Bloomin’ Thought for the Day: Love One Another

John 12: 34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

When I was planning my new rose garden, I chose 5 roses, each with a different color. I’m not a vanilla kind of gal; I need a variety of flavors in my life. I think that’s why I worked in Emergency Rooms for the majority of my nursing career. We never knew what was coming in, so we had to be on high alert through the whole shift. I enjoyed the challenges each new day presented, and the knowledge I acquired from them. There was always something new to learn.

I’m feeling a bit frustrated right now, though, because the challenges that are smacking me in the head are those that we are all facing, not just nurses and doctors. We are all trying to discern ways to deal with COVID 19. This is something that none of us have ever experienced, and one that seemingly has no end.

There is a larger problem, however, that also seems unlikely to end any time soon. The racial tensions in America are at the highest levels I think anyone has ever seen, and I can’t help but think we are making matters worse instead of better. Hate is spilling over the top from both sides, racial and political, and the chasm between them seems to be growing deeper.  As a child, I never felt any fear or animosity against anyone unless they hurt me, and even then, by the next day the transgression was forgotten. I still give people who hurt me multiple chances at reconciliation.

Now, though, I struggle to understand, or make sense out of, the violence that is poisoning our lives. I’m angry seeing innocent people being harmed or killed or businesses destroyed. So many people have tried to explain that this is in response to many years of persecution that African Americans have endured. As much as I do understand that, no one can convince me that violence is the answer, especially since I believe that the residual riots have little to nothing to do with the initial trigger. Changes need to be made for sure, but it will take time, and we have to be patient. I must believe that peace will come. I don’t know when or how, and the resolution may be painful, but I can’t imagine we can sustain ourselves as a nation with all this hate and anger.

As I was enjoying my rose garden today, I was struck by the fact that, of the seven rose bushes I planted, all are either already beautiful, or showing healthy growth, but one: my Peace Rose. Granted, I planted it later than the rest, but it’s not even showing even tiny signs of growth yet.  I placed it right in the middle of the multicolored roses. As I contemplated the question of whether my Peace Rose will grow or not it, I became sad. Isn’t it a bit like the turmoil of today? Different colors on both sides of the virtual battlefields, and peace hasn’t yet begun to grow.

Just as African Americans are trying to achieve recognition and reparations in the world, God is also at work trying to do the same thing. I believe He is pleading with us to turn our attention to Him and to His sovereign words, the most important of which is love. If we would all do that, “red and yellow, black and white”, and remember that we are all “precious in His sight”, this world might stand a chance at survival. “Jesus loves the little children of the world”, and adults, too, and He charges us to do the same.

Good Bones Will Last

“Daddy, I had a weird dream last night”, a son said to his father one morning.

“What did you dream about?”, asked his dad.

“I dreamed that I looked out the front door and all I could see was fog, nothing else at all. It just looked like a gray wall. I went to find you to show you and when we looked outside, it was clear. Then we look in the sky. The sky was dark but there was patch of really bright color in the sky that looked like a flat rainbow. As we watched, the rainbow made itself into the shape of a fish. There was even a black circle in it for an eye. It stayed there for a while and then started turning around. As it turned around it gradually turned itself into the skeleton of the fish but still had the black eye. What does that mean? It was really weird.”

“Well, son, dreams are hard to explain. They usually represent something and it’s tricky to figure out sometimes”, said the dad, “but this is what I think. The rainbow represents God’s promise to us never to destroy the earth by water again. The fish symbol was used by early Christians to identify themselves to each other. Some people in Jesus’s time were afraid of Him because they didn’t want to lose their power if he was truly the Son of God, the King of Israel, the expected Messiah. They didn’t want to be taken over. The people that truly believed in Him were in danger of harm from the ones that hated him, so in order for them to be able to continue spreading the Good News of Jesus without being killed, they used a fish as their identification. They would draw a fish in the sand to let other Christians know they were there. The fish became a universal symbol of Christianity, something like the cross, only not quite as important”.

