lest we forget

 

 

As they arrived at their unfamiliar destination, fear and uncertainty filled their hearts.  The children clung to their mothers as men speaking harshly directed the travelers to an unseen outpost for processing.  Upon arriving there, the children were separated from parents and taken from the sight of mothers who by now were desperately sobbing and screaming, “Where are you taking my child?”  

A scenario from America’s southern border with Mexico where refugees from Central America and South America have been stopped by immigration officials?  No, this is a scene from Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the early 1940s.  Those children were sent to slave labor camps to work for the German war machine or to their deaths because they were too young to work.

I have often been chided for slipping from sobriety and spiritual themes offering hope and recovery to issues of social justice facing our contemporary society in not only the USA but also the world.  For reasons unknown to me even I can convince myself that I should avoid straying from noncontroversial topics.  It’s safer and it’s more pleasant to prattle on about the ABCs of ‘serene and clean” living then to face the harsh realities of the world in which we live

WWJD?  What would Jesus do?  What would any community-spirited sober-minded citizen do?  The answer always comes back to me in undeniable clarity.  Having read the words attributed to Jesus and the stories of his ministry to his oppressed and downtrodden fellow Israelites, having been advised by a Higher Power in the form of other recovering alcoholics that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is preparing me to return to society as a useful tool and voice in my community, I must muster the courage and determination to be a voice, no matter how small,  for justice in a socially unjust society.  That’s my definition of spirituality and recovery.

You say my introductory paragraphs can’t happen here in America in 2018?  Really?  It’s a slippery slope on which our experiment in democracy finds itself today.  The grand copper  Lady in New York Harbor welcomed “the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse, the homeless and tempest tost.”  The words from the Book of Matthew which evangelical Christianity tongues fervently, “As ye do unto the least of these, my brothers, ye have also done unto me,” convicts us of our failure in today’s refugee crisis.

If I am truly a child of God created in the image of God, a spiritual entity, then I must be concerned with the injustices I see on a daily basis on my media screens.  I must offer a dollar or a meal to the homeless man on the corner.  I must be involved in a political process which challenges the greed of the wealthy and the indifference of the politically powerful.  When I talk the talk of sweet verses and inspiration, I also must walk the thorny paths of human misery shoulder to shoulder with the huddled masses.  I am nothing if I can’t empathize with the suffering brother, the hungry beggar, or the homeless man on the corner.  “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith which can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2

When I am tempted to stand before the world thumping my chest with American pride and Christian hypocrisy, when I want to believe somebody else will take care of the poor and homeless, it is then that I need to find a quiet place and reorganize my priorities asking WWJD.

Think about it.  Hitler denigrated Jews as sub-human, as animals.  He fed the fears of Germans with racism and intolerance.  He appealed to human depravity at its worst.  He declared Aryans to be the superior, God-blessed race.  Their fate is well documented in historical annals and film.

Can’t happen again?  Maybe or maybe not, but I don’t want to be the one who quietly stood on the sidelines of neutrality.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it is indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” 

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel

 

 

maturity with respect

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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Sometimes sobriety comes in small doses.  That infinite wisdom called experience knows when we are ready for an increased fix of maturity – a commodity sorely lacking in our addictions.  What’s that you say?  You always were mature?  Maybe we can talk about that in another post.

I have only myself as a barometer for comparison.  I am not who I used to be, I am not who I’d like to be, but, thank God I have a sober mind to guide me on the ‘clean and serene’ path.  That includes the maturity index.  When I think I’ve got it down pat, I do something absolutely stupid and inane.  A mini inventory and a sincere apology to those offended cleans my slate and puts me again on that clean and serene path. I know that this will be a continuing lifetime process.  Act stupid, apologize, regroup.  Act stupid, apologize, regroup.

As I travel this road, I become more acutely aware of the immaturity displayed by those in my life, sometimes family and friends, but more often celebrities and national leaders.  We have all heard in our recovery circles the words, “Too bad he doesn’t have our program.”

Indeed, too bad they don’t have our program.  Too bad they haven’t embraced growth and maturity.  No, don’t call it a judgmental thing; rather, it is seeing life through a different set of lenses.  Judging is a matter between that person and his/her God.  However, I do compare.  Would I be comfortable speaking as he does?  Would I be able to conduct myself as she does?  If not, is there something wrong with me?

And all I have upon which to rely is me and my path.  My path has brought a severely broken man to a mildly challenged man.  It has, again and again, reminded me that there is something much greater than that universe which spins between my ears.  A world of other humans, just like me, aspires just like me, and hurts just like me.  They endure the hardships of their lives and search for answers.  They experience joy and heartbreak – just like me.  The greatest bit of wisdom which I’ve realized is that I am not the center of existence.  My life is but a grain of sand in the desert, a drop of water in the ocean.  But, when co-existing peaceably and maturely with other grains and other drops, I become we and we become massive forces in this life’s experience.

I find myself, in today’s political atmosphere, questioning motives and behaviors of the nation’s leaders.  I sometimes can’t agree or disagree because my barometer doesn’t gauge some of the stupidity and ignorance which I see.  What’s wrong with them?  Why are they behaving like children?  Where is the respect and maturity which most of us have learned to embrace in our everyday lives?  How can a national leader show such crass disrespect for a war-time hero?  How can men and women of national prominence be so self-involved?

