Is humanity in critical condition?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Criticism. Is there a day that goes by in which any of us doesn’t feel its sting or dish it out — or witness another either being hurt or abusing others with this purposeless weapon?

The irony about criticism is that by definition it has the potential to be a healing and positive force for growth and progress. Instead, it is often misused and so never reaches its potential.

Criticism is supposed to be an offering of a valid and well-reasoned opinion or a new and fresh perspective, with the intention of helping and correcting. As such, an individual who is critical in this way actually takes a peaceful and benevolent approach and is non-authoritarian and diplomatic. But all too often, people criticize with hostility and insult, then demand and oppose without sound judgment or analysis — and usually with an uninformed interpretation of the facts.

I’ve given out my fair share of this kind of criticism and no doubt have been as guilty as another of being rash and unreasonable. But lately I’ve been challenging myself to consider my words and actions more wisely. This is mostly because I’ve been thinking about the man who many refer to as the best man who ever walked this earth and who is also the most criticized man to have ever lived — Christ Jesus.

I often wonder how Jesus would be received if he arrived on the human scene today, and I can’t help but conclude that his treatment would be no different than if it was 2,000 years ago. Would he really be any more understood? He most certainly would break down so-called holy traditions, ignore societal codes and offer ideas that are “out of the box,” compared to accepted and long-believed norms and opinions. No, I fear he would still be criticized, maligned and persecuted.

What do we hope to accomplish by our criticism? Can we learn to turn criticism into a force that heals rather than one that hurts? How do we do that?

Jesus gives us instruction when he once rebuked his disciples who were angered because a village they had entered wasn’t welcoming them, and they wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them.” Jesus told his brethren, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” And he also reminded them, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:51-56).

Surely this means that we, too, must examine our hearts and be sure our words and actions have the same purpose as that of our Master — to save and not destroy.

And there’s no time like the present. One of Britain’s most notable physical scientists, Martin Rees, in his book “Our Final Hour,” states that the very survival of the human race is dependent on actions we take in the current century. Somehow I can’t help but think we must change the manner of our criticizing ways if humanity is to reach its potential of harmonious coexistence.

We can do this. Having the same loving Father, we can insist on seeing each other the way God sees each of us — gentle, selfless, patient, teachable, fair-minded — never hard, harsh, self-willed, unreasonable, stubborn. We should contend that we are created in God’s image and likeness, imbibe all those qualities of goodness and then act accordingly. We must affirm that humanity will ultimately yield to its spiritual nature. Certainly, conflict, divisiveness and opposition are not part of God’s plan for His creation!

We can turn our discussions and viewpoints from blame and finger-pointing to prayerful and hopeful ideas and suggestions. The world needs the constructive force of the spiritually, discerning critic. I suspect that to be spiritually discerning, we must pause and seek holy wisdom before we speak and act. We must always ask ourselves, “Will our words and actions help, save and heal?” As we quiet weary, disappointed, disturbed or frightened thoughts and listen for God’s angel messages, we will receive the divine inspiration we seek and hope for and most assuredly will receive good advice.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to heal.”

May we all have a heart to heal ourselves of our destructive, criticizing ways and bring to an angry and troubled world the peace and hope that saves and heals.

A view to the passion

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Watching movies about Christ Jesus has long been one of my traditions at Easter time. These viewings fuel my own passion for examining what Jesus’ sacrifice and triumph meant to humanity, then and now. Recently the season sparked my interest in watching again “The Passion of the Christ.”

I have friends who have never watched Mel Gibson’s movie. Although I was not the first in line, I knew I had to watch this film. The only reason I hesitated initially was my squeamishness when confronted with graphic violence onscreen. But after reading an editorial’s question, “[Can I not watch 126 minutes with him?” — I went.

Our expectation has a direct effect on results in any situation, including watching a movie. My view of Jesus as Master, Way-shower, Teacher and Exemplar is uppermost in my thought when I watch any movie on his life. So, my expectations for watching “The Passion of the Christ” were from the perspective of a student. Open and eager for learning, I anticipated lessons and expected to be taught — and was.

For me, the part of Jesus’ story known as the Passion is as much a classroom as is the entire life and ministry of Jesus. And, of course, class doesn’t end with the crucifixion. It continues with lessons learned from the resurrection and 40 days later with the ascension. While Gibson’s movie didn’t tell Jesus’ whole life story — I’m not sure any movie does — there was never a moment when Jesus appeared to be a helpless victim. To the contrary, there was never a moment when Jesus wasn’t continuing to teach and heal, even during what must have been the most difficult hours of his life. A life lesson in itself!

The Passion illustrates his most profound lesson to be teachings on love.

A love that could forgive those who falsely accused and tortured him, even as he hung on the cross. How many times have I felt defeated or thought about revenge when a friend or foe did something to deliberately hurt me?

A love that could express compassion toward his grieving mother while he himself was suffering. How many times have I been too self-absorbed to help another in need?

A love that could offer comfort and heal others, not only while suffering himself, but also in the midst of his enemies. How many times has a sense of inadequacy stopped me from sharing a hopeful message or fear kept me from saying what I know is true, because criticism or laughter might follow?

