Your Name Is Dulcinea

Over the weekend, I was able to see a production of Man of La Mancha. It is a powerful story based on the book Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. While there are several layers to the story, the main plot revolves around Don Quixote’s love and admiration for the woman he calls Dulcinea. When Don Quixote sees Dulcinea he knows he has found the perfect woman of virtue and beauty. She has done and can do no wrong.

The only problem is that Dulcinea is actually named Aldonza, and instead of being a virtuous woman she is a tavern wench. She can see nothing beautiful in herself or in her life. Throughout the play, Don Quixote continues to call her Dulcinea and speaks to her of her beauty and worth. And throughout the play, Aldonza continues to argue with him and tell him that he is unable to see the truth.

Near the end of the play, she boldly declares that she is and always will be Aldonza. Yet shortly after that, she is at the bedside of Don Quixote as he takes his last breath. When his companion, Sancho, looks at the woman on the other side of the bed, he calls her Aldonza. Then she stands up and declares, “My name is Dulcinea.”

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All of us have reason to doubt our own inner worth or beauty. All of us have seen the ugliness in our lives, because we are the ones who have done it. We have committed atrocities. We have spoken terrible words. We have given in because we were too weak to stand strong. We have relapsed. We have lied. We have cheated. We looked where we said we weren’t going to look.

And others have confirmed our opinions. We have been reminded by people in our lives of all of our failures. Sometimes, our parents have told us we will never amount to anything. Or they have derided our dreams as unrealistic or fanciful. Sometimes, our romantic partners have told us that we are just good enough and we are lucky they stick around. They cheat on us and tell us if only we were better it would not happen. Or they beat us and tell us if only we would act right. Sometimes, our friends remind us of all the mistakes we have made. Especially when we are trying not to make them anymore. They ask us if we think we are better than they are. They tell us we really won’t last doing the right thing. They tell us they will see us back again.

All of these messages pile up and crush us underneath their weight. No wonder so many of us think, and maybe even say out loud, that we will never be more than Aldonza.

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You are amazing. You may not know it, but you are. I know you have messed up. I know you have made some poor decisions. I know you have failed.

But that doesn’t matter to me. You are amazing.

You are beautiful. All those imperfections that you notice when you look in the mirror do not stand out to most people. I know you think they do, and that is hard to overcome.

But you are beautiful. You are amazing.

You are a hard worker. I see you trying to do the right thing in each situation every day. I know you are tired. I know you are overwhelmed. I know you do not have a 100% success rate.

But you are a hard worker. You are amazing.

You matter to me as a person. I know others have cut you down. I know others have told you they don’t like you. I know those messages hurt down deep. But your life is important. Who you are as a person is important. You have gifts and talents to offer that no one else can. You have knowledge and experience that no one else does. You have something I need. And hopefully, I have something you need. Let’s figure that out together. I know what other people have told you.

But you matter to me. You are amazing.

I have heard the stories. I have witnessed the mess. I have walked alongside some of you through the darkest moments of humanity. I know why you struggle. I know why you doubt. I know why you question.

I know why you think less of yourself. But remember this: You are amazing.

Your name is Dulcinea.

I Can’t…

This post was originally shared back in 2012. While some things are not the same (I have since graduated), these thoughts still ring true. I want to write more about what I experienced last week, but right now all I can do is share these thoughts again; thoughts that were re-emphasized as I realized more and more the truth of how much I can’t. But just maybe we can.

So here’s the deal:  I can’t do this on my own.  What is “this”?  Simply put:  everything.

I am a husband.  I have failed many times in my relationship.  Yet my spouse continues forgiving and loving me.  (To be fair, my wife will say the same is true of her, but this isn’t her blog post).  I desire to become a better husband every day.  To that end, I have parents who have shown me what it means to love your spouse for more than 50 years.  We attended pre-marital counseling 15+ years ago with a therapist who ended up being my clinical supervisor this past summer.  I have many men and women who have been willing to listen to me and pray for me and offer me kind, gentle words of encouragement.  Many people have helped shape me into the husband I am today.

