Beatitudes for a Pandemic

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By: Jana Greene

Spent some time with God today, but it was restless, addled time. I can’t seem to still my mind right now, what with the current state of Covid-19 ravaging the planet. I like a certain amount of chaos with my order, but this is ridiculous.

BLESSED is not a word I would use to describe the state of my mind right now. Edgy, tense, scared….these are the adjectives that describe my state more accurately. Still, I started thinking about the Beatitudes, and how the “blessings” Jesus outlined in them run contrary to what many of us would consider positive things, or even bearable things at times.

This is one such occasion – the unprecedented happenstance we find ourselves in, in the midst of a global pandemic. So I thought I’d write a little piece today so that I can have a little peace today. I invite you with much love to join me.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:”

Blessed are the exasperated, the cooped up, the frustrated, and the lonely. For they shall be reminded that God is not bound by illness or protocol, or the foibles of human nature.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

Blessed are those grieving the loss of certainty and structure. For their hope lies in bigger things. Hold on tight, you are still in the Father’s embrace, even though the world seems upside-down.

 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

Blessed are the odd ducks and weird people, who are just trying to navigate their way through the “new normal.” We are all free to be who we were created to be, no need for shame. Yours is the Kingdom, weirdo.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Blessed are the seekers, the doubters, the spiritually starving. Does your soul feel empty? Are you hungry for peace, comfort, and hope? Your system is just making room for the One who gives those things, and in abundance.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”

Blessed are the helpers, the lovers, the carers. For they are showing the rest of us how to be the hands and feet of God on Earth, modeled after the Perfect One.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”

Blessed are those who “check themselves before the wreck themselves.” For they are ever striving forward, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”

Blessed are the calmer heads, the team players, and the encouragers. For where would we be without the Light Bearers? They see the Spirit in all, and welcome all to the table with Christ.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

Blessed are the ostracized, yet steadfast. For they keep moving forward, in the face of opposition and a bleak forecast for a broken world.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”

Blessed are those who get knocked down, but keep getting back up. For they are US! In us lies incomprehensible power, as we are the Kingdom of God on Earth.

So let’s remind one another that LOVE is the strongest force – far more contagious than a virus. Hardier than any microbe, or quantum physics, for that matter. Love swallows up hopelessness and gives us a boost to keep soldiering on. No sickness can touch it, no disease can end it.

In sickness and in health. In warm gatherings and in lonely quarantine. In times of plenty, and times of rationing. Always, there is love.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Stay safe, every one. And God bless you.

  • Scripture taken from Matthew 5:1-12, The Message translation.

Faith Reconstructed (or, I think I’m ready to write again…)

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Hi, my name is Jana and I’m a writer.

Sometimes, I forget that.

I used to write quite prolifically, and about everything.

As a matter of fact, this is the 475th blog post on The Beggar’s Bakery.

Sometime in the past few years, I’ve misplaced my writing mojo, which is to say that I’ve slipped into committing the cardinal sin of true creativity, which is to worry more about what people might think of me than to have confidence in what I have to say.

I think I started writing less when a series of unfortunate events took place, namely the catalyst for me to question, test, and try the faith that I’d inherited from my ancestors and never outwardly doubted.

It started when I got sick, and stayed sick. It started when well-meaning churchy people attempted to cast demons out of me (no, really) that weren’t really demons, but infirmary. The thing about sickness is that it is actually more threatening than demons to religious people, of whom I was chief amongst. After endless rounds of being prayed for, having “deliverance” ministries, and demon casting, well… it turns out that my illness is genetic, and while God CAN and DOES heal instantly, that was not the case for me, which led me to one of two conclusions:

1. I was doing something wrong and was a fundamentally flawed Christian. Or

2. God isn’t real. Healing isn’t real. My life is based on lies.

Now, I’m all about that –  laying on hands and praying in Jesus name. That is GOOD STUFF. We should always aspire to heal one another. We should always ask for our own healing and petition God to heal others. It’s just that when it doesn’t happen the way our religious leaders aspire it to, it leaves us in a spiritual lurch.

A few funny things happened on my way to figuring out that neither of those conclusions are true. It’s kind of a long story, and I’ve taken to the blog to tell it piecemeal, as best I can, whether anyone reads it or not. For a long time, this blog was my sanctuary, where I came to be raw and real. Then I underwent this huge physical and spiritual metamorphosis, and I wasn’t the chipper writer with a fast answer and scripture reference to throw out there anymore.

