A Label, By Any Other Name

One day during a planning meeting, someone appreciated my organizational skills and said, “My Virgo feels so much better now.”  Then they asked about several future activities.  I said we’d get to those in a few months, after we completed other steps.  They exhaled and checked something off their to-do list.

Later, as I reviewed my notes, I wanted to ask, “What comforts your Virgo?”  I imagined how stifled they might feel within the stereotype of detail-oriented Virgo.  I also wondered whether their Virgo labelled other colleagues or me, if that Virgo perspective is the only one they hold. 

Even as we can be almost anything, live nearly anywhere, and learn about any culture in one swipe, many of us still live according to labels designated to separate and diminish us, rather than connect and empower us.  Sometimes we keep ourselves in these labelled boxes, perhaps because someone told us that’s where we fit — and we never questioned it. 

Consider some of the labels:

Black, Tan, White, Yellow

Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh

Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Straight, Trans

Destitute, Poor, Privileged, Rich

Educated, Uneducated

Aquarius, Gemini, Leo, Scorpio

Enneagram: 4, 3, 2, 1

Communist, Democrat, Libertarian, Progressive, Republican, Socialist

Artist, Chef, Criminal, Entrepreneur, Teacher, Unemployed, Veteran

Cousin, Dad, Mom, Sister, Uncle

Carnivore, Vegetarian

Fat, Short, Tall, Thin

Athlete, Couch-Potato

Homebody, Traveler

Loser, Winner

Sometimes we classify one another, like specimens in petri dishes, saying, “They’re this way because they’re an ‘Introverted, Radical, Vegan, Architect.’”  Then we imagine we know their whole story.  We may spend tons of money and time assessing ourselves and others based on classifications which can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  We may struggle within those labels to meet some standard, trying on other labels for size, like new clothes, to see whether they suit us better.

Often, institutions put us through the demoralizing process of labelling to determine our rank, credit score, and net worth, as well as our aptitude to enter a specific school, live in a particular neighborhood, or drive a certain car.  We’re evaluated with algorithms and metrics to determine what kind of risk we might be to their security and how we conform to societal ideals. 

And among all those labels, we forget the only important one: Beloved Creation of God (or whichever name we use for God), Beloved Creator of all things.  Being one of God’s Beloved Creations means we’re divine just as we are — and so is everyone else.  That divinity, indwelling in each of us, is expansive.  It allows us to rise beyond the limitations of all other labels.

As soon as we begin discarding labels, we grow in spiritual maturity.  No matter what we’ve believed about ourselves before or which paths we’ve traveled already, we feel free to embrace both the depth of our divinity and the strength of our humanity.  We live from a greater sense of compassion, understanding that everyone experiences pain and loss, as much as joy and success.  And, as we know the divine within us, we know it in all others, too.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

No Monuments Required

Those of us who preach regularly have our own process for discerning what texts to discuss and/or themes to cover, and which concerns need our attention.  Weeks before events unfolded in Charlottesville, Va., I chose a portion of Acts 17 to describe how we as God’s divine creations are called to transform our lives and our world.

In that 1st century passage, Disciple Paul addresses an Athenian council, noting both its religiosity and its shrines.  He reminds the council that God is Supreme Creator of all being and things.  He declares that the council’s purpose isn’t to create idols, erect statues or build churches.  Rather, its purpose is to seek and align with God, for God is never far away.

And perhaps, more important, he says:

In God we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are God’s offspring.” And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed from gold or silver or stone.

According to Paul, then, we need only follow God.  He reminds the council — and us — that no amount of statues, monuments, or edifices can prove our love for God or make God love us anymore since we already are loved unconditionally, with infinite compassion.  Yet, 2,000 years later, we seem to have learned little of this truth.  Despite all our so-called advances, some of us have made no progress.

Our spirituality is misdirected when we choose to follow other people, places and things first, when we make idols of possessions, positions, statues and structures, all of which fall apart.  Rather than build our lives on the inherent wisdom, wonder and worth within us because we all are God’s divine creations — no matter where we live, how we look or who we love — we build ourselves and our lives on the backs of others, so our egos feel better and our pride can lick its wounds.

Some of us have been taught that we’re meant to claim our supremacy and make ourselves more powerful at another’s expense.  Some of us never learned, despite all the spiritual masters and ancient wisdom at our fingertips, that the radiant Presence of God we are, here in this world right now, is our greatest power.  And that we’re most powerful when we live from the authenticity and depth of this presence, our divinity.