I am a father.  It is my goal to:  a. be the greatest father ever in the history of the world, and b. never make any mistakes.  So far, I have not succeeded with either of those.  In order to learn how to be a good father, I can look to my parents, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my grandmother, my cousins, and so many friends (not to mention my wife!).  I have learned so many lessons from people who were willing to talk to me when they could see me struggling with my children.  I have sought counsel from so many people who have raised and are still raising their own children.  I have shared with other parents who have (for some strange reason) come to me seeking guidance and support.

I am a friend.  There have been so many times I have let my friends down, I sometimes wonder why I still have any.  Yet still they hang around.  During the lowest points of my life, there have been certain friends who were always available, always ready to listen, always ready to stand by me (regardless if they approved of what I was doing or not).  In high school, my friends taught me the importance of learning how to accept people’s differences without compromising my principles.  That lesson is one that was hard for me to learn.  I have learned more and more how to be a friend from those friends who have continued to put up with me.

I am studying to be a therapist.  I am part of a cohort of students that have accepted not only me as their classmate, but my wife and children as part of our Marriage and Family Department family.  When Shawna went to India on a 10-day mission trip, my children and I were fed by my classmates and professors every day.  My children had babysitters when needed.  When we have had parties and get-togethers, my family has been welcome and loved.  I have learned so much from the perspectives, experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of my cohort, the cohort who graduated last year, and the cohort who is just starting in this program.  I have learned a lot about being a therapist from my professors and supervisors who have encouraged and supported me (and put up with me) every step of the way.

I am in recovery.  Every day I wake up sober is because of the love, support, encouragement, butt-kicking, and teaching I have received from more than 75 years of experience of others who have 12-stepped their way to health.  I have a support system that transcends support groups made up of countless family members and friends.

I am a Christian.  Every day, I strive to live a little bit better than I did the day before.  I try to love God and love other people.  I hope that my eyes are open to opportunities to serve, my ears are open to cries for help, and my mouth is closed until absolutely necessary.  I could not even begin to list the people (both believers and non-believers) who have taught me what it means to follow the God, Jesus, and Spirit I believe in.

I can’t do this on my own.  I know because I have tried and failed.  But with you, and you, and you….

Just maybe we can do this thing called life.

The Worst Five Chapters in the Bible–Who Will Lead God’s People, Part III

Over the last three weeks, I taught a series of lessons on the Book of Judges. It is a terrible book. But here is my last my lesson. If you are interested, here are the first two:

https://asecondtime.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/who-will-lead-gods-people-part-i-deborah/

https://asecondtime.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/who-will-lead-gods-people-part-ii-gideon/

“During that period, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right to them” (Judges 21:25, The Voice).

Do you have a period in your family history that you would rather remain hidden? Is there a period in your personal history that you would rather remain hidden?

Whether we like it or not, those dark periods of our stories also help define who we are. When Rheannon was born, we had a slight scare. As it turned out, nothing was wrong and she was completely healthy. But she spent five days in the NICU. She had tubes and wires and all sorts of beeping things attached to her.

I only remember taking one picture: Xavier, 2 years old at the time, kissing his sister. But even that picture was taken after many of the wires had been disconnected. At the time, we didn’t want to remember anything from that week.

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Looking back on it, though, that was one of the most love and encouragement-filled weeks of our lives. We were bombarded with visits, calls, gifts, prayers, and other expressions of love. We learned to have empathy for parents in a way we never had before.

Sometimes, it is the dark chapters of our lives that teach us lessons that will last a lifetime.

Which brings us to Judges. This is one of the most vile collections of stories about evil and the failings of humanity.

However, in the midst of the garbage, there are some good lessons:

Deborah teaches us that even the less privileged are important in the sight of God.

Gideon teaches us that He can work, even in the midst of our fear.

Ehud teaches us the value of being left-handed (look it up!).