And I stopped writing here because that little Southern baptist girl inside told me that I had NO right to pen a blog that claims to be “one beggar telling another where she found bread,” because I am not a conventional evangelical anymore. Sickness changed me, yes. But the spiritual angle changed for me in ways I can scarcely count. What if So-and-So thinks I’m a big, fat heathen because I ascribe to this hippy-dippy, love one another craziness that has taken the place of my rigid, religious persona?

I guess that’s what they’ll think, then.

God and I are square, more than ever.

There was a time that I was sure my calling was to be a mom. And then my kids grew up; they still need me, but in a different way. I was sure I was called to be an artist, and poet, and for a season, I was. For many years, I thought my calling was to minister to recovering alcoholics, and that is still true. Those things will always be parts of my mission.

But here’s what nobody warns you about: Our “callings” change. They morph. We are always called to something new because Papa LOVES opening our eyes to the NEW!

So I guess for the foreseeable future, The Beggar’s Bakery will again be sanctuary for my words. Because I badly need to get these feelings out, and why not bring along 1,940 of my closest friends with me?

It isn’t a pretty journey.

It isn’t even a COMPLETE journey.

Just a leg of the trip, replete with all the joy, angst, confusion, acceptance, and hope I can muster and share with my readers.

This revival is for the doubters. It’s for the broken-hearted, and the disenchanted. It’s for those who always feel that they fall short of the glory of God, and the expectations of men. It’s for the marginalized and the giver-upper. It’s for the real people, the ones trying to figure out and complicate what is really, really simple – that God is Love itself and YOU are an expression of that love to the entire universe.

I’m still struggling with a lot, so don’t look to me to feed you in whole – to hand you the Bread of Life – the truths, mysteries, and answers. But I CAN tell you where to find that bread still. The Bakery is open – loaves and fishes for all.

It’s all love.

Til’ tomorrow….

 

The Grace Gospel Poem

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By: Jana Greene

What if you were already “right with the Lord,”

And didn’t have to live by the sword,

And battle every single day

With what you do or what you say?

What if you embraced your human-ness,

And didn’t have to strive and stress,

And earn your way into His good graces,

Would you then lean into wide open spaces

Of redemption and love, unconditionally given.

Would you then be so afraid of living?

If we believe what we claim to believe

Could our weary hearts gain a reprieve?

What if His love is totally free.

What, then, would would you open up to be?

What if you could truly rest,

Would you be less exhausted and less of a mess?

Does “it is finished” ring true to you,

Or are you still giving the devil his due?

We try so hard to earn His grace

When really if we seek his face,

We are already there

It is finished and done,

We are one with the Father

And one with the Son,

And Holy Spirit will guide us through;

If you trusted completion,

Tell me, what would you do?

 

Immigration Consideration – one Christian’s thoughts on loving strangers

By: Jana Greene

Hello, Dear Reader.

I hesitated to write this blog post; not because I don’t feel passionate about the subject matter, but because I’m allergic to conflict – it makes me break out in insecurity.

The nastiest comment I have received in the six years of writing The Beggar’s Bakery was from a Christian woman (go figure) who reamed me a new one because I didn’t care for Trump. “He is sent by GOD!” She wrote. “As according to PROPHESY!!!!” There were many expletives in the comment as well, basically assuring me of my place in Hell because I didn’t like the president.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I responded. But what I wanted to say was, “LADY? YOU JUST PROVED MY ENTIRE POINT.”

That being said, I feel like the time is now to say my piece on this – my little corner of the internet. I’m not posting this as a Republican or a Democrat. I’m posting it as a human, as a mother, as a Christian, because I’m sick and tired of watching what’s going on be defended by people who purport to love Christ. I know this is a wide swath of my friend base, and I love you all. But please hear me out.

I don’t care what your political leanings are, it shouldn’t matter which side you lean toward. Children being treated like animals should piss you off. Parents separated from their kids should piss you off. SHOULD. We are all so busy being elephants and donkeys that we forgot how to be human.

