Jesus Didn’t Have Teenagers

It is just before 5:00 on a Thursday morning. It is raining and rather cool for late September.  I have gotten about 4 hours of sleep, if you can call tossing, turning, can’t-turn-off-the-thoughts, twisting around, it’s 5 AM might as well get up – sleep.

The past 24 hours have been something, I can tell you. I work as a counselor assistant at an inpatient drug and alcohol facility. I deal with a lot of people with serious issues and lots of serious consequences. I like my job. I really do. Not all of my clients “get it” – the recovery thing, but some of them do. Those that”get it” make it all worthwhile – all the frustration, all the countless hours, all the emotionally exhausting work that goes into leading addicts and alcoholics from the brink to a better, more whole life.

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day – 11 hours. Monday and Tuesday were long days also. So coming home last night was supposed to be a welcome respite from the frenetic atmosphere of treatment. It certainly started out that way but quickly devolved into chaos and drama.

Did I mention that I have a teenager?

My son has issues, issues that I don’t feel is appropriate to discuss in such a public forum as this. I will say that he has been diagnosed with PTSD and is supposed to take some medicine to help him regulate himself. He is not consistent with doing that simple task and the evidence of what happens is clear. The result … a crazed, manic, obsessive desire to upend the downstairs because he wants to clean. Threatening to throw out other people’s stuff, rearranging things because that is where he thinks it should be placed and generally causing havoc and mayhem in the household (all at 9:00 at night). I suspect, as the decibel level in the house is ever-rising and the cursing would make a longshoreman wince, that he has not been taking his meds and that suspicion was confirmed. As anyone who has dealt with someone with PTSD, when the manic state begins it is very difficult to de-escalate the situation until the stage of exhaustion is reached. After an hour or so of arguing, threats, me walking out to cool off, trying to disengage from the circus unfolding in my living room, we finally reach the stage when the balloon pops and things begin to settle down.

Honestly, I really struggle with dealing with this. It is exhausting. We’ve been dealing with episodic displays like this – and worse – for the past two years. There are times when I just want to give up. There are times when I just want to walk away.

There. I said it. Sometimes I question my sanity and my decision-making process. I question my ability to stay the course. Yes, I know. As a Christian I’m supposed to ask “What would Jesus Do?” in situations like this. I’m sure that Jesus would continue to love and turn the other cheek and stuff.  Spoiler alert: I’m not Jesus. I’m a guy that yells, curses and loses his temper … a lot!  My patience is not inexhaustible.

It’s dawned on me recently that we don’t know what Jesus was like as a teenager. The gospels go from Him being 12 or so to Him being 30. Nary a syllable about his teen years or His life as a carpenter working with his father. Did Jesus give Mary and Joseph a hard time? Did He carry around tons of attitude when His hormones kicked in? Was He a know-it-all? Did He have an entitlement mentality? Did He lord his status over others saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”  Did Mary and Joseph throw up their hands in desperation, yelling at the heavens in frustration?  Did Mary ever question saying “yes” to that angel all those years ago?

One thing we’re told about Jesus is that He could understand what it was like to be us, humans. He experienced the same things we do, He struggled with the same things we do, He felt the same emotions we do. I mean, that’s one of the greatest aspects of the Christian faith, isn’t it? God wasn’t just sitting on some lofty plane without any understanding of the plight of humanity; no, He became one of us and could empathize with our struggles.

So, if that’s true maybe Jesus was a pain the ass to Mary and Joseph during his teen years. Maybe He flouted their authority and sassed them and felt entitled. I don’t know for sure. The record is silent on that matter.

One thing I do know is this: the gospels are silent on Jesus having a family of his own. There is no mention of Him having to deal with a surly, snarky teen. There is no discussion about how He responded to a teenager who had attitude as big as the day is long.

Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Perhaps not even Jesus could keep his cool in dealing with a teenager. Perhaps He would have reached a breaking point with His patience and cast the teen into the sea like he did with the herd of swine. That certainly wouldn’t have been “on message”.