Samson teaches us that it is good to grow one’s facial hair out during the hockey playoffs.

The book of Judges teaches us that God is still present, God is still moving in the lives of His people; yet it also teaches that when the people do not turn to God as their king stuff falls apart.

In Judges 17, we are introduced to a couple of stories that justify the Bible being a banned book in many school libraries.

The first story is about a guy named Micah and a Levite—a priest.

Micah is one of those heartwarming characters. He stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mom and after hearing curse the person who did it decided to return it. And then Micah’s mom has a great idea: they use the silver to make an idol.

After the idol is made and a shrine is built in Micah’s house, a traveling Levite comes to town. Micah sees a great opportunity: he has a shrine and an idol, now all he needs is a priest. So he hires the Levite to be his personal priest as he continues worshipping his idol. Because, “In those days of the judges, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, The Voice).

But that’s not where the story ends. People from the tribe of Dan decide they need a new home. So they are traveling throughout the land and they come through Micah’s town. They ask Micah’s priest if they will be successful. The Levite says, “Sure!” So the Danites go and without mercy attack and kill a people who were “quiet and without suspicion” (Judges, 18:27, The Voice). After all, “During this period, Israel had no king” (Judges 18:1, The Voice).

And one last point about this story. The Danites hire the Levite away from Micah, because if God’s priests are defined by anything it’s by the highest bidder, right?

Then we come to the really bad story. This one is introduced in Judges 19:1: “During this period, when there was no king in Israel….”

A Levite has a mistress. The mistress cheats on him and runs back to her home. The Levite pursues her and convinces her to come back home with him. On their way back home, they reach the city of the Jebustites. This city will eventually become Jerusalem, but at this time it is a city of foreigners. The Levite says it is not safe to stay in a foreign city so they travel on to Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin.

So they should be safe, right?

The first sign of trouble is when they arrive in the city square and no one invites them home. This is a sin. The people of Israel were supposed to inviting and hospitable. But the people of this city were not. Finally, an old man who was not even a Benjamite sees them and invites them to his house.

And then the story completely falls apart.

The men of the city pound on the door and demand the old man send out the Levite so they can rape him. This isn’t a story about homosexuality, either. It is a story about dominance and hedonism. The old man and the Levite cry out against the call for the Levite to be sent outside, but they send out the Levite’s mistress. Who is raped. And beaten. And left for dead.

The Levite takes her home. He cuts her body into 12 pieces and sends a piece to each tribe. The tribes are infuriated and all decide to wage war against Benjamin. After the war, Benjamin is almost completely wiped out. One tribe of Israel is almost erased from existence. Even worse is the plan that is hatched to make sure the 600 men from Benjamin don’t die out as a tribe. The final chapter of Judges tells of more slaughter and kidnapping in order to find 600 wives so that the tribe of Benjamin can continue. Because, “During that period, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right to them” (Judges 21:25, The Voice).

Remember how I said I don’t like the book of Judges?

In the most troubling aspect of this story, God tells the Israelites three times to go in battle against the tribe of Benjamin. The first two times, they are defeated. The third time, they wipe out all but 600 men from Benjamin. Why is God talking at all in this story? Why is He sending some of His people against others of His people? Why does He seem to be participating in the slaughter of more than 65,000 Israelites?

Before I try to answer that question, notice one more thing.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land back in the beginning of Judges, they were told to drive everyone out. They were told to make sure their worship was of Yahweh alone.

But they didn’t obey completely. They don’t drive everyone out, they end up worshipping idols. They did not do everything exactly like they were supposed to and they paid the price. They ended up looking like everyone else in the world around them.

And I say like I have in the last two weeks: this is a lesson we need to hear today. If we look like the rest of the world around us, why should we be surprised when everything falls apart?

I don’t say that to make you think that if you speed or watch R-rated movies you are going to Hell. But what are some ways we have allowed evil to exist in our lives? What are some ways we have been pulled away from the holiness of God because of the impurities we have allowed to become a part of who we are?

