Wednesday, April 11, 2012

God–shepherding all of us

On the hills today in Morocco, Israel and throughout the region, you can see goats and sheep running about in combined flocks, looking for grasses to eat. They are not quite as abundant as they were in Biblical times, but they remind us of why the shepherd/flocks/sheep metaphors are so prevalent, especially in this week’s Bible Lesson titled “Everlasting Punishment.” Goats know where they are going and sheep are happy to follow them, but the shepherd is needed to protect them when animal predators approach. Biblical ‘flocks’ are often combined flocks of goats and sheep.

As humans, we get ourselves into trouble when we think of ourselves more highly than sheep. The sheep are better off for trusting unquestioningly that their shepherd knows what’s best for them. He will always be there for them, guiding them gently or firmly in the right direction. When David was a shepherd, he fought bears and lions (Ezek 34:23-24 in the Responsive Reading and citation 19; see also I Sam 17:34-37). The job wouldn’t be easy for humans working alone, but it’s God’s responsibility to protect the sheep and us. In this week’s lesson, we have examples of God’s servants shepherding the people and of God shepherding all of us (Luke 12:32, Golden Text; Ps 23, cit. 1; S&H 578, cit. 1; Ps 95, cit. 6; etc). God is not just protecting us with a sling and a staff, but with immortal Mind, ever-present Love, omnipotent Principle and Soul-filled Spirit.

When we follow God’s leadings, we will be taken care of, during times of both peace and punishment. Joseph was maligned by Potiphar’s wife after he refused to be seduced by her (Gen 39, cit. 8). Potiphar was the head of Pharaoh’s private guard, like the chief in charge of Secret Service. The word for officer is ‘saris,’ which can also be translated ‘eunuch.’ Because some men close to pharaohs and kings were castrated (so that they would wholly serve their leader), all officials were called by the same word, but not all of them had been castrated. Potiphar had a human position of power and authority, but God’s authority was much greater and God protected Joseph. When Joseph was in prison, he was well-treated, quickly rose in position and was eventually freed after correctly interpreting some prisoners’ dreams. He had not sinned, so there was no need for punishment. Later, when Joseph was reunited with his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, he forgave them, acknowledging that he had been able to do God’s work in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and later while helping to feed people from throughout the entire region, acting as a shepherd to them.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, he tries to run away from his father (Luke 14, cit. 14 and 15). He gives his father the most egregious insult possible in Biblical times, basically saying, ‘You are dead to me,’ as he insists on taking his inheritance. His father’s love is unwavering, though. When the Prodigal realizes his mistakes, repents of his sins and returns, his father runs to him and gives him the symbols of belonging to his family: his signet ring, a robe and sandals. The older son also has learning and growing to do. He becomes jealous of his brother’s treatment, wanting the Prodigal to be punished. His father has forgiven him, but he hasn’t. We never hear if he eventually comes in to enjoy the party and partake of the feast. “Self-love is more opaque than a solid body. In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error, — self-will, self-justification, and self-love, — which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death” (S&H 242, cit. 13).

God the father protects us all, forgiving us even when we act maliciously or turn away in a jealous rage. In this story, the father is shepherding both sons, showing them equal love and understanding. This week, we can look for ways that God is shepherding us, keeping us from harm and undue punishment.

(This was published in the Christian Science Sentinel of April 23, 2012. It is related to the CS BibleLesson (lectionary) "Everlasting Punishment" for the week from Apr 23-29, 2012. These all used to be published online and freely accessible. Since you now need a paid subscription, I'll publish all of them here.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Homosexuality and self-love instead of self-loathing

Disseria wrote (on, on July 6th, (which I just read today) that there is a group that met at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (their biggest meeting, where they elected a new moderator, leader, for their church this year) to help people with ‘unwanted same-sex attractions’. I think that I would be fine with this if I believed that the organizers of this group wanted to help them learn to love themselves and forgive themselves for whatever they think they have done wrong (which is nothing). I have a feeling, though, that the organizers were helping them to go further in their self-hatred and self-loathing up to the point of denying who they are. There are certainly bi-sexual individuals who are attracted to both men and women, but many people are only attracted to one gender.

I knew that I was attracted to boys when I was four years old. I would chase them around the playground hoping to catch one and kiss him.

I think the inclination to keep individuals from embracing their true selves is destructive at best and homicidal at worst. Gay teens are 3x more likely to commit suicide than straight teens.

There are so many ways that people are hurting in this world. Why can’t caring people work to stop the pain, instead of encouraging and exacerbating it?

One of my favorite hymns starts this way: “Love one another, – word of revelation; Love frees from error’s thrall, – Love is liberation. Love’s way the Master [Jesus] trod; [Those] that love shall walk with God. Love is the royal way.” May we love each other enough to see past our own prejudices and self-limitations.

I pray that we may all feel Love, an aspect of God, in our love for ourselves and each other. When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I think that a lot of people get tripped up because they don’t love themselves, so they don’t really have a problem hating others as well. Perhaps even for those people, through showing others love and compassion, they may learn to love and forgive themselves. That is my continual prayer.