How to live near the Kingdom of Heaven

Thoughts on Mark 12:28-34

An earnest, seeking scribe, listened to Jesus’ wise words and asked Jesus the question that was on his heart. “Which commandment is the first of all?” Today some religious people’s test of piety is where one stands on certain issues, say abortion, or sexuality or even smoking. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Religious people broke into groups that favored one commandment over the others – us vs them.

On behalf of all earnest seekers throughout history the scribe asked the important question, out of all the commandments which is the primary one that contains and informs the others? 

Notice Jesus’ answer. It begins with “Hear.” If you’re going to ask a question of Jesus, then you better be ready to listen to his answer. This scribe was. He asked not for the sake of argument, or to prove Jesus wrong, but because he truly wanted to hear from Jesus how to order his life.

“‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

Contained within his answer is the picture of a united divinity, the Lord our God is one; a united fellowship, the Lord our God is one;  and a united person, love God with every part of your being, your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And then Jesus gives a bonus answer, “The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

That sums it up. And the earnest scribe got it. He heard Jesus’ answer to his question, he acknowledged that what Jesus said was true and that to keep these two commandments meant more to God than any ritually performed acts of worship or service.

Jesus observed that the scribe answered wisely. This is the only time this phrase is used in the entire NT. The scribe listened well. He received Jesus words as the words of life. He was close to the Kingdom.

In such a manner is the Kingdom approached, by earnestly seeking Jesus to learn how to live, by allowing him to be Lord and his words to determine the way I live. Yes, this is my prayer. Thank you and amen

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Why I’ll never be a super blogger

“You need a memorable tag line,” adamantly declared one presenter. Another concurred, “You need to have your elevator pitch ready.”

I naively attended a national Christian writer’s conference expecting instruction on honing my craft. Instead, I learned what I needed to do to become a “super blogger.” I didn’t really want to be a super blogger, but they knew better than me, they were published and recognized authors. The world needed my voice, they preached, and how could it find me unless my blog gained an impressive platform, with thousands of followers. So I diligently set out to write a sentence or two that communicated who I was, what I write, why I write it and to whom I write that was deliverable in the time it would take to ride an elevator to the second floor.

And got nowhere. All my attempts, which were many, felt canned, cramped, inauthentic. I gave up on it and contented myself with my narrow, but deep influence on the 150 or so followers who had found me.

Until one day while trolling through facebook I came across a video someone had posted. (Sorry I cannot give credit to the post-er, or the video itself. I’ve tried to find it since with no luck.) The video was of a business consultant who worked with companies and organizations helping them motivate and increase their employees productivity and morale. “Don’t ask a person what they do, that will give you the flat, specific, boring details of their work situation. Instead ask them why they do what they do. This question engages their cherished dreams, their most valued hopes and most important relationships.”

So I asked myself, Debby, why do you write what you write? The answer descended like the fire at Pentecost. “I wake up every morning eager to hear God’s voice of love and then share it through my life, my writings and my words.” Bingo! I still smile when I repeat that phrase. It’s an answer to all the demands of an elevator pitch and beyond that gives me energy, focus and informs not only my writing but all the actions of life. It is my monk’s rule!

I almost live a monastic life. My husband and I recently moved from a 900 sq foot condominium in the heart of San Francisco, to a two acre farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. I wake each morning and eagerly await God’s voice of love. I encounter it in the quiet of our home before anyone else is awake. The scripture I read and the songs I sing, alternately whisper or shout “God is here, God sees, God cares, God needs you.” My journal pages capture the heartbeat of God’s love and I often share it with the world through my blog. My dogs greet me with great affection, presumptuously finding their way onto the center of my lap. What wonderful reminders of the welcome that awaits me in the lap of my loving God. My husband joins me and we enjoy companionable coffee, share our plans for the day and I recall the companionship of the Trinity.  The constant changing of my garden teaches me almost all of what I need to understand about the spiritual life.

Trained in the Ignatian mode of Spiritual Direction, I am particularly fond of Imaginative prayer, putting myself in the gospel story, becoming one of or interacting with the characters. Such a prayer practice evokes deep and often hidden beauty and wounds within my soul. Once while praying with the gospel account of Jesus preaching to the crowds while standing on Peter and Andrew’s fishing boat, I was prompted to “be the boat.”

I felt such humble gratitude that Jesus would use me as his platform for speaking of God’s love. I basked in the joy of that privilege for quite some time. And when Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men, and they then left their boats and followed him, such an anger erupted within me. “What, you’re going to leave me behind.” I never knew there was such pride hidden within my heart. This prayer shed light upon it and allowed me to welcome my need to be needed into the loving and healing presence of God. I can now more easily rejoice in God’s creative use of all kinds of people and things to communicate his great love for the world. Me included!

My parish may be small, but I am its pastor. And the more I let myself be loved, the more loving I become. It’s my life’s journey.  It is how I am a monk in the world.