What harmony and peace we will have when we remember that there is only one supreme power in the world and in our lives, that each one of us is created by it, and we all are one before it.  Maybe now, 2,000 years later, we can do as Disciple Paul advised: Live and know who we are and whose we are, all of us, everyone, no monuments required.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Path of Love

As spring unfolds, on a day of abundant sunshine in a bright, blue sky, I visit a new park.  My friends and I wander in various directions, and I find myself on a winding path.  I pause at a lake and admire the fountains.  I stop in an azalea grove and see the first robins of the season.

As I walk, I marvel at the day’s beauty and perfection.   I meet a family collecting pine cones, and the youngest child shows me hers.  A couple carrying the remains of a picnic wave as they pass, while a group of co-eds giggle, heads bowed, avoiding any eye contact, as if in a secret conference.  Since I don’t know my way around and several paths are unmarked, I meander onto some which twist into each other or end in a clearing.  Occasionally, I walk through brush, hearing the crunch of leaves underfoot.

Then I reach a paved walkway, which seems to lead to the other side of the park.  A sign posted indicates that the area is closed for a private event, though I hear only a crow calling and see no barrier or anyone else around.  A few yellow butterflies float ahead of me, and like a little girl in a fantasy, I venture forward, aware that I am “breaking the rules.”  As I walk, I see two benches facing one another in a grove of olive trees.  I sit on one of the benches, attempting to determine which has the better view, when I see the golden placard which reads:

In Loving Memory

Clementine Bernstein

1924-2008

I rest for several minutes, breathing in the fresh afternoon air, jotting a few memories in a tiny notebook I often carry.  I feel the warm air through my light cotton sweater.

It’s said that those who pass on never truly depart; they merely become invisible to our human sight.  I think of my father and how much he loved gardens and any pathway where he could consider, as he called the foliage, the “growings.”  I remember his advice to take time to smell the flowers, to be still and know the Presence of God, in and through all God’s creations, great and small.

At any moment, I expect to be told to leave.  Yet no one else appears, so I linger.  Only after I shift to the opposite bench to consider another view do I realize the divinity here.  For when I look at this placard, I see:

In Loving Memory

Seymour Bernstein

1923-2015

I don’t know the Bernsteins, where they lived, what they did, what they believed.  All I know is: Someone loved them.

In this season of passing over and rising up, no matter what paths we’ve traveled or where they’ve led, we can remember: We, too, are God’s divine creations, loved with an everlasting love, always, to the end of our days — and beyond.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

No More Same Old, Same Old

Years ago I worked with a Negative Nell who continually whined and complained.  Often, my co-workers and I heard her mutter, “SSDD [Same Sh**, Different Day].”  We rarely escaped a meeting without her bemoaning her lot in life and her railing against God for all the misfortunes she faced.  No matter what any of us said or did to encourage or support her, we heard the same thing: “Why bother?  It’s always the same old, same old.”

Perhaps, Blessed Reader, you know the type: Someone who not only can’t see the glass half full, but can’t even see the glass.  Who believes that God is some kind of wicked tyrant or capricious ruler, condemning them to a life of woe and suffering.  Who wants everyone and everything else to change, but who doesn’t know how and/or isn’t willing to think or behave differently.

As a pastor, I realize: Some people haven’t yet heard the message that on this spiritual journey we call our lives, we have numerous, divine opportunities for transformation.  These people don’t yet know that God isn’t a master puppeteer in the sky pulling our strings, giving us more than we can handle or doling out gifts to a favored few.

I want them to know this instead: God is Divine Creator of all things, including us.  God is Ever-Abiding Grace, Infinite Compassion and Unconditional Love, everywhere, all the time.  Therefore, we are divine creations, born with all the faith, strength and wisdom we’ll ever need within us to live glorious lives.

Furthermore, as divine creations, we’re also free agents, which means we have free will to align ourselves with God, to choose who we’ll be, what we want, where we’re going and what we’ll do.  So, no matter what we may have been, thought, done, or believed before, we have the power to transform our lives.  Especially if any of our self-talk sounds like the same old, same old.

The truth is: We can choose to transform ourselves, because transformation begins with us.  Only when we choose to change ourselves and do “it” differently, whatever the “it” is, do we reach the place where transformation is possible.

Rather than believe that we’re automatons which must react in the same old ways, as if we run on only one internal program, we can delete the self-defeating, life-draining mantras and re-wire our thinking and adjust our behavior.  Inevitably, though sometimes slowly, this allows us to alter our circumstances and enjoy new, more enriching outcomes and experiences.

Ultimately, transformation requires trust; first in God, then in ourselves.  And, as we discern and travel our faithful life journeys, we discover wondrous things are unfolding through us and for us, one sacred step at a time.

 

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.