Imagine, an entire faith never takes wing on account of a surly teenager who tries the patience of God.

Jesus never had a teenager to deal with. Just saying.

Follow Me

Undoubtedly many, if not all, of us have found ourselves in a situation, in a conversation or in a relationship that touched on the very core of a fundamental part of our belief system; those moments caused us to check on what we believe in – define it, discard it or alter it. If you haven’t had one of those moments yet … you will.

I’ve come across those “forks in the road”, those moments in our lives that make us ask, “What do I believe? What are my values? What is the true self? Is this the direction in which I want to go with my life?” Case in point, my political views.

When I was younger I was a staunch conservative. I identified myself by the tenets of “right wing” politics with a stubbornness that bordered on arrogance. Maybe that’s a function of my youth and inexperience in life. To me, everything was black or white without much gray. If you didn’t believe as I did, there was something wrong with you.  Now I’m older and perhaps a little wiser. My experiences with people, events and alternative thoughts have broadened, my political edges have softened quite a bit and there’s a lot more gray in the world. Recently, my spiritual beliefs and faith underwent a similar re-examination. I had to take a look at my faith and assess its core values.

I am Christian and as many of you know, I am a part of a wonderful, inspiring, challenging, sometimes goofy but always loving family of faith called Hopesprings Community of Faith in Bangor, PA. I first attended the gathering several years ago when I was young in my recovery from addiction. My history with “religion” was spotty and bland; I wanted and needed something more. In my recovery process I was searching for a deeper, more personal relationship with God as I understood Him. I didn’t understand God all that well at that point except that God loved me, never gave up on me (even when I was at my most despicable) and saved me from teetering into the abyss.

I began to question the old rules and dogmas, crafted and honed over millenia, and in which I was raised. They felt wrong, constraining. They felt like chains and weights that made it difficult to move closer to God. Now I understand that society creates some rules – guardrails, if you will – to keep us within a range of acceptable behavior. The rules are necessary to prevent chaos and to protect us from ourselves and others. But sometimes the rules hog-tie us and keep us from seeing the underlying value the rule was designed to promote; especially so when we elevate form over substance. So it was with me and “religion.”

So, I “stumbled” across Hopesprings one Sunday morning still hungry for something more. It felt like I had walked into an alien world.  Here was a group of people – inked, young, old, beaten, successful, broken, mending – joyous and loving on others and the community! Michael began the lesson that Sunday and by the end of the gathering I was in tears – Niagra Falls! This happened again and again, even today with Jonathan as the pastor, week after week. This was no aberration. This is what I was looking for – a community who believed in only two “rules”: love God, love others; here was a family who practiced those fundamental beliefs in real life, on the streets of the community, in small ways with lots of love.

Two rules – love God, love others. So, is this what Jesus meant when he told Matthew, Peter and others “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9; John 21:19, 22)? I mean, the very definition of “Christian” is one who follows Jesus the Christ, right? What does “following” entail? What does it look like in real life?

Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear

Now I can complicate the hell out of making a PB & J sandwich and I know that something as deep as my faith can be made very obtuse, twisted and overly complicated. But Jesus was anything but complicated although we do a really good job of making His message complicated. Case in point – the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The scholar knows the rule of “love your neighbor” and Jesus confirms this. But the scholar is uncomfortable with what this is asking him to do and he attempts to incorporate exceptions to the simple rule. “What do you mean when you say ‘neighbor’? Who is my ‘neighbor’?”

I am no Bible scholar and I don’t have to be in order to determine what “following” looks like in reality. I can look no further than the way Jesus lived His life. In all matters, the bedrock of His actions and His words was this: loving God and loving people, without exception! He was unconcerned about their socio-economic status; unconcerned about society’s opinions of the poor, the sick, the nameless and the voiceless; unconcerned about the rules that got in the way or obscured the people from connecting with God.