As I watch the various replications of Jesus’ life story, I’m reminded I still have much to learn about what it truly means to “drink of his cup” and “partake of his bread.” But more and more, I’m realizing that these metaphors speak of striving to follow his example and understand the truth he taught and practiced.

And so I continue to ponder his instructions, such as:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44) … “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) … “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein” (Luke 18:17) … “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12) … “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also” (John 14:12).

I’m beginning to understand divine service to mean following, in earnest measure, the example of our Master. Clearly, Jesus illustrated the meaning of his transforming words with healing and regenerative works. We can do no less in our discipleship.

At this holy season, I’m once again humbled by Christ Jesus’ life example, and I’m rededicating my life to being a better steward of my faith, knowing, as James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). It seems the least I can do to show my love and gratitude to the Master is to do my best to be a faithful student of good works as much as good words.

Mary Baker Eddy perfectly expressed what’s in my heart this glorious Easter and always with this statement: “For the body of Christ, for the life that we commemorate and would emulate, for the bread of heaven whereof if a man eat ‘he shall live forever,’ for the cup red with loving restitution, redemption, and inspiration, we give thanks.”

Something to believe in

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom …

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …

However the story begins, we are a people enthralled by fantasy and science fiction. In fact, fantasy and science fiction are two of the biggest-selling genres of modern-day literature.

This month’s hot story is Potter-mania. Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels by British author J.K. Rowling. The first six books collectively sold more than 325 million copies and have been translated into more than 63 languages. The universal success of the novels has made Rowling the highest-earning novelist in literary history. The world waited, with bated breath, to read the seventh and final book in the series, which was finally released July 21, 2007.

If you are one of the few in the world who doesn’t know who or what Harry Potter is, I’ll give you the short story. Harry Potter is a great epic fantasy that incorporates magic, heroes, quests, mysterious creatures and the ultimate battle of good vs. evil, among other things, and brings all to life in a world that is surprisingly similar to our own.

Harry Potter is not the first epic fantasy to grab and hold our attention. C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars” are three other popular ones that come to mind. What is it about these fantastical stories and their characters that make them so irresistible and compelling?

On the surface, these presentations seem so bizarre and outrageous that one wonders how we can relate. Perhaps we have a need to escape for a time from the challenges in our life and have our soul entertained and refreshed. So we let our minds go to strange places and enter into enchanted lands where the impossible seems possible and the imaginary seems real. Perhaps we long for a hero on whom we can depend. Or we need faith to believe trials can be overcome and good really can conquer evil. Maybe we just want to believe that being happy ever after is a real possibility, at least for a little while.

I think it’s the heroes in these stories that capture our hearts. These heroes, who could be described as the most unlikely and not so obvious, teach us that heroes come in all sizes and are not limited to the strong, beautiful or famous. This is reassuring for many of us, confirming that we, too, can achieve greatness and save the world.

But greatness is not what our fantasy heroes seek. They have a noble cause and a selfless mission. They serve the greater good without personal ambition or need for glory. Our fantasy heroes remind me of Jesus’ words: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

Ah now, Jesus was an unlikely savior. He was probably considered by many of his peers as the least likely Messiah. After all, Jesus was a mere carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He spoke of peace and of loving your enemies. How could one with a battle cry of peace and love save the world from captivity and sin and its own destruction? Perhaps when all of humanity can answer this question, wars will cease and there will be peace on earth.

Given the universal appeal and success of Harry Potter and other fantasy epics, there’s something about these tales that strikes a chord around the world, crossing language barriers, with fans being children and adults alike. It seems we all have more in common with each other than we realize.

Maybe we’re just all hungering for more faith in our lives. Faith brings balance, security and certainty to our world. Faith turns doubt to trust and fear to confidence and expectation — faith in the Divine does this, that is. Maybe more of this kind of faith is what our unstable world needs most.

Will hope save the world in Hollywood?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Newspaper headlines tell the story. “When Dogma Meets Drama on Television.” “It’s the End of the World – on NBC.”

NBC’s mini-series of religion-flavored drama, Revelations, is being scoffed at by Biblical scholars while drawing in millions of viewers.

Last year, no one predicted the extraordinary box-office success of The Passion of the Christ. Nor the public and media frenzy that surrounded it.

Bestseller The Da Vinci Code has created a stir of discussions and debate among the general public, media, and churches, authors and scholars, which will not end. Soon The Da Vinci Code will make its movie debut.

The trend in exploring all things spiritual is not a new one. Is this hunger growing? Or does this desire now crave more specificity?

Regardless of one’s opinions, viewpoint or interpretation of Scripture, surely spiritual exploration is good. And perhaps it’s not so surprising that in the search to understand spirituality, the need has grown to want more definitive answers. Not surprising if one acknowledges the inherent nature of humankind as a spiritual one with the same divine Creator.

The urgency ignited by the 9/11 attacks and the war on terrorism has fueled the fear of “humanity at the brink.” Many believe this fear is also feeding the surge of religious-themed entertainment.

