undo the damage?
First we need to admit to it.
Second, we have to want to change.
Third, we must to be willing
to do the hard work of changing our
attitudes and thought processes.
We start paying attention to our thoughts and
the words that come out of our mouths.
We listen to what we say,
and think about how that might affect others.
We do not use race as a referent
when speaking of a person or group.
Always remember that the job of a Christian
is to do justice.
We are to love kindness
and to be kind.
Walking humbly
is looking at our own racism
and owning up to it.
It is to change how we think and speak
about others.
In a very real way
acts of racism
are acts that steal another’s humanity,
and when we steal another’s humanity
we are also losing
just a little of our own.

IGNITING AN INNER POWER

Acts 2:1-21 — The Message
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “
They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, They’re drunk on cheap wine.” That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

IGNITING THE FLAME

IGNITING AN INNER POWER

I think that we can take this story of Pentecost
both literally and metaphorically.
Well
maybe not too literally…
Literally,
in the sense that God
moved in their midst
and deeply
within their own spirits,
and they were so
radically changed
they became different
thinking-acting-speaking-living
persons.
Metaphorically,
in terms of the
image of fire
as a fundamental and
profound purification
of the
heart, mind, soul, and intention
of each person in that room.
I do not for
one minute believe
that God
overcame them,
or forced
this radical change on them,
in the sense that
a bully might force
someone to do something,
but in the sense of
setting free,
turning lose,
fanning a flame already burning,
yet hidden
deep within each of them.
I wonder what
great fires burn within each of us?
What candles
have we hidden?
What tiny sparks
flicker unseen
in our dreams?
What world-changing
event would we each,
and collectively,
foment
if the Spirit of God
fanned our respective flames?
In that small room,
on that day,
fierce prophets
were forged out of
a timid and fearful people,
and an enduring church
was created.
What dreams, secret passions,
unnammed desires
do we harbor?
What tremendous
events would be unleashed
by God’s flame
burning within us?

REWARDS

Revelation 22:12-13 — The Message
“Yes, I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon! I’m bringing my payroll with me. I’ll pay all people in full for their life’s work. I’m A to Z, the First and the Final, Beginning and Conclusion.

Revelation 22:12-13 — New Revised Standard Version
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Revelation 22:12-13 — New Testament for Everyone
‘Look! I am coming soon. I will bring my reward with me, and I will pay everyone back according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’

Transformation Detail #16

REWARDS

Rewards…
what does that mean?
Jesus is coming soon
and brings rewards
as some sort of payment
according to
some work we have done?
This reads like life
is like a competition,
a game on the mid-way,
or a job for which we get paid.
Paul thinks of life
as a race to be won.
Peter sees himself
as being on a
spreading-the-Good News
assignment,
for which payment
might be made.
But Paul
has defined Christian theology
by claiming salvation
is not by works
but by faith alone.
But then faith
becomes a work
in and of itself
and we are left
holding a bag-full of question marks.
Maybe what
the author of Revelation
is saying
is that Jesus
is the reward.
In my theological opinion
I am thinking
that the author,
AKA John of Patmos,
is deep in metaphor here,
but still holding
out carrots to
keep the Christian community on track.
Some would rightly hold that
God/Jesus is neither
the big sugar daddy in the sky
nor some sort of
heavenly purveyor of favors.
I think that there is truth in that
while cautioning that God
will not be defined
and we truly cannot say
anything conclusive
about God in terms
of God’s actions or character
except that God
is a God of Love.
So what are we left with
for understanding this claim
by the writer
of Revelation?
Here’s my take on it:
If Jesus was and is and will be,
then Jesus is always the reward itself—
back when, at a later date, and right now.

