Just Be Yourself

be-yourselfThere are many kinds of prophets.  Some are real, actual prophets.  Some are false prophets who lie to achieve their own ends.  Some are delusional and believe that they are sent by God or that they are some sort of messiah.  Others are somewhere in between.  Vernon Howell was on that spectrum. 

Vernon had a rough childhood and some of the psychological effects showed.  He turned to his mother’s fundamentalist Seventh Day Adventist church, but was kicked out when he told the pastor that he had a revelation that he was supposed to marry the pastor’s daughter.  He then joined a reformist group that had splintered off from the Adventists and soon claimed that he had a vision that he was supposed to lead the group.  It was believed that he was having an affair with the 77 year-old widow of the founder of this sect and he gained support from her to take over the group. Understandably, her son, George Roden, felt that he was the rightful heir and challenged Vernon to a resurrection contest.  Roden exhumed a body to make it look like he had resurrected someone and Vernon told police about the incident.  When a third person came along and claimed to be the messiah and leader of the group, Roden killed him with an axe and was sent to a mental hospital.

Vernon finally took control of the group and engaged in many questionable practices including spiritual marriages, statutory rape of his “spiritual brides,” and child abuse.  Vernon had another vision that he was the incarnation of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity and sent them back to Israel.  He felt that it was his duty to reestablish the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem and so, adopting the Persian name for king Cyrus as his last name, he changed his name to David Koresh.  After a 51 day seige, Koresh and 80 of his followers were killed 22 years ago today (April 19th).

This was a very sad and unfortunate example of a psychologically troubled person with a messiah complex leading vulnerable people to their doom.  I won’t get into how well or poorly the FBI handled the situation or why those people were so easily manipulated, but it just goes to show how dangerous a false prophet can be.  Likewise, a real prophet can be conversely as healthy.

So what is a prophet anyway?  From the Old Testament, we tend to see them as a person with a message from God.  It was typically a message of doom and gloom and warning for a people who had chosen to go against the will of an almighty God.  Are there still prophets today or has their function changed?  I would venture to say that they do and it has.  Peter exemplified what a modern-day prophet looks like in the book of Acts.

In Acts 3, Peter and John come across a man who is carried daily on a mat to the temple steps where he can beg for money.  Instead of giving them money, Peter did what a true prophet does, he empowered the man so that he can have a good life of his own volition instead of based on what others provide.  The man was lame from birth.  We know that we have to be careful about reading these stories literally, because we lose the true meaning.  So, the man was not factually and physically unable to walk.  Instead, he was unwilling to hold himself up and face life with dignity.  In essence, he took it all lying down.

The man’s friends enabled him over the years and carried him on his mat so that he could continue to receive reinforcement for his complacency.  Perhaps his parents had taught him in a way that furthered his enablement and then his friends took over that role.  When Peter and John saw this, they knew what was going on.  Peter got down to his level, looked him in the eye, and empowered the man.  In essence, he told the man that he had worth and that his life mattered.  He put out his hand and helped him up.  Nobody had ever done this for him.  Imagine the feeling of dignity that he must have had when he realized that what everyone else had been doing for him out of pity, he could do himself because he mattered.  From that moment, he saw that he didn’t exist to have things done to him, but that he could affect change with his own life.

At first, the man clung to Peter, but he eventually stood up straight and let go.  How many times have we heard in the New Testament Jesus telling people to let go of him and to “go and do likewise.”  Through his prophetic words, Peter had not only empowered a man back to life, but he had also made a prophet out of this man.  Who better to spread a message of empowerment than one who was raised from the “dead” himself?

Understandably, the people were shocked at what had happened.  This man who for decades had been laying on his mat begging others to do for him, was full of life and vigor and determined to live his own life.  Peter asked them, “Why are you so surprised?”  Then he launched into a discourse about sin.  He challenged those who had witnessed this transformation to repent.  As individualistic westerners, we hear words like sin and repentance as something to do with the terrible things we do against God and how we need to seek forgiveness from them lest we be punished by a blood-thirsty God who is insatiable.  This isn’t what sin and repentance meant in the 1st century and it’s not what they mean now.

To sin, as you have likely heard in others’ sermons, is to miss the mark.  This is not a good/bad dualistic “X” in the sand that God has put down daring us to undershoot it.  To sin is to live a life other than that which is truly us.  It is to be anything other than ourselves.  We all have a meaning that lies at the depth of our being that we are meant to be true to.  Anything that is done contrary to who we really are is “missing the mark” and makes us suffer.  Sin is corporate as well as individual.  When we repent (literally, change our minds) we get a new mindset for ourselves that spreads in encouragement to others.  This is what empowerment is all about.  It’s encouraging others to live lives that are true to themselves and reassuring them that they will experience great peace and joy when they do so.  It’s reminding them that they matter and that they, too, have the power to change the world.

Some people are hurting.  Most of us are.  This is part of being human.  Some feel hurt more deeply than others and have a hard time seeing past it to where there is hope, dignity, and strength.  There is a Japanese saying for when a child gets hurt that goes “ittai, ittai, tondekke!”  This means, “pain, pain, fly away!”  When the man who couldn’t see beyond his own hurt came face to face with Peter, Peter said, “ittai, ittai, tondekke!” and the man was empowered and saw his worth.  That’s what we have to do as modern day prophets.  Sometimes we have to kneel down with someone who is hurting or feels conquered by life and show them that they matter.  Sometimes we even have to look in the mirror and do that for ourselves.  Enablement will only create a life of suffering and encouragement to live a life other than that which is true to ourselves, but empowerment will bring people back from the dead and let them live fulfilled lives for the first time.

On April 19th, a “prophet” died.  But on April 19th another prophet was born.  And on the 20th, 21st, etc.  All of us have the potential to be prophets if we merely chose to empower instead of enable.  If we choose to live lives that are true to ourselves and encourage others to do the same, we speak the very words of God and bring life into existence in co-creation with our Creator.  It takes a spiritual journey within to know who you really are, but ultimately, all you have to do to kindle hope in the world while having an enriched life is just be yourself.

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2 Responses to “Just Be Yourself”

  1. Scott Nowlan Says:

    Thank you B. I know I am a pain in the ass at times. We both are going thru life and mind twisting struggles. It really is a spiritual journey, maybe a pathway thru part of hell.

    But I truly believe that I am learning important lessons that will make a difference in the future. I am grateful that I have the blessing of your caring and outreach.

    I am very impressing with your writing efforts. Above all else, it brings purpose and learning. It is a great way to reach out to the world. It sure beats sitting around being pissed of about that which we have no control.

    JWB

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. John Lovestrand Says:

    My Mom was born on April 21st. Tristan was born on April 19th. Sandra and I were married on September 11th. Which reminds me that we needn’t cede dates to those “prophets ” who prophesied for ill. Thanks. JL

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