If you want to defend the actions of our president, please leave God out of it. I used to be conservative (and still am on some fronts,) but there is no way to justify what he is letting happen. And I’m just gonna spit this out here, because it’s been bugging me and I’m trying to play nice-nice with everyone, but what with children in cages, I think it’s time for a nice-nice reprieve.

How in the name of Davy Jones do you reckon Trump is getting so much of the evangelical support? Because he prays publicly sometimes in office? Because he is pro-life and claims to believe “all life is sacred”? I’m calling bullshit. I’m pro-life, but that means, um…pro-LIFE. That means being just as bothered by human beings being washed up on shores as being ripped from there womb. I’m pretty sure Christ was more concerned with children suffering than national security. Of ALL demographics of people, WHY is Trump getting the “Christian” support? The phenomenon makes no sense.

Jesus is not looking to exclusively bless just the white, middle-class, church-going, law-abiding demographic, which is essentially – if we are honest – what many of us have come to expect. Neither big on law OR homogenized populations, Jesus made it exceedingly clear that he values compassion over all else. He loved the refugee, the orphan, the widow, the marginalized, the disadvantaged just as much. Do you think he is up there cheering when another Mexican drowns in the Rio Grande? Or when those from war-torn countries are turned away from our ridiculously blessed nation? Do you think he thinks it’s okay to rip parents away from little children, and deprive those children of basic necessities?

Jesus was about INCLUSION, not SEPARATION. He was very clear about the “us vs. them” mentality having no place in the Kingdom or God. But boy, we humans LOVE that shit. It allows some of us to feel superior to others and we just eat that right up!

How can you tell one is a Christian? Nope, not by their bumper stickers or angelic demeanor. Not by the KLOVE blasting from their car radios. Not by their instant recall of scripture, or their political stance. By their LOVE, manifested in the fruits of the spirit.

“You will know they are mine by their ‘fruit,” said Jesus. Fruits of the spirit are often recognized as joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and so on. WTF is up with Trump’s fruit? Is anyone inspecting it? (Ew.) Because upon closer inspection, that low hanging “fruit”appears to be pretty wormy.

Another Jesus-ism? “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Since when did it become “Christian” to treat other human beings the way he is treating immigrants? Peeps, YOUR ancestors were immigrants. If you need to justify what’s happening as it relates to YOU personally, there’s your fact.

I won’t go as far as to say that trump uses faith-talk to manipulate people…(if the toupee fits…) but his fruit stinks and he treats women and foreigners like crap – basically anyone who isn’t just like him. All for what? A WALL?!

How do you justify the following with being a disciple of Christ and leading in a Christ-like way? Tweeting a thousand immature and inane nasty words to the people on the opposite side of his politics (will someone PLEASE take The Twitter away from The Donald? ) His history of treating women like objects (at best) shouldn’t be brushed under the rug either.

He is un-apologetically polarizing. But children being treated sub-human should NOT be polarizing and frankly, I’m having a hard time understanding WHY it is so for anyone.

Jesus was a unifier.

Jesus was a radical.

Jesus tore down walls.

Jesus loves the underdog.

How a billionaire who spent a lifetime haughtily thinking he is superior to everyone else and talked about women in such nasty ways on the regular (50% of voters are women, roughly; so riddle me that…) came to run the most powerful nation on earth, I will never understand.

If you read this far, thanks. And please continue to pray for our nation. We desperately need divine help. If you still need proof via scripture, please see below. Thanks so much for your readership.

“I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” – Jesus. Matt 25:35

“You shall love the Lord God with all of your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

“Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers.” Romans 12:13

“In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew…barbarian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” Colossians 3:11

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unaware. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortutured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Hebrews 13:1-3

“…therefore we must support such people, so that they may become co-workers with the truth.” 3 John 1:5

 

The Beatitude Series – Blessed vs. Happy, an Introduction

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By: Jana Greene

Hi, friends. This week and the next, I will be writing with a focus on the biblical Beatitudes. I’ll try to convey my heart on the subject and – as always – welcome YOUR take on each post. Blessed be, dear readers.

Many of you know that I am involved in a Christ centered 12 Step program. At tonight’s meeting, the leader made an amazing point about being blessed, and I can’t sleep until I share it with you. It was an AHA! moment; an epiphany, if you will. So simple, yet so profound.

We were discussing the Beatitudes – those biblical ‘blessed be’s. I’ve read them a thousand times. I’ve delved into studying them. I thought I understood them. But one single sentence he shared struck a chord, and I am thinking of it still.

