My Country Tis Not of Thee

My Country ‘Tis Not of Thee

by Jane Tawel

September 26, 2017

There has been a lot of hoopla lately over public figures protesting during the national anthem at sporting events.  As someone who does not watch sports, I am a little taken aback by the fierce emotions surrounding the protests and the singing of the national anthem.  We lose our way so easily.  The national anthem, is just that — a song. It isn’t even the pledge to our country that we say to a flag. It is a song.  There are many other anthems that celebrate our country.  The funny thing is whenever I am around people singing this anthem, most of them don’t know the words and can’t hit the high notes if they do.  Is that a form of protest, I wonder?  Could we start maybe requiring people to learn the words and take voice lessons?  Or is that just too much like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia?  I am sort of just shaking my head, I must admit.  I mean, do we play the national anthem before chess meets, or spelling bees, or tiddly- wink contests.  Shall we start playing it before the kids go out in the yard to play kick ball?

I have an anthem for my country.  Actually in my country, just like for America, there are many  great anthems.  One of my favorites is called “Amazing Grace” and the other is called “Jesus Loves Me”.  One of my country’s best anthems is called “How Great Thou Art”.  I have found many people do not now know the words or tunes to those great anthems either.  I daily try to understand their meaning. And you know, the King of my country doesn’t care if I stand or sit or lie down when I am singing His Anthems.  In fact, my King says, it is better if you go in a closet and privately and sincerely sing anthems to our Kingdom ideals.

The  United States of America’s anthem was never written to be played before what is officially called a “pastime” or “game”.  War is not actually any thing like a game and definitely not something people do to pass the time.  The national anthem of our particular country was meant to be played for special occasions that celebrate what our country has done for the people who live here and as an example to the countries of people who don’t live here.  It was meant to celebrate things like freedom and sacrifice.  Protests, at their best,  are meant to do the same thing.

For centuries, there have been many anonymous people who have quietly and respectfully decided not to pledge allegiance to a flag of a country.  These are people who feel their only allegiance belongs to God and that the words that they say matter in a different way on a daily basis than perhaps those words might mean if they were actually in a war defending the country they reside in.  If I were in the military fighting for my country, I would pledge to that country’s ideals daily.  But game players are not fighting for their country and if we have given them the right to play for our team, our state, our school on a field, then we should give them the rights all citizens have in the country — the freedom to speak about what they believe.

We tend to want our public figures, whether on a court and field or on a movie screen, to tow the line.  We pay them, they entertain us.  We are a nation that would rather pay a lot of money to be entertained than to clean up someone else’s hurricane damage or take care of someone’s health issues. We would rather fifth quarterback the missteps of a game than analyze police missteps.  So when these public figures decide they must protest publicly, we get miffed.  “I watch you to feel good about myself in a sort of narcissistic, self-caring, numbing way”, we might say.  And ranting at public figures lets us off the hook in terms of looking at what we really believe and what the real person sitting next to us really believes and what we should DO about what we believe.  Because sitting and watching seems to be a sort of non- protest, doesn’t it?  In God’s kingdom, though, it is the players with the self-serving protestations of the non-involved that will be kicked out.  In  Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about God’s playing field:

For it will be like a coach (man) getting ready for a game (journey), who called his players (servants) and entrusted to them his wealth and property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

For what does it profit me if my team wins, but I lose my soul on the sidelines?  I want to be careful that my love of the game or my love of my own words, does not blind me to God’s love for all people.  The Lord asks us to be respectful of whatever country we find ourselves in but to never confuse our respect for a foreign land with worship.  Worship belongs only to God and our allegiance to Christ alone.  Walking in the light of God’s world is no halftime, pastime, couch potato event.  It involves much more than a hand over my heart and once a week pledge.  It is not a game.  And yet, the victories in Jesus are so much sweeter than any other win could be.  Which reminds me of another great anthem people in my country sing:

“I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

 

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

 

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

Now that anthem, about that Game-changer, and that kingdom — that– makes me want to take a knee.

 

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I Have Got to Be That Leper

I Have Got to Be That Leper

More Thoughts: on reading Henri Nouwen

by Jane Tawel

September 10, 2017

We used to sing songs like “This little light of mine” or “Jesus loves me, this I know” or  “This is my Father’s world”, or  “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where?!  Down in my heart!  Where?! Down in my heart!”  Now we sing songs about how broken  and lost we are.  I was making myself giggle the other day trying to imagine my grandpa and grandma pulling up a hymn book and singing along with “Oceans” or “Broken Together”. And, honestly,  I get it, I really, really get it — I love those songs — but reading Henri Nouwen has convicted me that what is most difficult of all for me to do is to live as if I am loved by a real, true God, to live each day as a beloved child of Jehovah.

