Step 1

“Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This is our first hurdle when entering the fellowship of AA.  Some of us put up arguments but, the AAers were quick to squash any notion that controlling drinking was a viable option.  A few of us opted for the ‘controlled drinking’ theory, did more field research and returned defeated and humiliated.  We finally made the admission and went forward with step 1 accomplished.

Much of AA wisdom is based on ancient tenets of the world’s faith walks.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob knew that preaching religion would get them nowhere in recruiting drunks to their newly formed recovery program.  Instead they called God a Higher Power and incorporated many precepts of Christianity and Buddhism into the 12 step program we have today as a way to recovery.  Obviously it worked.  Millions who would never darken the doors of churches are victoriously sober.

The first of the Beatitudes in Christian scripture says, “Blessed (or happy) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

When we come to AA we are humbled by the demon alcohol.  We have been emptied of all self-respect.  We are begging for relief from our addictions.  We have nothing left of ourselves to contribute to life.  We are like children, beginners searching for a way to live sober lives.  We have tried cures, religion, medication, hospitalization, therapy to no avail.  We are empty, we are beggars, we are nobodies.  Then at our first meeting the old-timers tell us we have to admit powerlessness and unmanageability.  Unthinkable!

“Well,” they say, “Go back out there and try some more drinking.”

“Poor in spirit” is the powerlessness referred to in Alcoholics Anonymous 1st step.  The writer in the book of Matthew 5:3 uses the Greek word ptochoi, for poor which literally means, “the very empty ones, those who are crouching.”  That is an accurate description of us at our first meeting, is it not? cac.org

This first step of AA and this first Beatitude of the teachings of Jesus both lead us to a way of living which emphasizes giving up ourselves in service to others.  And the irony is that just as Jesus did not say the kingdom of heaven will be theirs, rather, the kingdom is theirs, the program of AA does not say its benefits will be realized in another life.  We are not applying for life-time memberships in the eternity club.  No, we will know serenity and peace in this life.  We will realize the “promises” of AA as we empty ourselves of selfishness, arrogance,  and self-preoccupation. AA PROMISES

When I lose myself in service work with other alcoholics, I become free.  Jesus on the Mount was saying, “Happy are you (blessed are the poor in spirit), you’re the freest of all (the kingdom of heaven is yours)”.

Yes, I am powerless today.  I am powerless over alcohol and I am powerless over the turmoil in this world.  I am a beggar, a loser, a misfit, and a runaway in the eyes of “successful” America.  But, I no longer need to compete in worldly games.  Competitors are preoccupied with winning.  My Higher Power has already won my  race for me.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Janis Joplin – ME AND BOBBY MCGEE

 

 

 

just as I am

Are you an evangelist?  The dictionary definition says  (1) one who preaches the gospel (2) one who brings converts to Christianity.  Nope, I’m not an evangelist.  Before she retired, my aunt was a missionary and an evangelist.  I admired her.  Her family of nieces and nephews idolized her.  She was a great worker for Jesus.  Maybe I should be more like her.

My preacher at church urges us to go out into the community and spread the good news.  I think she means that we should take Jesus with us when we interact with our neighbors, our co-workers, the cashier at the grocery store, maybe the homeless guy on the corner.  I don’t carry a Bible with me when I go somewhere.  Do you think I should?

Years ago the fellowship I worshipped with assigned us in twos to go door-to-door to share the gospel.  Talk about rejection!  Slammed doors, cussing, ridicule and only a few welcomes.  No, I’m not a door-to-door kind of guy.  Hey, I’m not knocking it.  God needs workers of all walks.  The preacher, the teacher, the organizer, the evangelist, the handyman, the errand boy, the writer, the cleaning crew, the PR man, the musician…..and me.

So, what am I?  Where do I fit in God’s scheme?  I know what my gifts are and I share them.  No, I’m not a talker.  I’m that quiet guy who sits in the 3rd to last pew at church service.  I sing but the choir doesn’t need my crow-like caws annoying the folks in the front row and the preacher.  I don’t play the organ or piano.  I’m not especially talented at organizing group functions.  So, what can I do?

I can listen to you talk about your pain and grief.  I can hold your hand when you’re sad.  I can share my strength when yours is running low.  I can tell you what Jesus did for me when I was in pain, when I was grieving, when I was sad, when I was weak.  I can come beside you and walk with you through the dark times, through the trials, through the loneliness.

Don’t you see?  I know the greatest teacher ever.  His teachings are eternal wisdom.  His love is everlasting.  His patience is bottomless.  And Jesus wants me to be the best me I can be.  He doesn’t need another front man for the missionary work, a speaker who can move crowds to ecstasy, a motivator, a leader, or a teacher.  No, he wants me doing what I do best…….just as I am.  The invitation is open, you can come too, just as you are.