“Is that why I see those metal fish on cars and that symbol on religious things?”, said the boy.

“Yes”, said his dad. “When the people who were afraid of him crucified Jesus on the cross, he died, and his followers took his body and buried it in a cave. When they came back to see him three days later, he was gone”.

“Right, because he arose from the dead”, said the son.

“Exactly”, said his dad, “but his physical death did not not keep his disciples from passing on to other people all the things He taught them about, like God’s love, salvation, right and wrong, good and evil, sin, and how to have eternal life in Heaven with God. They wrote letters to different cities with all of Jesus teachings and asked the people to make sure they passed it on to others”.

“The Bible”, said the son.

“Yes, his father acknowledged. “I believe your fish bones represent the Bible. You can remove the flesh from a fish but if you don’t destroy the bones by picking them apart and cutting them up, they will stay good bones. The Bible is ‘good bones’ for Christians to study and live by. It is the Word of God for the people of God and we must live by what it teaches us. If we try to pick it apart and make it different than what it is just so it suits us, it’s no longer the bones of our faith, it’s whatever structure people want to make it. We can’t let that happen. The Bible is God’s law, son, and we must obey his law. The world will try to fog our view of God’s promise and His word, so when we think we can’t see His way for awhile, like through the fog in your dream, we have to take a step back and then look at it again. God will be there because He never leaves us, just like the eye never disappeared whether it was on the rainbow fish or the skeleton. He is always watching over us. We have to spread His Word and become fishers of people, just as He asked of us. Good dream, son”.

Yes, this was my real dream last night. I had to share it with you.

What Really Defines a Family?

What defines family? Except for physical similarities, bloodlines don’t always completely do it. I’m writing a book for which I have researched the “nature vs nurture” theories, albeit in terms of criminal behavior, which is not the topic I am addressing today. The bottom line of what I learned, though, is that nurture is more important in determining the person one becomes than nature. Of course, we can’t disregard genetic influences, as they are undeniably part of who we are, but what goes on within and outside the walls of a family dwelling are paramount in building a child’s character and establishing who they are ultimately to become.

This is even evident among animals. Take pit bulls for example. They are maligned as being a dangerous breed of animal, and it’s true that they can be more easily trained to be protective or aggressive than other breeds, but given the proper supportive environment, they can be loving and loyal family members.

Adopted children are every bit as much a part of a family as biological children. Half-siblings can love each other just as much as those with mutual parents. Even step siblings, with no biological roots, can find that bond. Think about this: Married couples don’t have common blood, at least we hope not, but their bond is as strong as it comes, sometimes even greater than with their own parents. They are family.

Families can have common blood running through everyone’s veins, they may have partially common blood or no common blood at all. A family is not just about shared DNA; it’s about shared experiences, overcoming disagreements, battling trials together, sharing laughter and good times, supporting each other through painful times, and being familiar with, and accepting of, the good, the bad, and the ugly in all of us. No, a family doesn’t necessarily have to be all about blood. A family is about love.

What to Believe, What to Believe?

Faith goes through stages of growth and maturity along with our bodies, if it is born and nurtured within our homes. My earliest recollection of faith is of my Nana, before her stroke, rocking me and singing songs of faith. One of my favorites was “Bringing in the Sheeps”. My older readers may smile, knowing that the song is actually “Bringing in the Sheaves”, but to a 4 year old, “sheeps” was as close a word as one could get from a toddler word bank. A few years later I remember loving her Bible, and her mustard seed necklace. (Matthew 17:20). I used to lie next to her in her home hospital bed while she read her small Bible and I would flip through its dog-eared pages. My aunt told me that she would buy me one of my own if I left Nana’s alone. I’m sure she worried that my small, less-than-dexterous fingers would rip the old, delicate pages. I have that King James Bible she gave me to this day. I just wish I knew where my Nana’s is.