I have to grow up, out of my whining and whinging, and  accept the covenantal  family relationship of  “IF God = Then I”. I have to see God as a parent who loves me and who promises that no matter how far the world descends into madness or “pig swill”, Our Father will be preparing a party at home in His Kingdom for the return of His lost ones.  Then I have to look around at the suffering in the world and the lost folks on my own doorstep and karaoke with Jesus on,  “this little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

I have got to be that leper  — the one out of ten — that can’t stop shouting about how joyful he is to be healed and who dashes through the opened party doors that Jesus shines the light from. Does that leper have hard days? Yep.  Did Jesus have hard times? Yep.  But those hard times — and they can sometimes be daily — are the times I must follow The Son’s example of retreat — even if only for a moment — to enter  the accepting solace of The Father’s arms. In that love I find true joy as a dearly loved child of God.

The second hardest thing for me to do is to follow God’s ancient command to love other people as if they are also beloved children of a real live God. Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  God loves the prodigal sinner in the very same and eternal way that he loves the eldest believer — both are sinners saved only by the inexplicable, unchanging, running -forward- towards- us  joyful, joy-inducing LOVE of OUR Father.

So if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must not focus on my brokenness but must fight the darkness with joy.   I am a child of God called to speak truth, fight injustice, love enemies, sorrow with the sorrowful, walk upright, and to REJOICE in the nearness and love of God. This is the joy that comes with being not a servant but a child of a King.  If I don’t accept what The Father offers me — complete forgiveness and restoration to what He created me to be — If I don’t allow myself to be reborn and returned not to slavery but to sonship like Jesus, The Son, — If I don’t allow the sorrows of this world to be shadows dispelled by God’s light in me — THEN I am turning my back on The Father as He dashes across the earth’s plains, longing to bring me back into His Garden Kingdom.  I must know Him as loving Father and myself as His beloved. I must daily put on the royal robe and enter the party.

And if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must open my arms with a loving embrace for all those who do not know how loved they are by a God.  BY A GOD!!!!!! With that acceptance of my role as daughter, I must look up from my not so very important work to see the one lost prodigal or the one proud hateful eldest that God also runs toward. I must sorrow with she who is lost and rejoice with he who enters the same embrace I am held firmly in. I must  join in God’s party for each child of God. That is what evangelism is — oh how I mourn with those who have lost that word’s meaning — Evangelism is going out there and discovering that everyone’s name is on God’s party list and then flinging open my own arms to party with each invitee like there are endless tomorrows of celebration. Because there are– God’s Hoopla has no end.  The  “Good News” is an invitation open  for each individual, no matter who they are,  who seeks  joy in God’s love.  In Jesus, I experience the joy of my own celebration of salvation in being loved by God  when I see how dearly loved even my worst enemy is by the God who loves.

One day, as Jesus gathered His children, or those we call His disciples, to Him to give them the power of His kingdom, in  Luke 10:21 the Bible tells us that ” In that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Dear Father, please help me to seek Your gift of Joy in the Jesus Journey. Help me see myself and others  as  much loved children. Create in me a heart and will to mourn with those who have so much to mourn about. Then let me trust that no matter what, You can create joy.  Forgive my petty complaints and help me not act like a slave but as your child Help me accept that everything You have is mine.  Forgive my grasping hands.  Help me to open my hands to all those I meet and to give what You have given me.  Help me to open my arms that You have filled with plenty of Your goodness and love — enough to last forever.  Please let my little light shine. Amen

 

From Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal (emphases are my own):

“From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy….

When Jesus speaks about the world, he is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred and assassinations.  There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent.  But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of  it all.  It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.

All holy men and women, whether they lived long ago or belong to our own time, can recognize the many small returns that take place every day and rejoice with the Father.  They have somehow pierced the meaning of true joy.

For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy.  Cynics seek darkness wherever they go, they point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes.  They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental.  They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior.  They consider themselves realists who see reality for what is truly is and who are not deceived by “escapist emotions.” But in belittling God’s joy their darkness only calls forth more darkness.

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it.  They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little  bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden  but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.

Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between joy and…….