I come broken to be mended
I come wounded to be healed
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled
I come guilty to be pardoned
By the blood of Christ the Lamb
And I’m welcomed with open arms
Praise God, just as I am

Songwriters: SUE C. SMITH, TRAVIS COTTRELL, DAVID E. MOFFITT
© Universal Music Publishing Group, CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

CANDLE

 

poor in spirit

If you, like I, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, you probably memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, and maybe the Beatitudes.  The eight short sayings of the Beatitudes give the core teachings of Jesus in a concentrated format.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 5:3

Oh, how I struggled with this one.  This proud country boy did not want to be “poor” in any way, shape or form when he grew up.  Although my family, as farmers, provided adequately for our needs, we could not afford the vacations other people took each summer nor the fancy new car every 2 years.  Fortunately, designer jeans were not a necessary fashion statement in high school in 1961 and most often I started the new school year with last year’s clothes augmented by new shoes or a new shirt.  Life was pretty good but, when I considered the first of the Beatitudes, this 13 year-old farm boy raised up a few secretive, quiet prayers, “Lord, anything but poor.  I don’t want to be poor.”

I believed for many years that when the pastor recited the first Beatitude, he forgot the last two words, “in spirit.”  A more likely scenario is that  I did not hear them because I was too enamored by the cute neighbor girl sitting beside me on the pew. I think that maybe I missed a lot of the things I needed to hear in church because I was distracted.  Whenever I heard “blessed are the poor,”  my mind pictured a crowd of people saved by grace mulling around heaven in tatters and rags.  What is so blessed about that?

I’m sure my boyhood pastor recited the Beatitude in full.  I simply was not ready to hear it in full just like so many other lessons and teachings from Jesus.  That could explain why for many years I stumbled through life filling my God hole with everything but God.  Ranging from alcohol to sex to pot to pornography to numerous other idolatries, I did not become ready to listen to all the words from Jesus until I was utterly defeated by my own life.  No enemy could have defeated me as soundly as I defeated myself.  Finally the sweet words of surrender filled my heart when I put some verses into that God hole.

“Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted….”  Psalm 46:10

“If the Son, therefore, will set you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

Those were the first verses I memorized.  And yes, I finally heard the full verse of Matthew 5:3.  It happened only when my mind understood “poor in spirit” to mean that I need to be fully open and receptive to Jesus, I need to find a state of nothingness  and then let Jesus fill the void.  I need to go to that space where there is only God.  When there I am as a beggar on the street seeking alms, begging for the bread of Life which feeds, the living waters which quench.  I have then been impoverished, made poor in spirit, and Jesus will relieve my poverty.

Sure, my mind still shuts down God’s space sometimes, fills it with junk.  My thinking says that I should pursue a spirituality based on knowledge, surety, certitude.  My ego begins reviewing the spiritual advancement, the learned theology, the numerous books, the good works.  I can very quickly become haughty and self-assured within my own religious arrogance.  But then, when I have suffered enough from running my own show, Jesus says, “Come back, you will find assurance in me.” cac.org

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” 

Frances J. Crosby 

CANDLE

 

 

Margaret

“If Muriel had said, ‘I am sorry, my father says no,’ I would have stayed in Vienna and they would have killed me.”

Muriel, my sister, corresponded with a pen pal from Austria, Edith Muhlbauer.  Edith was 17 years old in 1938 when the Germans crossed the border and occupied Austria.  That same year in November on Kristallnacht all but one of Vienna’s synagogues were burned to the ground by mobs, 8000 Jews were arrested and 5000 were sent to Dachau.

The Muhlbauer family lived in an area of Vienna where many Jewish professionals lived.  As the situation with the Nazis grew worse Edith wrote to my sister and asked if she could come live with my family.  We did not have the money but my father asked members of his Rotary club for the money to bring Edith to England.  They also agreed to provide money for her needs and to share hosting in their homes.

Edith arrived at our home in April of 1939 bringing 2 red handbags as gifts, one for my sister and one for me.  Our home was very small, didn’t have a proper bathroom.  She was accustomed to much nicer accommodations in Vienna and she was very careful with her wonderful wardrobe.  I remember Edith would not go for a walk in the countryside because it would ruin her shoes.

Our father was concerned that this worldly girl from Vienna would lead Muriel and me astray while Edith felt our puritanical lifestyle here in England revolving around church and work was repressive.  She was tall and beautiful with dark, styled hair and she wore lipstick.

I was brought up Methodist.  Methodism means method.  It means sticking to your guns, dedication, triumph over adversity, reverence for education – the very qualities Jews have always cherished.