He not only broke the rules but chastised those who created the rules to bog down the people’s hearts and bodies. He repeatedly called out the elite and the pious who elevated following the letter of the law but refused to acknowledge or show mercy to the unfortunate. He shined a light on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be religious on the outside but whose hearts were black and cold on the inside.

Act justly, love mercy and walk with humility (Micah 6:8); love God, love others (Mark 12:30-31). Simple, easy to understand “rules” to live by. For me, this is what it means when Jesus says “follow me”. Don’t overcomplicate this – when He says “follow me” He’s saying “Watch what I do, listen to what I say, see how I treat others and do the same thing. I lead by example” This is the way to live a life of connection with God and others. Don’t get caught up in the rules that will weigh you down and prevent you from acting justly, being merciful, being humble or serving your neighbor.

So many “Christians” seem to get tied up and entangled in the rules. They equate “Christianity” with a straightjacket of rules – rules about what music to listen to, rules about what clothes to wear, rules about what prayers to say, rules about what sect to belong to, rules about what TV shows to watch … and the list goes on. Too often they treat others who don’t fit in their box as “less-thans”, flawed in some way. They can be judgmental and arrogant thinking that their way is the “true” way. The same could be said of political parties, other religions and cultures. They can be harsh and unforgiving. They seem to fail to consider where they would be if God was as unforgiving, impatient and unmerciful as they were.  In short, a lot like me in my youth.

So what brought all this on? I was presented with a situation that forced me to examine what my faith was all about. I had to look at my values, my beliefs and ask “Who am I? What’s important to me? What am I made of?”

This wasn’t a life or death struggle that prompted these questions. It was a simple meeting in a principal’s office to discuss ramifications of an occurrence at school. This was a meeting where I learned very clearly the difference between law and order, rule-bound, harsh Christianity and the merciful, compassionate and sometimes uncomfortable version of Christianity. I learned that some people’s interpretation of Christianity can be focused on being judgmental, unforgiving, harsh and lacking in patience; what was even more frightening was how they seemed completely comfortable with calling themselves Christian while justifying their rigidity.

I’m all for there being consequences for one’s actions and, in this case, there were. What I was not at all comfortable with was these “Christians” who gave up on my son, who failed to see the potential in him, who saw him as one who should not expect much in his life as he will not be successful, who gave up because things got a little hard. They quit on him and in the process quit on Him; they effectively said that God was not able to do good works in him. Their lack of faith in God was both blatant and astounding!

Where would we be if God have up on us? What would it look like if God threw up his hands and said “This is too hard. These people keep screwing up. I don’t have the patience for this anymore?” What if God got tired of pursuing us? How hopeless, desperate and bleak would our lives be? I shudder to think of where I would be if God had given up on me!

Well, I don’t subscribe to that nonsensical version of Christianity. I am a member of the merciful, just, loving, forgiving and graceful family of the Christ; he has infinite patience and never gives up the chase. The God of my understanding is one of love, mercy and forgiveness.

Follow Him, I will, to the best of my ability.

Offer Up Your Hearts

I read a very interesting article the other day. It was a short article in Time’s online edition. Short on length but long on depth and meaning. The article discussed Pope Francis’ different perspective on the traditional Lenten fasting. Most of the time when we give up something for Lent, it’s a personal sacrifice; that’s true but rarely does that sacrifice translate to benefiting someone else. That’s where the Pope’s calling upended the traditional view.

The Pope’s call for Lent? Fast from indifference towards others.

Indifference by Son of Groucho

Image by Son of Groucho

What does it mean, indifference? Mirriam Webster defines it as a “lack of interest in or concern about something.” So what is His Eminence asking us to “give up”? Well, give up being apathetic to others’ problems; stop walking past the derelict on the street; give up our complacence towards others’ pain; stop the coldness, hard-hardheartedness and callous disregard toward the plight, the anxiety, the homelessness, the hunger, the poverty … the fear of our brothers and sisters. We need to show concern for others. “Concern?” “A marked interest or regard usually arising through a personal tie or relationship” is how the dictionary defines “concern.”