The poor being neglected.

The lonely being ignored.

Listening to jokes that demean, dehumanize without saying anything.

Witnessing bullying and saying, “boys will be boys.”

Thinking that abortion and the death penalty are a political debate and not a discussion about life.

Seeing racism in social structures and just accepting it.

Seeing women devalued in social structures and just accepting it.

Allowing our children to think sports and other extra-curricular activities are more important than fellowship with Christian family.

Equating political affiliation or patriotic pride with spirituality.

When we allow our identities to be formed more by the world around us than the Spirit within us we cannot be upset when our outcomes leave us empty and hurting.

Which brings me back to the question I asked a moment ago: why is God even present in this story? Why does it appear that He is sanctioning so much of this activity? Is God really that cruel of a puppet-master, just watching his creation try and destroy one another?

There is a lot I don’t have the answers for. I don’t know why the Old Testament is so violent. I don’t know why there are so many stories that are so far out of touch with how the world is today. I don’t know why God comes across as angry and vengeful.

But I do know this: throughout the history of His people, God is always present.

There is one more judge talked about in the Bible. His name is Samuel. During Samuel’s time as judge, the people ask for a king. Samuel is discouraged. But God tells Him, “It is not a rejection of you—it is a rejection of My rule over them” (I Samuel 8:7, The Voice).

The story of Judges is that dark story in the family history. It is the time we all wish we could forget. It’s the story we want to remain hidden. It’s the episode we want no pictures of. We don’t want to remember it.

But in the midst of the evil, in the midst of the despair, there is a message of hope. The book of Judges tells us the story of how the people moved from entering the Promised Land following Yahweh to turning to an earthly king. It is a story of a people turning their backs on God. Repeatedly.

But it is also a story of God acting. God raising up deliverers. God anointing a king. God providing for His people. God being angry yet still being present.

It’s not pretty. It’s not always easily understood.

But it is life. And even when we mess up at life, God is still active.

Can The Privileged Take The Lord’s Supper?

The first Passover was celebrated by a group of slaves. The Israelites had been oppressed by the Egyptians for a long time. God raised Moses up to deliver the people out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. On the last night spent in Egypt, the Israelites ate the Passover meal. They remembered what God had already done for them and prepared for what God was still going to do.

The first Lord’s Supper was celebrated by a group of homeless wanderers. Just before His death, Jesus and his closest followers gathered in a room to commemorate the Passover meal. During that meal, Jesus declared that He was the new bread and the new wine. He was the new covenant. Just as the Passover was the meal celebrated before freedom from Egypt, this Lord’s Supper was the meal celebrated before freedom from sin and death.

The book of Acts tells us of a church that met and shared all things together. Those who were “haves” sold what they owned and shared the proceeds with those who were “have-nots.” There was no in need because everyone openly practiced generosity. The early Christians met every day and always took the Lord’s Supper to remember in part the Passover but much more so to remember the sacrifice of Jesus.

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By the time we get to I Corinthians, people have messed it up. The Christians who were meeting in homes in Corinth completely forgot what the Lord’s Supper was about. Those who were the “haves” really made sure the “have-nots” knew it. Those who had reveled in having even more. They discounted the have-nots. In fact, even though they were taking the bread and drinking the wine, Paul tells them, “What you are doing is not the Lord’s Supper at all.” In fact, he even says that their meetings are doing more harm than good (I Corinthians 11:17-33).

On Sunday mornings when I take the Lord’s Supper, I take a piece of cracker that I pretend is bread and drink a sip of grape juice. I take both things out of a shiny silver tray. I receive the tray from the person on one side of me and pass it to the person on the other side of me in total silence. There is little awareness or acknowledgment of other people. It is introspective and isolated.

Which leads me to my question: can the privileged truly participate in the Lord’s Supper?

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To me, it seems the Israelites and Jesus understood something the Corinthian church and I often fail to realize:

When you are in the position of having little, it is often easier to receive that which is truly needed.