MARGARET THATCHER, the Iron Lady, sister of Muriel, friend of Edith, served as prime Minister of England from 1979 – 1990

“When people ask, ‘What can one person do?’ Thatcher responded, ‘That is the question that people so often ask.  Never hesitate to do whatever you can, for you may save a life.’ 

written in 1st person narrative by larrypaulbrown from information credited to the following sources:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/margaret-thatcher-s-family-sheltered-austrian-jew

Sources: Robert Philpot, “How Margaret Thatcher’s family sheltered an Austrian Jew during the Holocaust,” (June 29, 2017);
Robert Philpot, Margaret Thatcher The Honorary Jew: How Britain’s Jews Helped Shape the Iron Lady and Her Beliefs, Biteback Publishing, (June 29, 2017).

 

 

 

 

the failing of Christianity

“Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.”  G.K. Chesterton.

I find tremendous hope in this quote from the British writer.  By reading and reflecting on these words I am able to redirect my assessment of my faith walk in the realms of “Christianity” as not so much a failure on my part but a misdirection on the part of the institution of Christianity.  The tenets of this religion founded in the 4th century C.E. on teachings attributed to  Jesus of Nazareth seem to miss the mark by a wide margin in its position of power in today’s world.

I cannot comprehend a Jesus dying on his cross so that I could rest comfortably in my recliner flipping channels between the football games on TV all day Sunday.  I do not understand a Savior who would tell me that I am closer to God than my Muslim neighbor just because their prophet, Muhammad, appeared on the world scene 500 years after he did.  I don’t believe Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,”  but then 2000 years later, “if thy neighbor is black, gay, Syrian, or Muslim, disregard what I said.”

Can it be that Jesus, the professed centerpiece of Christianity, would want to be simply defined as a radical love leading to personal transformation and renewal transcending to a mindset of inclusion and compassion for all of humanity and all of Creation?  Jesus did not exclude anyone in his ministry on earth, not the Samaritan woman at the well, not the hated tax collector, not the prostitute, not the adulteress about to be stoned.  He does not today exclude anyone.  If he is today what he was then, how could he?

I am not excluded because of who I am.  I fall far short of the enlightenment I am destined to behold, yet I know that though my neighbor may feel empowered to cast the first stone condemning me, Jesus does not.

That is powerful stuff.  If the Christian world truly followed its Messiah, its Savior, mankind would be witnessing a peace beyond comprehension, a brotherhood which encompasses all religion, race, creed, and sexuality under the widespread arms of a righteous, loving God.

My living faith cannot function on a religion based on a  a statue or picture hanging on the church wall merely to be worshipped and adored.  The historical Jesus did not die on the cross only to fulfill Old Testament prophecy and bring a future salvific eternity to man.  His death and resurrection are significant events to the Christian faith, but his life is the body and blood we celebrate as Christians when we receive the bread and wine. Living our lives as nearly to the life which Jesus lived is supposed to be the cornerstone of Christianity. Jesus was a zealot and a radical human who challenged the authorities of that time with a revolutionary view of man’s purpose on earth.  And he was crucified for his teachings.  What is more profound was the courage needed to live out his humanness and to go against the hypocritical hierarchy of his tradition, Judaism, suffering labels of heretic and blasphemer when he knew within his God relationship that he was right.

Yes, of course, there were many others who garnered the hatred of the Jewish and Roman authorities.  Many others were also crucified.  But Christianity is self-defined as the theology centered on one man. It named that man the Christ.  It is supposed to adhere to the teachings attributed to Christ. History tells us that the institution has failed miserably with this directive.  Sadly, I can’t change the 1600 year history of Christianity.  But, how am I doing personally as a professing  follower of Jesus, the one named Christ?  Am I radical enough to claim the following words?

“Well done good and faithful servant.”  Matthew 25:23

If so , then my life has been successful.  I am not here to build an empire, to claim riches, to embrace power, or to follow other ego-driven idols.  I am here to be a good and faithful servant to humanity.  I fall short constantly but I will keep on trying.

 

Irena Sendler

“The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.”  Elie Wiesel

The children called me Jolanta.  My real name is Irena – Irena Sendler.  I was born in 1910 in a small town to the southeast of Warsaw.  My father was a doctor and one of the first Polish Socialists.  Most of his patients were poor Jews.  I learned from Father to care for the needs of other people, especially the children.

Then in 1939 my country was invaded by Germany.  The Nazis were horribly brutal spreading  violence and terror throughout my home town and Warsaw.  I was a senior administrator for the Social Welfare Department at the time.  Our job was to provide meals, financial aid, and other services for the orphans , elderly, the poor and the destitute.  However, with the Germans here, we soon were needed to provide clothing, medicine and money for the Jews.  We registered those people under fictitious Christian names and to avoid the Nazis’ inspections we often reported the families as being afflicted with very infectious diseases as typhus and tuberculosis.