My mom didn’t go to church, or anywhere else, because she was my invalid Nana’s primary caregiver, and we didn’t have a car. Well, that “it takes a village” thing started long before Hillary made it a household word. The Junior Choir director at church called my house and invited me to join, my aunt or uncle would drive me to practice on Wednesdays, another church member who lived a block away picked me up for Sunday School and church, a friend’s parents introduced me to the Moravian Christmas Eve Vesper Service, which I loved, and my next door neighbor took me to Vacation Bible School at her church. As I got older, I walked to church by myself. I had my own village long before it was cool.

It all seemed so simple, then, to believe in God, to believe that He gave His only son to save us from our sins, to believe in a place of eternal suffering if we do not accept these basic teachings, and to believe that the Bible was the only true source for the Word of God. Remember “It stands alone on the Word of God. The B-I-B-L-E”? It’s not so simple, anymore. I understand that the Bible was written by men and, therefore, only consists of words from men, not God, himself. But weren’t these men chosen by, and taught by, Jesus, himself, who was God incarnate? How much closer can we get to His Word? And yet, the Bible is constantly being revised, either in the form of one of its multiple translations, or one of the various doctrinal statements of individual denominations. Why are there so many opinions on God’s Word?

I’m not uneducated. I’m aware that there are no simple answers to these questions, but it seems that our opinions align with the societal norms du jour. There are clear differences between the Old and the New Testaments, with Jesus being the New Covenant of God, the loving counterpart to the wrath of God of the Old Testament. It’s like God said “OK, I’m tired of all you people not believing and not listening to me, and even more tired of yelling at you and being angry all the time. I am giving you proof of my existence and His name is Jesus. He will teach you about love and sacrifice.” Therefore, love is the predominant message of the New Testament, which gives voice to love, acceptance, inclusion, and understanding, all good stuff.

My question is, do the teachings of the New Testament negate the teachings of the Old Testament when they conflict? How about the directives that are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments? Why are we allowed to just assign our own interpretations to things that are clearly stated in God’s book? And why are there so many of them? If there is such a tendency to change the Gospel to the way society wants it to be according to the date and time, then why do we even need the Bible today? Maybe there should be Amendments. Or maybe every person should write his or her own Book of Discipline based on how he or she wishes to live life.

I don’t even know if my own denomination believes in Hell.  Apparently, some religious people don’t, and I do know that it is rarely, if ever, mentioned at my church, at least at services it isn’t. As a Lutheran growing up, the Apostles Creed said that Jesus “was crucified and descended into Hell. The third day He arose and ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Then at some point it was changed to “descended to the dead”, and now, the Methodists say that “He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he arose, according to the scriptures, and ascended into Heaven”. So now he didn’t descend anywhere, and what? A disclaimer: “According to the scriptures”? As though there is some other authority on the subject? Why should we be given the trophy of eternal life just for participating in the game of earthly life? And what will be next? Will we delete “and he will come again to judge the living and the dead”? Don’t mess with the Second Coming, please. Some Christian churches even refuse to administer communion, the body and blood of Christ, to those not in their particular denomination. How is that in unity with Christ?

I want to go back to the days when people believed in biblical morality, when the Word of God really was for “the People of God” and not the Word of the People for the People of the People. That’s the Constitution. Different genre. I long for the time when everyone knew what a sin was.

Of course, all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. All of us. The trick is to recognize our sin, repent, ask for forgiveness, and then “go and sin no more.” John 8:11. It isn’t always easy if that sin fulfills a need in our lives that isn’t getting fulfilled elsewhere, but that doesn’t make it less of a sin; it just makes it a more difficult temptation to overcome. Forgiveness is promised to us through the blood of Christ, but only if we can recognize sin when we see and not do it. Asking for forgiveness and then deliberately repeating our sin, knowing we will be forgiven, doesn’t cut it.

I just don’t know what we, as Christians, are supposed to believe, anymore, in this modern time of ours, but I do know what I believe in my heart and mind. Maybe “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) wasn’t only meant for the people at the cross.