With you on the journey,

Debby Bellingham

(This was first published on the website: Abbey of the Arts)

Advent Retreat update

Sadly, I have to report that the Advent retreat, scheduled for December 2nd will not be happening. (sad face). But if you would like to receive the Advent devotional that you would have received at the retreat, please sign up for it below.

OR, if you would like to receive the advent devotional, even if you weren’t able to make the retreat, sign up below.

With you on the journey,

Debby

Advent Retreat Scheduled for my East Coast Friends

Advent Retreat

Christmas is for the world.

Advent is for Christians.

Christmas reminds the world that there is hope.

Advent reminds Christians that we carry the hope within us.

Why should I participate?
Before the holiday season ramps up, join Debby Bellingham at Wind Hill Farm, for a few hours of giving yourself the space to do what you long to/need to do, but your busy schedule may not allow. During our one day retreat we will spend some time with God, asking God to make our lives a dwelling place for the new born hope of the world.

In pondering Advent, we consider that the world is dark and needs light, and that we are dark and need light. We prepare our hearts to be the birthplace of the Child Christ, the one who brings light to our lives and through us light to our world.

Space is limited. Register by Nov. 29, 2017

Contact Debby Bellingham to register at 415 992-1087 or debbybellingham@gmail.com

When: December 2, 2017

Where: Wind Hill Farm 246 Willow Tree Road, Milton, NY

Time: 9am-3pm

Other: Lunch will be provided (let me know if you have any food issues)

Defending God. Or not.

Some of the Jews, however, refused to believe and they poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers. Acts 14:2

Some Jews refused to believe and poisoned the minds of those on the fence. Disbelief (or our petrified belief system) is threatened by possible conversion. It has to protect its boundaries and make sure belief cannot take root. It wears a face, it has a label and its brand must be preeminent. All other “competitors” must be abolished and ruined.

Unlike the God of heaven…

matthew-smith-7137-2

…who lets other gods, or things take credit for the work he has done. He is so eager for the good of his creation, he waters it with rain, makes crops grow. God causes happiness. He doesn’t withhold goodness because he is not acknowledged. He offers such provision with the hope we will recognize him as the good and loving God he is when we come face to face with him.

…but even then he did not leave you without evidence of himself in the good things he does for you… Acts 14:17

Oh Lord, make me like you, ready to spread goodness and life indiscriminately, for the sake of keeping hope alive in the people you love. Let me rejoice when people acknowledge the good and let me be your face that helps them connect the dots between love shown and your heart. 

With you on the journey,

Debby

Shame off you!

Shame off you!

You have rejected the Word of God and do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life. Acts 13:44-52

Interesting. It’s not God’s judgement, but their own that separates them from eternal life.

Shame based identity, not worthy of good things

 

Debby and her cousin Paula

Debby and her cousin Paula

I have lived from a shame based identity my whole life. It is built into my DNA. Both my parents grew up in homes that were ruled by judgement. My dad’s angrily minimizing. My mom’s righteously rejecting. How could I not be rooted in shame? I remember the baby picture of my cousin and me at 6 weeks, she chubby, healthy looking, me scrawny and spidery looking. And the comments surrounding the comparison, “You weren’t as pretty as Paula, but you were ours.” I was less than, but loved.

The less-than mentality became my identity. Unconsciously I lived from a sense of unworthiness. Within the bubble of my family I was acceptable but outside of the confines of our family system, I didn’t measure up.

As a child when my friends and I would play with our Barbies, I insisted on playing the role of the maid. The servant, behind the scenes who would gather the clothing and the items the other’s needed to play out the scenes their imaginations invented.

This is not a foreshadowing of being a servant for the sake of putting other’s interests above my own. No, I remember the feeling of not being adequate, of not being worthy to join the play. I was less-than even at age seven.

How many times have I rejected the good offered me because I didn’t think I deserved it?

Out of the shame that binds

My less-than-ness had driven me to extremes, had broken me. I was desperate for hope and peace. Thank goodness God intervened! I heard the good news of God’s personal love for me when I was seventeen. My anguish had breached the wall that surrounded my less-than self and made a way for God’s eternal life to enter.

Like Lazarus, who had been given life at Jesus’ word, but was still wrapped in grave clothes, I too have the eternal life of Christ within me and yet am still bound by shame. To a much lesser degree than I once was, thank you Lord, but still tainted by the fear that I am not worthy.

Maybe you can relate to my experience.

How many times have you rejected the good offered to you because you don’t believe you are worthy of it? or it is too good to be true? or you are afraid of disappointment? Come on, let’s take God at God’s word.

Let me help unwrap the grave clothes that bind you.

“You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

God is your perfect parent, there is no shame associated in belonging to this family.

You are beloved. Exactly as you are, no comparisons in God’s family photo album.

God is pleased with you. You are not a disappointment, you are invited to join the play.

With you on the journey,
Debby