But, conditions got worse for the Jews.  In 1942 the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of them into a 16-block area and then sealed it off from the rest of the city.  We called it the Ghetto.

Well, I couldn’t just stand by and watch those people die.  I became involved in the underground resistance movement, became one of the first recruits of Zegota.  Our job was to rescue the Jewish children.  Because I was issued a pass from the Epidemic Control Department, I could enter the Ghetto legally.  I took food, clothing, and medicines to those poor starving people.  But 5000 of them were dying each month and I then decided that I must help the Jewish children get out.

Several of my friends and co-workers wanted to help me.  We smuggled the children in ambulances hidden in whatever was available.  Gunnysacks, body bags, potato sacks, coffins, even a mechanic’s toolbox were used to hide the children.  They had false documents with new identities awaiting when they arrived to safety.

I knew I could count on the Sisters and the churches to help me place the Jewish children.  They were placed in homes, orphanages, and convents.  None of them ever refused to take a child from me.  I kept record of their original names and new identities in a jar that I kept buried under my neighbor’s apple tree.  At last count there were 2500 names in that jar.

Oh sure, the Gestapo finally caught up with me in 1943.  They broke my legs and my feet and threw me in prison but I didn’t tell them anything.   I was sentenced to execution but one of my Zegota friends bribed one of the Germans and they called off my execution.  I escaped from prison and spent the rest of the war running from the Gestapo.

After the war, I dug up that jar and tried to contact the names and reunite them with their parents.  Most of the parents died in the Holocaust.

The children called me Jolanta.

In 1965 Irena Sendler was accorded the title of “RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS”  and in 1991 was made an honorary citizen of Israel.  She died in 2008 at age 98. 

Written in 1st person narrative by larrypaulbrown from information credited to:

  JEWISH VIRTUAL LIBRARY

 

 

 

 

racial thoughts

As a young man I always knew it was out there somewhere in the nether regions.  I saw it in movies and television shows.  Sometimes it plastered the front page of my newspapers.  But, it was always in somebody else’s world, not mine.  My world was orderly, civil, simple, and pleasant.  Neat, uncomplicated, unthreatening, predictable.

I liked my life that way.  It gave me a sense of assurance that tomorrow would be just as uneventful as today.  Life was unexciting, unchanging, uninvolved, unemotional when it straddled that fence-riding, noncommittal country lane to nowhere.  No threats, no worries, no anxieties, no challenges, and certainly no engagement with that demonic something that was out there in the backwoods waiting for an opportunity to destroy and devour my world.

But, it inevitably happened.  It came charging out of the woods screaming, “Here I am, you stupid bastard.  Your ancestral nightmare is coming out of the shadows of generations past to turn your contrived, serene, peaceful, simple, orderly, civil world into a pile of dung.”

“I am loud.  I am cruel.  I am vindictive.  I am dangerous.  I am violent.  I am judgmental and I am screaming in your face to destroy your perceived sensibilities.  I will make you angry, then depressed, then guilty, then sad, then angry again and I won’t go away because I am that vile, force of darkness which you have denied in your stupid little Pollyanna world.  Now, white boy, deal with it.”

The voices of past hatred, intolerance, and bigotry rocked my white man’s world.  I felt the pain of those who had been oppressed for so many years.  I heard the suffering cries of a black man who was lynched.  I smelled  the horror of the Jews being turned to ash in the incinerators.  I saw the tears in the eyes of the native Americans forced to relinquish their lands to the white invaders.   And my ancestors, white men, were responsible.  Guilty as charged.

Responsible for the genocide, the murder, the decimation of indigenous peoples, the plight of slaves, the hoarding of earth’s resources, the destruction of nature’s beauty.  It was my people who pillaged and plundered everything which God had intended for all mankind to use wisely. It was my people who claimed to be superior to all other races, who believed they had a God-given right to dominate, who believed their God was the only true God.  It was my people.

Oh Lord, hear this white man’s cry.  Chastise, discipline, punish us as a people for closing our eyes and shutting our ears to the needs of the world’s oppressed minorities.  I ask your forgiveness but I also accept your righteous judgment.  Grant me the courage to personally right the wrongs which I can and to walk shoulder to shoulder with all brothers and sisters in shoes of equality and compassion.

Once again there are certain of my people who would return us to the horrors of centuries past.  Do not let this seething anger which I feel rising today over the words and actions of my misguided white brothers overwhelm the work which needs to be done in active non-violent confrontation.  Calm my soul, focus my attention on your faithfulness and righteousness in the days ahead.  As they sang it in the 1960s, “We shall overcome.”  Hatred, bigotry, intolerance, racism shall be overcome with you, Lord, leading the charge.

Amen