I am not in need. Although I am not wealthy by my culture’s standards of wealth, I am in the top 10% of worldwide wealth. I am never far removed from the resources I need to survive and thrive. I never have to wonder how I am going to make it through the day. I never question if my basic needs are going to be met. I do not need much.

And I wonder how much that affects my ability to truly participate in the Lord’s Supper.

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The Lord’s Supper and Passover were both borne out of a time of extreme desperation and total reliance on the movement of God.

When all of my needs are met, do I ever practice true reliance on God?

Has there ever been a time in my life when I have truly felt desperation?

When I do perceive a need in my life, is my first thought to go to God or to go to a bank? or a store? or a government office? or another rich(er) friend?

Throughout my entire life, I have never truly been in material need. And if I am honest, I have allowed that fact to affect how I approach spiritual needs: I can find my own ways to take care of them.

In practice, if not in thought, my privilege dictates I do not need anything.

I am much more like the Egyptians than the Israelites; much more like the haves in Corinth than the have-nots.

So can I truly understand and participate in the Lord’s Supper?

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One Saturday each month, we have a praise and worship night at Freedom Fellowship. We take communion differently than on Sunday mornings. Three people stand at the front: one holds a loaf of bread, one holds a cup filled with grape juice, and one is the hugger. Everyone assembled walks to the front, rips off a piece of bread, dips it in the juice, and then gets a hug (usually from my daughter). People walk around the worship hall and hug one another and offer words of encouragement.

Those gathered are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. There are rich people and poor people. There are those who are cleaned up and dressed well and those who have not showered in days. It is the first time in my life I have shared communion with people who are truly in need.

And I have learned something about the Lord’s Supper. I have learned that everything I have available at my fingertips has distracted me from participating in receiving the greatest gift ever offered.

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Can the privileged take the Lord’s Supper? Yes. God’s grace offered through Jesus is available to all.

Can the privileged truly participate in the Lord’s Supper? That depends. Am I willing to acknowledge that all I have and all the opportunities available to me are irrelevant when it comes to what I need from God?

Phelps, Hate, and Love

There are some articles, pictures, opinion pieces, etc., that I will not pass on because I do not want to give more focus to the topic. There are some people that I think we need to talk about less, not more. There are some institutions that I think need less coverage. There are some events that I think may be treated more effectively with silence than with yelling.

One of these institutions and people are in the news again this week. And I almost do not want to say anything.

Almost.

Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church do not represent Christianity. They represent their warped view of religion which in reality includes nothing that represents Jesus. They have spewed hatred and ignorance for years. What they do bothers me and how much attention people give to what they do bothers me.

I feel sorrow for all the people the Westboro Church has hurt. For all the insults, all the degradation, all the hatred—I feel sorry. I wish I could take away the pain. I wish I could more than just say, “Don’t listen to them. Jesus loves you.”

Now, Fred Phelps is nearing death. His death brings me no joy. In fact, it fills me with even more sorrow. Sorrow at the fact that he may never have understood what Jesus’ love really means.

And I feel sorrow at all the mixed emotions others must be feeling. His death resolves nothing. Even if (as I hope) the Westboro Church fades away into nothingness, that would resolve nothing.

No amount of revenge, no amount of “they got what’s coming to them,” no amount of hatred can take away the pain that has been caused. Only love can do that.

Dr. King said it best, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So I must remember the Fred Phelps is a child of God. Just like Mother Theresa. Just like Hitler and bin Laden. Just like St. Patrick.

Just like me.

I would love to see healing come as a result of this man’s death. Healing for his family. Healing for his followers. Especially healing for those he hurt.

Maybe that healing begins with love.

Maybe that healing begins with forgiveness.

Someday, the hatred must stop. How great a lesson it would be if those who have been hurt can take the lead in showing love and forgiveness. I don’t know if I would be able to do it.

But every time someone says, “I forgive you,” evil dies a little bit more.