Tikkun Olam: where would i begin?

Just this morning my Bible reading brought me to chapter one of 1 Peter, where two verses jumped out at me: Be holy because He is holy (1:16) and …love one another deeply, from the heart. (1:22) They loomed large because they feel so impossible for me these days. I confess to having difficulty in loving my neighbor–and I use the word neighbor loosely. Kind of like asking Jesus, Who is my neighbor? and getting the reply that you know, but you don’t want to hear… What! Those people who call themselves Christians, yet still voted for Trump? They are my neighbors? Yes. That’s really how I feel… (And that is, realistically, almost half this country???)

My ruminations led me to remember the book  Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha;  so I pulled it from my bookshelf and started paging through it again, a couple of years later, in this time of Covid-19 and anger and racial division and conspiracy theories and chaos.

It didn’t take long to find the chapter I remembered, “Repair.” She writes about a Jewish term, tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.”  Tikkun olam calls us to do what we can to sacrificially act for the good of our neighbors, even if those neighbors might be our enemies. Even if those neighbors are belligerent about mask wearing; even if those neighbors have a nasty-language-sign in their yard; even if they somehow think the person in the White House is good for the country. How can I love them when I think what they believe is abhorrent? (For a Jewish discussion on the concept, you might enjoy this article from My Jewish Learning.)

Nikondeha then relates several stories of the Batwa tribe in Rwanda who, when faced with having their harvest of carrots stolen from their neighbors, gave them potatoes too. When they were falsely accused of stealing cabbages, they gave twice as many cabbages back. Can you hear in these stories of one of the most difficult messages from Jesus:

…But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. — Matthew 5:39-40

Perhaps we ignore this instruction because it is just too difficult to wrap our heads and hearts around? There are many difficult “red-letter” passages in the New Testament, but none so absolutely unachievable as this one. Don’t fight back, instead say yes, here, hit me again. Someone is suing you for $5,000? Give them $10,000. Your neighbor’s car just died? Give them your second car that you just finished paying off. Forgive the person who treated you so grievously a few years ago that you haven’t spoken to each other since. Wait; don’t just forgive them, invite them to a luxurious feast at your house…

It’s radical, this concept of tikkun olam. But just think of what needs repairing in this world. More accurately, in our own small worlds–our families and our communities.

I suggest that another reason we ignore the reparations that we need to make is because they are SO HUGE as to be daunting. This is not only Love your Neighbor (which is hard enough!) but this is Love your Enemy. How can we do this? Where could we start? The poet philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Yes, this is the road right outside my door…

Jesus’ version of this thought is recorded in the gospels of Luke and Matthew–the parable of the mustard seed: “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) ESV

Although probably no one actually stole your carrot or cabbage crops, it is likely that someone stole your political yard sign. Or it is likely that your neighbor (or family member) voted for the other side. I suggest that to repair America, we need to take that first step toward tikkun olam. And the road begins right outside our door…

All We Need Is Love…

All of March, all of April, all of May so far, posts have been swirling around in my head and then rejected. Too serious, too stupid, too sad, too banal, too ubiquitous, too churchy, too inappropriate, too depressing, too inconsequential… So instead I wrote an inconsequential post on baking dessert, and an inconsequential post on our bathroom remodel. (I confess that the beautiful new bathroom isn’t inconsequential to me!)

I kept thinking of the Lennon-McCartney line, Nothing you can say that’s not been said… but it turns out that isn’t the right lyric. It is close to a line from “All You Need Is Love” and that’s the lyric we all need to hear right now. “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need…” So have a listen to the song, while you’re reading my words that have all been said before.

This stuff we’re going through is scary. We’ve probably all read enough dystopian novels that start simply enough with oh, say, all the grass dying from a disease (No Blade of Grass, by John Christopher) or  women no longer being able to give birth so humanity is dying out (The Children of Men by P. D. James) or climate change causing  social structures to break down (The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler) or a viral pandemic that starts in one small area and spreads worldwide (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; The Stand by Stephen King; )… It’s easy to look at what’s happening now and say, What if… Okay, yes. Too depressing.

I myself have been having trouble reading, concentrating. The librarian! So if dystopian novels are too depressing,  I told myself, read something light. So I chose 14 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, but all that did was remind me of the ten days in Scotland that is not happening. Non-fiction, I brainstormed, and soon after I was reminded that The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher was on my life to-read-list, but it had always been pushed to the bottom because I didn’t think I had time. Duh! There are no events on my calendar, and I’ve got time. I’m reading it now on my kindle and thoroughly enjoying it.

Since we’re on the topic of song lyrics, how about John Prine’s song, Spanish Pipedream: Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, move to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try to find Jesus, on your own…)

Garden for Joy

Plant a little garden: We’ve already covered that in this post, but just in case you didn’t read it, go out and plant something. On your patio. In your back yard. In your front yard. Grow cosmos. Or lantana. Grow yellow tomatoes. Or seven different varieties of basil. Grow a lemon tree…

Turn off the Television: I admit to wanting to blow mine up.  24-7 broadcasting of Covid-19 statistics and scares is not good for anyone’s mental health…Neither is 24-7 broadcasting on the current president’s stupidity. Sorry. I just had to throw that in there because that has me as depressed as the virus statistics. So turn off the news, turn off the president, turn off the divisiveness. Play games, go for a walk, make homemade ice cream, order pizza delivery for a friend.

Try to find Jesus: Now is the time. Do you need hope? Do you need comfort? Do you need the ability to get rid of the belief that you are in control? Take comfort in what Jesus told his disciples: So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring fears of its own… There are you-tube church services abounding right now, and you don’t have to actually walk into a church. I remember how daunting that was when I was finally ready to take that step. It took me a month to get up the courage.