You see, My Beloved and I recently returned from a trip to the mountains. We stayed in a tiny cabin and read books all day, and listened to the birdsong on the porch swing, and Van Morrison in the evenings, and went fishing in a little stocked pond multiple times. It was super EASY being happy there.

Alas, the realities back home were waiting for us upon our return. It wasn’t that I was unhappy to be back in real life; it’s just that comparatively, I’d rather sit in a cabin in the woods and read all day every day. Evidently that’s a lot to ask for.

But I’m richly blessed to the point of overflow. And not because of things or lack of things.

Happiness and blessedness are not the same thing.

Happiness is circumstantial. I can be full of mirth one moment, and in another moment become sad or angry. Oh how we love to chase the Happy!

Happiness is what we worship, isn’t it? I just want to be happy.

If I had all of my bills paid, I’d be happy. If my children were serving God, I’d be happy. If I lose 30 pounds, I’ll be happy. When I get that dream job / house / recognition / improved health … THEN  I’ll be happy. And then eventually I won’t, because LIFE keeps happening.

We catch it sometimes in celebration and laughter (which, according to my favorite author Anne Lamott, is ‘carbonated holiness.’ It’s an awful lot of chasing for something so fickle.

Blessed is a state. It is your natural state of being, because of whose you are. Even if you don’t know or believe, you are bestowed with the blessing of being invited to partake in the divine dance of the Trinity. Blessedness surpasses time or emotion or circumstance.

To live in a state of blessing awareness is to live the transcendent life. It’s a lot harder than it sounds! I’m preaching to myself here, too, because I am emotionally driven and get high on the Happy. There is no reality crash on blessedness.

There is only one qualifier to living the blessed life – if you know who you are and who you were created to be, you reap the benefits from the One who loves you.

So that’s what I’ll be writing about in this series; taking each beatitude one by one and hashing it out a bit. I’ll be referencing The Message translation of scripture.

Tomorrow the subject will be “Blessed are the poor in spirit” Please come along for the ride!

And note that my opinions are just that – my take on this very hard thing called Life. I’d love to hear your perspective as well.

Blessed be, friends.

The Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. – Matthew 5:1-12 (MSG)

 

Triage for the Spirit – Loving a hurting world

 

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By: Jana Greene

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”– Mark 2:17 (MSG)

Last night I had a curious thought. I was considering our roles as Christ followers and the very varied and controversial methods of spreading the gospel we employ.

How important is it chastise others who are not towing the proverbial line according to biblical standards, vs. how important it is to leave the confrontation of one’s behavior to God, if and when he so chooses, and just love the bejeebers out of people who don’t look / act / believe like us.

Pick your righteous anger pet peeve purveyor:

Drunks.

Presidents (incoming and outgoing).

Adulterers.

Junkies.

Atheists.

People who don’t use turn signals.

Flag burners.

The LGBT community.

Democrats. Or Republicans.

Sex addicts.

The maddeningly militant youths of today.

Twerkers  (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

A virtual smorgasbord of naughty and / or reprehensible to your delicate sensibilities. My delicate sensibilities. Here’s the rub: The hurting world already knows what Christians think of their behaviors and choices. They’ve already heard it, and built fortresses around themselves to keep Jesus out because his followers are too often full of hate and judgement.

Maybe what they DON’T know is the message of his passionate and unrelenting LOVE for them, right exactly where they are. Maybe they can’t hear it over the din of our disdain.

There is a large percentage of church-goers who will call you a heretic, if you don’t call unbelievers on their crap. I know because I used to be one.

But not anymore. Because God didn’t build a fortress to keep me out when I was abusing alcohol and dying inside. He invited me in to his kingdom as is. As. Is.

So, picking back up on the story of last night’s considerations, God gave me the image of a paramedic.

When an EMT is called to the scene of an accident or incident, it is because a horrible emergency has arisen. They are FIRST on the scene because they must act fast to keep people from dying. If they are responding to a car accident, for example, they are not tasked with figuring out which driver was at fault, who ran through the red light. They are not determining who was at fault and why. They are just bringing life-giving service in the heat of carnage and panic. Law enforcement will arrive shortly after an incident to hash out the details and disperse judgement via tickets or citations.