So what the difference? Simple. Let your sacrifice have some depth, some heart, some meaning. Let it not be just a veneer – let it sink in a permeate every nook and cranny of your being. We need to hear those inner voices that trouble our conscience; something that causes us to squirm from discomfort.

Indifference by quoteseverlasting

Image by QuotesEverlasting

The longer we harden ourselves to the world outside the more our hearts and souls become encased in and encrusted with hardened steel and barbed wire, impervious to the needs of others. We become incapable of feeling compassion, sympathy and empathy for the troubles and pains of others. We tend to believe and act as if “all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” That belief tends to reinforce the hardness and coldness of our hearts and further distances ourselves from those around us. In the meantime the suffering of others gets progressively worse and unbeknownst to us, our own suffering of spirit spreads like a cancer. Our souls leak as our humanity rusts and withers. Finally, when we are alone we wonder why no one seems to care, no one seems to notice that our hearts are as black as night.

Look around. Take notice. Take action. Give up the indifference to the plight of others. You don’t have to solve the problem – you just have to let them know they’re not alone. Just be their friend. The effect is more long-lasting than giving up chips or chocolate for Lent.

Indifference by Erich Ferdinand

Image by Erich Ferdinand

So eat your chips and chocolates, keep binging on Netflix. Give your heart and attention instead.  Rend your hearts not your garments.

Mission Bells

I was heading into a smaller version of a big box mega store with Kris. It was the midpoint of the Christmas season and the shopping frenzy was in full swing.

We had already passed by several monolithic monster stores, noticing the extraordinary amount of cars in the parking lots. “No way” I thought to myself. Visons of madness at the checkout lines danced in my head. By today’s standards, the one we chose was tiny.  So there was hope that we could get what we needed with a minimum of stress.

12309573_505176152993603_1273298714650191804_o

Kris the Elf meets Elsa

 

Our mission that evening – find a few gifts for Peter from Kris.

As we walk from the car toward the front doors, we discuss the types of things Peter would like for Christmas. We decide that cookies and Goldfish crackers would be good choices. We can hear the familiar jingling of the Salvation Army bells.

“What is the story of those bells? Why are they ringing?” he asks.

I explain what the Salvation Army does in God’s name – help the poor, prepare hot meals for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and special Christmas and Thanksgiving meals.

He takes in what I’ve said. “Hmm, that’s good.”

We purchase our items and as we walk out the doors he asks me to carry the packages. I comply and walk ahead of him toward the ringing bells. I make a small donation and head to the car. Kris follows a few steps behind me.

“That man was very happy with me.”

“Why is that?” I ask.

“I gave $10.”

“Why did you give $10?”

“Because I like to help people.”

I smile.

Yes you do, Kris. Yes you do.

Contagion of Hatred and the Risk of Love

No amount of laws can change a hardness of heart. No law can overcome the abyss created by hate, a hate that threatens our humanity, our existence. No amount of hand-wringing or committees or speeches can bring forth what is truly needed to bring about a fundamental and lasting change of how we treat others. No law, except one – “Love others.”  The only thing that will stem the tide of hatred towards others is changing how we see others – not as different or enemies but as the same as us.  That change in perspective comes from love.20643335423_8d8419abfd_z

But that requires us as members of the human family to go far beyond our comfortable borders.  We think “if we just bar the doors, shutter the windows and stuff cotton in our ears we can keep the wolves outside while we remain safe inside.”  We delude ourselves into thinking either the crisis doesn’t really exist or worse – that someone else will handle this mess.  “A boat is safe in the harbor but that is not the purpose of a boat.” – Paolo Coelho.  There is no one else!! The crisis is here, now, and it is not going away unless we each do our part in some small way.