Jesus lived this joy of the Father’s house to the full.  In him we can see his Father’s joy.  That divine joy does not obliterate the divine sorrow.  In our world, joy and sorrow exclude each other.  Here below, joy means the absence of sorrow and sorrow the absence of joy.  But such distinctions do not exist in God.  Jesus, the Son of God, is the man of sorrows, but also the man of complete joy.  … The joy of God belongs to his sonship, and this joy of Jesus and his Father is offered to me.  Jesus wants me to have the same joy he enjoys: “I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me.  Remain in my love, If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you this, so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” The Return of the Prodigal  by Henri Nouwen (116-118)

Joy in my heart

 

“mother to Mother” by Jane Tawel

mother to Mother

A Poem

by Jane Tawel

September 1, 2017

 

I have spent many years with you, My Father

Seeing you only as a Father.

And so when my heart has turned away,

I have seen you as absent;

When my nights were dark,

I turned only to your power which seemed to  pale

 against

the Monsters under my bed.

When I was naughty and sinned against You

I hid from the might of Your Right hand;

As if You would never be able to find me

naked in my temper tantrum.

Your firm judgment weakened my resolve.

For

by treating You only as a Father

I could stay childish.

And alone.

Today Your still small voice

reached out like the grasping hand of

a Woman who never

forgets Her labor pains.

At first I was afraid to come out from my hiding.

I didn’t recognize Your voice when You spoke.

Your Words sounded different

 when crooned through the Heart of Your suffering

 as You gave birth to Your own birth

 in

becoming My Mother.

You, Mommy,

spoke to me endearing my heart with nicknames,

 and You called me to Your breast

As my Mother.

I ran awkwardly  like a toddler

sensing  that I need never be childish or alone with You;

And I knew that I could neither impress nor help You

nor ever make you less of a Mom to me than you were on the day I was reborn.

Because no matter what

 I would always be Your beloved child.

You gathered my sad split spirits

 to Your Womb,

My tiny- limbed tributary returning gleefully

 to its open- armed Source.

And I wept with relief and joy

 because You, my Mother

were powerful enough

to die to save me.

And You took my wee small hand

And helped me cross the vast estate

into the motherly loving eternal arms of

My Father.

 

 

This poem is a poor response to a phenomenal writer and theologian: Henri Nouwen. Here is a small part of some of Nouwen’s thinking on the painting by Rembrandt and Jesus’ parable:

From Henri Nouwen’s Book The Return of the Prodigal Son: (emphases are my own)

I am convinced that many of my emotional problems would melt as snow in the sun if I could let the truth of God’s motherly non-comparing love permeate my heart.

How hard that is becomes clear when I reflect on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard… Why didn’t the landowner pay those who worked many long hours first and then surprise the latecomers with his generosity? Why instead, does he pay the workers of the eleventh hour first, raising false expectations in the others and creating unnecessary bitterness and jealousy? These questions, I now realize, come from a perspective that is all too willing to impose the economy of the temporal on the unique order of the divine.

It hadn’t previously occurred to me that the landowner might have wanted the workers of the early hours to rejoice in his generosity to the latecomers.  It never crossed my mind that he might have acted on the supposition that those who had worked in the vineyard the whole day would be deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to do work for their boss, and even more grateful to see what a generous man he is.  It requires an interior about-face to accept such a non-comparing way of thinking.  But that is God’s way of thinking.  God looks at his people as children of a family who are happy that those who have done only a little bit are as much loved as those who accomplish much.

God is so naive as to think that there would be great rejoicing when all those who spent time in his vineyard, whether a short time or a long time, were given the same attention.  Indeed, he was so naive as to expect that they would all be so happy to be in his presence that comparing themselves with each other wouldn’t even occur to them.  That is why he says with the bewilderment of a misunderstood lover: “Why should you be envious because I am generous?” He could have said: “You have been with me the whole day, and I gave you all you asked for! Why are you so bitter?  It is the same bewilderment that comes from the heart of the father when he says to his jealous son: “My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.”

Here lies hidden the great call to conversion: to look not with the eyes of my own low self-esteem, but with the eyes of God’s love.  As long as I keep looking at God as a landowner, as a father who wants to get the most out of me for the least cost, I cannot but become jealous, bitter, and resentful toward my fellow workers or my brothers and sisters.  But if I am able to look at the world with the eyes of God’s love and discover that God’s vision is not that of a stereotypical landowner or patriarch but rather that of an all-giving and forgiving father who does not measure out his love to his children according to how well they behave, then I quickly see that my only true response can be deep gratitude.

1200px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project