Certainly, Hollywood wants to cash in by accommodating public interest. And Hollywood’s goals are more about entertainment than presenting fact. But I think even in fictitious religious dramas, nuggets of truth can be found worthy of contemplation.

NBC’s Revelations features the unusual partnership of skeptic and believer, Science and Christianity – Dr. Massey and Sister Josepha. Their dialogue in the first episode sets up the ensuing conflict.

“Believe whatever you want to,” said Dr. Massey.

“Deny whatever you want to,” replied Sister Josepha.

But it was something Sister Josepha said in the second episode that has given me pause. Dr. Massey asked, “…even if this child is Christ, how can this child save the world?” And Sister Josepha responded, “Christ is hope…Perhaps hope can save the world.”

Now there’s a thought worthy of reflection. How can hope save the world? What kind of hope would it take? What message of hope comes from Christ?

Few would deny the effect of depressed hope. The history of civilization provides its chronicle. Unending cycles of poverty. Stalled progress. Limited vision. Ignorance. Anguish. Envy. Misunderstanding. Fear. Hatred. And so on. History has shown that depressed hope unchecked leads down paths toward doom and death.

So what of hope?

For centuries, many have thought of the Christ-child as a symbol of hope. The life and lessons of Christ Jesus teach of the infinitude and inclusiveness of God’s love and of the infinite possibilities of God’s help. History has also shown that faith in Christ Jesus and his teachings restore hope and lead up paths toward healing and life.

So maybe hope can play a part in the world’s salvation. Maybe humankind can change its destiny, as the character of Sister Josepha asserts. Biblical scholar and author of her own book on spirituality and healing, Mary Baker Eddy, describes the ministry of Christ Jesus. “Panoplied in the strength of an exalted hope, faith, and understanding, he sought to conquer the three-in-one of error: the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

Perhaps we must put on the same armor – exalted hope, faith and understanding – in order to win our own battle for salvation. Christ Jesus’ example affirms our hope that victory over evil will be the outcome. Such a victory was his.

In the meantime, the warfare between good and evil will probably continue in the creation of more shows like NBC’s Revelations. Ultimately, I believe the heart of humanity forever cherishes hope and no fear of Armageddon can destroy it. Hope will enable humankind to endure, overcome and win the day.

How to forgive the unforgivable

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

There’s something about Easter.

Maybe it’s a time for ending? A time to let go of long-harbored anger and hurt.

Perhaps a time for beginning? A time to make new friends, exchange marriage vows or explore new opportunities, new career goals, follow new dreams.

Or maybe it’s a time for renewing? A time to resurrect relationships fallen by the wayside.

One Easter long ago became a time for me to learn about forgiveness and love. The kind of love so beautifully exemplified by Christ Jesus life example. A love that is powerful enough to heal and transform lives. He showed that love is stronger than hate, violence, apathy and fear. Jesus made forgiveness look natural and easy. I have not always found it so. Yet Christ Jesus instructed, “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.”

Others have given insightful instruction on love and forgiveness. Mother Theresa advised, “If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive.” Alexander Pope declared, “To err is human; to forgive, Divine.” And Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them.”

So what about forgiveness? How can it be natural and easy to forgive someone who has caused hurt, pain, disappointment? And why should I forgive, especially when I am the innocent one and justified in my anger, hatred, and resentment?

A neighbor spoke to me in such a way that I thought was unforgivable. The entire event revolved around what appeared to be an on-going irreconcilable situation. The only obvious solution was to move. Something I really did not want to do. Thus, my dilemma. It was the Saturday before Easter Sunday.

Have you ever attended a church service and felt like the sermon was directed right at you?

I sat there listening to readings about Christ Jesus, his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him and yet…he forgave them all, he never stopped loving – friend or foe. I longed to love in such a way. I thought perhaps it was his love that enabled him to conquer death and the grave and all the evil that had been directed at him and inflicted upon him. I can only say there came a moment during that Easter service when I felt nothing but compassion and yes, love for the one who had wronged me.

Mary Baker Eddy in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes the “universal solvent of love” as what’s needed to dissolve self-justification. I had certainly swallowed a big dose of that! I had been focused on being justified in my reactions and in being “right”. Consequently, love was nowhere to be found in my heart or in my reasoning.

And here’s the thing. As I forgave, I felt free from the effects of another’s evil intent. Forgiving wasn’t erasing history or exonerating. But forgiving was relinquishing the destructive power of anger that would have continued to imprison me and determine my actions, thoughts and words. I wasn’t putting the heavy baggage of another’s evil behavior on my back. Forgiveness dared me to imagine a better future. One that was based on the blessed possibility that my hurt would not be the final word on the matter.

I returned from that Easter church service transformed and later that day received an apology from my neighbor. We made a mutual commitment to make things more harmonious. And so they have been. Never again were harsh words spoken. We’ve been neighbors for over twenty years now. I have continued to learn more about love. The kind of unconditional love that God gives to all his children. And what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

I am now convinced that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. And furthermore, that forgiveness may be the most powerful step that people, and even nations, can take to bring about transformation, progress and growth. So most definitely….Easter is a time for forgiveness. A time for love.