We believers are called to be triage. We are asked to be first responders in the call to tell people (even the ones that rile us up). God will do his thing – his Holy thing – smack-dab in the middle of carnage and panic. On his time. He metes out conviction, and does so lovingly, like the gentle Father he is. He hashes out the details. It’s simply not our job.

You are triage.

You might be the first point of contact for someone whose whole life is caving in.

Open the fortress gate like Jesus did for you. Fling those gates WIDE open. Tell people about the wild, fierce, passionate love that God wants to manifest in their lives. There is nothing tidy about his love, it spills over and out to all sinners and saints, and this hurting world needs desperately to know that.

Billy Graham is quoted as saying:

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

I like that. I like it a lot.

God bless us, every one.

Love Swings Harder

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By:Jana Greene

“Persuasion confirms confident expectation and proves the unseen world to be more real than the seen. Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future.” – Hebrews 11:1 (The Mirror Bible translation)

Can I just take a minute to appreciate the beauty of that verse? Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future. MIND BLOWN.

There doesn’t seem to be a glut of things to celebrate right now.

I was turbo-thumb scrolling through Facebook chuckling at goofy cats wearing hats and babies teaching each other to walk, and then.. a trickle of posts from news agencies. Lives of yet more law enforcement officers were taken in Baton Rouge, and oh my dear Lord, what is happening to us?

Oh no. Please God, no.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even tuned in for live coverage yet. Much like the grounds of my beloved hometown of Houston, my ground is saturated. My spirit is just saturated. I can’t take one more sad thing. Storm after storm have filled the ground and there’s nowhere for the runoff to go. I know we are all hurting. We are all just trying to doggy paddle in the flood of awfulness right now.

The past few weeks have been an abysmally horrible example of what people of a godless world can inflict upon each other. Does blood mean NOTHING to us anymore?

In between tragedies and murders, there have been tides of goodwill and love between fellow men. Each tragedy followed by an outpouring of people helping one another, followed by another blow, followed by good people acting, followed by more blood in the street….Each time Grace gets on her feet, she is assaulted with another hard swing. But like a boxing match between Hatred and Grace, Grace is getting its ass kicked.

Or so it seems.

But still …

I keep thinking of the end of Jesus’s last day on earth, and how terrified the disciples must have been when the sky turned black and their One True Hope died just like a regular guy. Can you imagine?  Talk about feeling like God has left the building!  There was even an earthquake as His Spirit ascended, but from the human viewpoint, it just looked like the world was ending.

It just looked like doom.

That’s what it feels like to me now.

Blood means everything, and is the only way anything matters. The darkening sky had to happen; It had to happen for love to swing harder. Blood and disaster ushered in hope for the whole of mankind.

I guess faith isn’t about not questioning, because any sane person is doubting and questioning right now. I know I am – big time. Just being honest.

In spite of everything, I believe we are on this planet right now because God deemed us fit to thrive in it for His sake. Not just survive – but thrive.

Even when I just want to make a blanket fort and consume multiple cartons of Haagen Dazs and wash it down with boxed chardonnay while I snuggle with my cats and listen to sad Coldplay songs so I can properly grieve the state of the Union (and the state of the world.)

Again, just being honest.

I’ve been sober a long time, but I have to tell you, I am asking God for help every single day. I need him to help me stay sober and sane.

How can love swing harder if we all stay drunk in our blanket forts? Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future.

Here’s my strategy, and it’s kind of weird but wildly helpful to me:

Each time I become despondent and feel anxiety rising,  I try to visualize the expressions on the faces of the disciples when they laid their actual EYES on the resurrected Jesus. Awe, wonder, hope sprung eternal. Doom turned to dust, death made impotent for all eternity.

Jesus was all like “TA DAAA!”

And “What part of ‘I’m coming back’ don’t you understand?”

And “I love you! Go now and love on everybody else.”

That’s how I’m coping and staying sober – striving toward the day Hatred doesn’t get the last swing, the day evil gets its ass kicked forevermore. Leaning INTO a loving Father whose heart is breaking for the way His kids are treating one another.

And trying to honor the One True Hope – and be the best ambassador for Him that I can.

When it looks like doom, stand on this saturated ground with me, and keep proclaiming who we KNOW God to be. By grace, love wins. This broken world needs to know it.

God bless us EVERY one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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