Pray: “Prayer and meditation are highly effective in lowering our reactivity to traumatic and negative events,” says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage, family and addictions therapist. “They are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves.

Giving comfort to someone else brings comfort to you: Find something to do for someone who is worse off than you. Donate your time. Donate your talent. Donate your money. We were going to donate our stimulus check, but we haven’t received it yet. That’s okay; it’s giving us plenty of time to decide how to donate it…

So yes, all of this advice is everywhere. And frankly, I’m tired of those sappy commercials of “We’re all in this together”. I appreciate the sentiment; it is true. And I’d rather see one of those commercials than the tv news of protesters dressed in camo carrying guns. I admit to being a child of the sixties: I want to walk up and put daisies in their gun barrels.

I took this picture today when I was outside decorating my house for spring. These ajuga and lilies of the valley are growing together and cooperating beautifully in the same space. Even though they are different colors; even though they are different species. When will humans learn from them? In truth, some of the most beautiful landscapes are those with incredible variety. With all that is going on the world, we are being called to rise above the division, the noise, the ugliness and reach out in love to someone who might be different from us.

Take one step forward today. Be kind and love on someone. Be kind to yourself. Pray. Be grateful for what you do have. Love isn’t love till you give it away

 

 

Meanderings on Comfort…

We used to jokingly call him King Henry The First. He died on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a cat’s life, well lived.

I never felt right feeding birds while he was around; scattered bird seed was limited to very heavy snows when Henry was kept inside.

So in December I bought a small feeder, some suet and black sunflower seeds. I hung everything outside the mud room window where Henry had once liked to lurk in the bushes. It took the chickadees a few days; the juncos were next; and then a band of blue jays appeared and I knew we were in.

 

I stood at the window often in the early winter trying to get some good bird photos with my iPhone, but it made them nervous each time I moved, so eventually I gave up and just enjoyed watching them and keeping track of who visited. There was no Henry to hog the chair by the window, only the two humans who politely take turns…

 

Lately I’ve had time to stand quietly at the window again. Spring is here and the birds still seem delighted to be fed. Earlier this week I transplanted a dozen sunflower sprouts to a spot in the sun. Spring has come. Flowers are blooming. Fruit trees are starting to blossom. I have started seeds in eggshells and planted some peas and lettuces. The rhythms of nature have not changed, though the human world is now a discordant bang.  Or perhaps a better analogy is the door to the world we knew slammed shut.

Where is your comfort when so much has been taken away?

Cat lounging on porch swing

My big physical comfort was Henry. There’s nothing like a warm cat cuddling on your lap, purring at you, touching your cheek with his gentle paw… We decided to not get another cat until we came back from our ten day Scotland vacation in June… Yeah, that’s gone too… And now I have no cat to physically comfort me, and no Scotland to look forward to. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much; I know that. 

We all have lost our comfort-able-ness, haven’t we? Some of us have lost more than others, but we all can lament on what’s been taken from us. We can mourn (it’s okay to mourn our losses, no matter how small) and then we must find new ways to regain our comfort. (Just as an aside, I looked up ways, and the online definition is methods of reducing damage...) 

The word comfort made me pause the other day, as I considered where my comfort comes from…

And what came into my head were the words to one of the best loved praise songs ever written:

My comfort, my shelter,

tower of refuge and strength,

Let every breath, all that I am,

Never cease to worship you…

Shout to the Lord by Darlene Zesch.

If our comfort is in work, family, health, money, entertainment, friends, houses, skills? It’s all up in the air, isn’t it? On hold. That’s not to say, those aren’t good things, but they aren’t the best thing. Earthly treasures disappear. Quickly, as we have learned.

I don’t write about faith often. It’s a tricky thing, and one that I denied for much of my adult life. It’s an unseen, not-easy-to-prove way in our modern, rational world that needs proven science to be considered authentic.

Cat in window

But sometimes the mystery is what we need to cling to when other idols have turned to clay. (That’s a biblical metaphor, by the way…)

I know believers aren’t supposed to quote scripture to prove their beliefs, because what non-believer cares about the Bible? But this quote on faith is one that I’ve grown to love: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.–Hebrews 11:1. Faith is so personal, yet those of us who have it long to share it with those who need it. Because we know how it has changed our lives. For good. For better. For best. It doesn’t eliminate struggles or pain; it simply reminds us of God’s promises, reminds us to be grateful, reminds us to love, and reminds us that dying as a believer is not the worst thing — it is simply the beginning of a new journey.

Kitty looking over back porch

These days, if your comfort is cold, and you are thinking hard on what is important in your life, give faith a chance. Not all Christians are looney-toon right wing nut cases. :-) Some of us are probably your friends. We are struggling to make sense of all this too, but the three things we do have are comfort and hope and faith–the assurance that things unseen are truths we know in our hearts, our minds, our souls. And it gives us a glimpse, a gift of peace that’s not present in this earth-bound world.

 

Here are some places to meander:

Read this: The Gospel of Luke in the New Testament; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; Letters from a Skeptic by Gregory Boyd, Corona Virus and Christ by John Piper; Be Still and Know that I Am God

Watch this: Hope in Times of Fear by Tim Keller;  A moment of Comfort by Kathy Troccoli;  Choose Faith, not Fear, a sermon by Nicky Gumbel

Listen to this: Shout to the Lord, sung by Darlene Zesch; In Christ Alone by Celtic Worship; No Longer Slaves sung by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser;  Finding God, sermon by Timothy Keller