LISTENING-IMPAIRED CONVERSATIONS

Acts 16:9-15 — The Message
That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans. Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days. On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed! After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Listening

Listening-impaired Conversations
Acts 16:9-15

How hard it is
to be heard,
sometimes.
How hard it is
to hear.
It is like we have
a listening impairment
We all have something to say.
We all want what
we have to say
to be considered.
So most of the
time we just talk —
without listening,
without hearing,
without paying attention,
just talking,
a little louder
and talking,
with a little impatience,
talking,
talking,
talking.
Our ears
think
that they are hearing
to what the other is saying,
but our minds
hardly ever catch
the significance
of what it is
because we are talking
over,
through,
louder and faster.
As if
that will get us heard better.
So most of the time
we seem to fail as communicators,
fail as listeners…
But that is not
what happened with Lydia,
she actually listened to,
and heard,
what Paul had to say.
She didn’t try
and tell him
how he was not
saying exactly
what she believed,
or how
their prayer group
was better,
then talking over the top of him
to prove her point.
She listened.
We spend so much time
not listening,
that we assume
that God probably doesn’t
really listen,
either.
But God is better than us.
God does listen.
To every word we pray
and thought we think.
God really listens.

WHAT IF GOD IS FEMININE?

Isaiah 66:13 — “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Hosea 11:3-4 — “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 — “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Genesis 1:27 — “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”
Deuteronomy 32:18 — “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

What If

What if God Is Feminine?

I should state first off
that I do not think for one minute
that God has any gender.
The “It” pronoun is most
efficacious when accurately
speaking to, of, and about God.
Still, humans seem to have
the need to genderize the concept of God
and rely heavily on
making claims about God
that give them most comfort,
and the strongest sense of security.
There is nothing especially wrong with that,
except when we begin to believe
that our comfortable misconceptions
are how it actually is
and try to force others
to hold our own
not too well founded notions
of theology.
So let’s consider
the possibility that if God did have a gender
what it might be like if
that gender is feminine.
There are not many feminine images
for God in the Bible,
but there are some,
a few.
The five texts above
are a few of them —
maybe most of them.
It was a full-on patriarchy,
that ancient Hebrew community,
and it has profoundly
shaped our own culture.
Many of the Gods
they abhorred so deeply were female.
Many of the neighboring
religions expected/demanded
human sacrifice and whether
or not they were in fact
goddess traditions,
they were all conflated into
other/outsider/sinful/bad/abominations.
The writers of the Hebrew scriptures
defined themselves
by what they were not,
and they were not
like anything that they defined as
“other.”
But what if their
patriarchal testosterone packed
outlook on life
wasn’t exactly how it is?
What if they had defined
God as being
of a feminine nature,
instead of masculine?
Understanding that these folks
ran with a rough crowd
we still would get more texts
that read like those above,
and the Isaiah 49:23 reading that goes:
And kings shall
be your nursing fathers,
and their queens
your nursing mothers,
instead of the Hosea 13:16 text that reads:
Samaria shall
bear her guilt,
because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword,
their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
and their pregnant women ripped open.
Or Psalm 137:9: that reads,
Happy shall they be who take
your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
What would Christianity
look like if
instead of the male god of Abraham
we had the female God of Sarah,
nurturing, wisdom-filled,
forgiving, and loving?
I think it is what Jesus
tried to proclaim when he prayed
he could gather
Jerusalem,
read that humanity,
like a mother hen
gathering her chicks
to protect and nurture,
and was rejected.
Let’s be honest
for a second here,
wouldn’t we all rather
be gathered and held and loved and nurtured
by a loving mother God
than judged and condemned?
I believe we are—
loved and not condemned—by the way.
I also believe it goes against every
warring, violent thought we,
as a patriarchal culture,
hold so dear.
We are,
after all, humans
and we have a deeply embedded
violence as part of our
way of doing business.
Still.
Still.
Maybe if we worshiped a
god portrayed as a god
with a nature
of nurture and forgiveness
rather than a god portrayed as a god
of judgement and retribution
we might be a tad different.
Which is why I titled this
What If God is Feminine?
It is a question…