21203320479_88c451465c_mAs a Christian I am called to be like Christ, a follower of Christ.  His early command was simple – “Follow Me.”  But what does that mean? Here’s what I feel it means for me.  It doesn’t mean to just walk behind Him, to be shielded by Him (although there are times when I need that shield).  “Follow Me” was a calling to live like Him, do like Him and love like Him.  It was a simple instruction on a way of life.  Do as I do … this is how to live a whole, healthy, connected life with God and each other.  Love God, love others … without exception!

Aahh, if only it were that simple, right? Loving others is easy if the “other” thinks like me, looks like me and believes like me.  It gets real up here when I am confronted with “others” who are different from me.  That asks us to take risks, to live on the fringes not because it is comfortable but because that is where the need is.  That’s where the hurt is. That’s where the war is. That’s where the sickness is. That’s where the fear and desperation are. That is where our neighbor is.

20769127773_1e7092a86b_z

Is it easy? Hell no, it is not easy but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  “But I am only a small, insignificant force.  What can I possibly accomplish?”  I used to believe that rubbish, too.  I used to think the problems of the world were too big for one person to tackle and perhaps they are – for one person. However, when I try to make a difference I notice that there are lots of other “insignificant forces” doing the same thing and together a new world can be forged.  I just have to look back on history to see a long, long line of “heroes” – both ordinary and extraordinary – who refused to remain silent, refused to shutter their eyes, ears and hearts, refused to allow evil to go unchallenged.  Go ahead, think back yourself and you’ll see them too.20953116739_335c5fd0c8_z

Perhaps if we can manage to remember that we are all made in the image of God, we can remember those tragedies are happening not in some distant land. Those horrors are not happening to some faceless, nameless stranger.  The brutality and tears and desperation are those of our neighbors, our family, our friends … and it’s happening right here in our neighborhood.  Perhaps then we’d be a little less fearful and more courageous in righting wrongs. Perhaps then we’d pause before committing acts of violence against others in our homes, in our schools, at our jobs. Perhaps we’ll pause and see them as our brother, our sister, our pets and perhaps we’ll think twice.

Maybe what really scares us more than the differences is facing the possibility that we don’t really “believe” what we say we believe.  Because now we have to apply those beliefs (political, religious, spiritual and otherwise) not in the comfort of our hymns on a Sunday morning, bathed in stain-glass colored light; not in the comfort of the insulated halls of justice or government.  Rather, those beliefs get tested by fire in the trenches, in the back alleys with the addict, in the refugee camps, in the homeless shelters, in the Ebola wards, in the orphanages.  “Follow Me.”3039401455_92581783fb_z

If we don’t, we’ll have to face the uncomfortable, ugly truth – maybe we don’t believe the Gospel! Yikes!! We modify it to fit our comfort zones. “Jesus didn’t really mean for me comfort the dying in the hospital. He didn’t mean for me to open my home to refugees.  He really didn’t mean I had to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen.”  Really, He did.

35 You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives. 36 I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me. – Matthew 25:35-36

The only way to combat the plague of hate and darkness of soul is through the light of love, without exception.  Will you do your part to chase the darkness? Will you help make this world a little nicer, a little kinder? There is no such thing as a small act of kindness, a small demonstration of love for even one small match will chase out the darkness.

Ecce Homo

HumanityHu`man´i`ty (noun) – The quality of being human; the peculiar nature of man, by which he is distinguished from other beings.

As a Christian I spend most of my spiritual life focusing on the divine nature of Jesus the Christ; Jesus as the Son of God; Jesus as the Redeemer. However, over the past few days the thematic messages I’ve been reading and hearing have focused not on His divinity but rather on His humanity. I think we Christians tend to gloss over that side of Him and I think that when we do that we do a disservice to us and to Him. After all, isn’t part of the draw of Christianity that our Savior was a human being just like us, experiencing hunger, weariness, pain, joy, sorrow and laughter, and not some god from another realm who can’t relate to what we go through?

So I’d like to take a little time to look at the humanity of Jesus.tumblr_mxr6b1Z5uu1svymsmo1_1280

Jesus liked to have a good time. He did. He enjoyed parties, feasts and weddings. He appreciated the opportunities to celebrate being alive. He preferred hanging out with regular people all throughout his recorded journeys. He relished conversations that revealed truths about us and God. He enjoyed meeting people where they were, getting to know them and talking to them about a better way of life; a life living in harmony with God’s intended purpose. He really enjoyed and appreciated the tastes, the smells, the sounds, the sights and the beauty of life.

He also knew the darker side of existence as a human being – the pain, the loneliness, the anguish and, I believe, the fears that come with the territory. Jesus knew heartache and grief. He knew the depths of sorrow when we lose a loved one. He sobbed and He wept, along with Mary, Martha and others, over the death of his friend Lazarus. He knew that the path He was on would lead to an agonizing, torturous, painful death and He was, in my opinion, afraid of that. Who wouldn’t be? He said in the garden,“Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” When I read that I hear: “If there is any other way, ANY other way, we can do this let’s do that.” Yet despite His fear and trepidation, He mustered up all his courage and moved forward to Golgotha. He knew what was at stake.

He felt separation and loneliness. “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken me.” For me, this is the ultimate demonstration of Christ’s humanity. Up until this point He had the perfect relationship with God: communion of body, spirit and mind. Up until that moment, dying a slow, agonizing death on the cross, He had experienced all the same emotions, struggles, successes and temptations as you and I – except for one. It was at that moment, I believe, that Christ understood what it was like for us to be separated from God; to feel like God was on the other side of the universe. He understood what it was like to shout “Hello? Is anyone out there?” and to be answered with a deafening silence. At that moment He understood that He was going to have to endure death and cross over … alone.tumblr_mqgh58Qi7A1qbdz7ko5_1280

Good Friday is fast approaching and the focus is on the events leading up to and during the crucifixion of Christ. From the Last Supper through the Betrayal through the scourging and beating through the Denial right up to the base of the cross, the focus is on Jesus’ final hours on earth. Even while He is hanging from the cross the focus is on Jesus. And rightly so. Yet, just as He is experiencing the ultimate in human suffering and death there are others in the story and they have their struggles with their humanity.

The disciples, his crew, his main guys, cut and ran in the garden after the betrayal. Peter denied even knowing Him when confronted by the slightest sign of trouble. Even John, the one that Jesus loved, was on the outside looking in during His scourging and beating. He is alone – his friends are cowering in fear.

Then there is His mother, Mary. She is there, staring in disbelief, in horror, at the spectacle unfolding before her. She is standing at the base of the cross looking up at a man who is beaten so badly that she can barely recognize her son. I cannot begin to wrap my head around what it was like for her to witness the brutal beating and horrific death of her son. I don’t know that she really understood Jesus’ divinity anymore than the disciples did. She witnessed the miracles He performed and heard His teachings but I can imagine her thinking “This is not how I thought this was going to go. There must be some mistake. Any moment now his legions will rescue him. How can this be happening? Was what I was told nothing but fiction and lies?” To Mary, this was her boy. This was her sweet, innocent boy. How13930527164_6a834bcdbf_z many times did she bandage a scraped knee? How many times did she wipe away His tears? How many times did they share supper together? “Look what have they done to my little boy!” Her heartache and anguish is unimaginable and unmeasurable. There is nothing she can do to alleviate His suffering. She is powerless. She cannot stroke His hair and wipe away His tears. She cannot protect Him from death. She cannot hold Him in her arms and rock Him to sleep. She cannot comfort Him. She cannot take His place. She is His mother and the tears just wont stop falling and her heart will never stop aching. She is relegated to holding His broken, lifeless body while she weeps in sorrow and agony.

Ecce homo.” These are the words uttered by Pontius Pilate as he presented a beaten and scourged Jesus to the crowd in the square, just before sending Him off to die by crucifixion.

Behold the man.”