I guess they are not part of the same deserts and oceans which you and I are building.  Maybe they need a program like the one we have.  Maturity with respect heals the greatest of differences, creates a bridge to enlightenment.  I can only pray for their healing, be a voice for change, and then vote my conscience in November.

How about you?

 

HONOR

NOUN
  1. high respect; great esteem.
  2. adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct.
  3. something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing pride and pleasure; a privilege.
VERB
  1. regard with great respect.
  2. fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).
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Today’s world does not place a great deal of emphasis on honor – the noun or the verb. Newspaper headlines are filled with stories of individuals who have conducted their lives dishonorably.  My personal past is rife with dishonorable behavior under the influences of alcohol and ego.  That did not miraculously change on my sobriety date.   However, sober living did eventually make honorable intention a top priority.  In the end analysis of my personal inventories, living honorably with self-respect became more desirable than riches or fame.  As with everything in sobriety, it is not a pursuit of perfection, but rather a life of continuing growth.

Perhaps that is why my brain automatically zeroes in on stories of honor evidenced by other individuals.  This is especially true in the world of politics where that asset is in short supply.  Senator John McCain is one of those men who rises above political commonality.  We know his story and we know his politics.

I don’t call him a great man because of his political stance.  I have disagreed with his brand of politics on most occasions.  But, his life has been an outstanding lesson in honor – both the noun and the verb.  From his military career during which he was a POW enduring torture to his distinguished service to our country in government, Senator McCain obviously lived his life by a standard epitomized by a standard of valor and personal sacrifice.

His shoes will be hard to fill.  His legacy will be remembered long after the hoots and hollers of today’s political players will be merely a footnote in history.  His strength of character will be memorialized aside other great statesmen while the questionable character of today’s political movers and shakers will be remembered as nothing more than self-serving arrogance.

Living with honor and self-respect is not for wimps just as sobriety is not for wimps.  Senator McCain cemented my admiration for him during the rally for his Presidential campaign when a woman commented untruthfully about President Obama’s faith walk and his birthplace in a disparaging manner.  McCain took the microphone from her and proceeded to correct her assertions with a most eloquent statement of support for an equally honorable man, Barack Obama.  That response was class and grace as only a great statesmen could evoke.

We live in a nation which desperately needs the service of men and women who are driven by the old-fashioned ideals of honor and self-sacrifice.  As President Obama and Senator McCain have shown us, this is not a political thing, rather, it is a character thing.  Character is the most glaring absence in today’s political discourse.

When voting this November, perhaps we could become familiar with the candidates, disregard that R or D  beside their names and cast a vote for honor and character.  It’s a commodity available in all political flavors.  It’s our duty as citizens to find it.

 

 

the serenity closet

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…….”

Back then, I launched myself into the world, as I knew it, with a fervent determination to change everything that was wrong, right every injustice, and set every errant soul on the right path.  Oh, the fact that I was drunk most of the time did not change my resolve.  Every night with a bottle or two of my favorite wine, I sat at the kitchen table late into the night writing my letters to the editor sharing the world as Larry Paul Brown saw it.

Back then, not much of my writing got published.  Some things just don’t change, do they?  Today, as a sober man, I continue to write, but my efforts are tempered by accepting “the things I cannot change.”  Those unchangeable things are, well, unchanging.  Infinite wisdom, not mine but that of a Higher Power, tells me the truth of this world and it is my choice to accept that truth or keep on spinning my wheels in futile attempts to right all the wrongs.

The savior complex led me into many situations where I was not qualified to guide, direct, or even advise.  My walk through sobriety has worked for me, why should it not work for you?  “Listen up, pilgrims.  This is how you do it.”  Many disappointments and much heartbreak later, I finally latched on to the first line of the Serenity Prayer in earnest.  I learned to approach life with the question, “what can I not change?”  And guess what?  My serenity closet suddenly became a mansion.

I cannot change you and your way even when I assuredly know my way is better.  I cannot change the world; I can only strive to make MY WORLD a better place in which to live.  And, no matter how much I regret about my past, I cannot change the past; I can only change the person I was in that regrettable past.

Anyone can build their own mansion with a spacious serenity room overlooking the beauty of the world outside, aware of the ugliness in that world, yet wise enough to know what can and cannot be changed.  Go to that quiet place, inventory the inner peace or turmoil and ask for the wisdom to know the difference between things that cannot be changed and things that ought to be changed.  Usually the wise answer will direct an action looking inward at change within rather than outward at change in others.  Change my thinking, my perception, my speech, my behavior.

A favorite verse in the wisdom writings of Judaism is Psalm 46:10:

“Be still and know that I am God…..”

Got to that room in the spacious mansion of sobriety, sit down, shut up, and listen to the voice of a Higher Power speaking.  Then, kneel in perfect submission with,

“Yes Lord, Thy will, not mine, be done.”

brilliance

 

 

 

just as I am

 

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A beggar and wanderer in life’s trek reaching beyond the horizon’s mysteries.  Take me, consume me, I no longer fear your infinite wisdom.

As a young man I was indoctrinated into the belief that Christianity alone held the answers to the mysteries of life and the hereafter.  I did not see it as a nefarious attempt to control my thinking nor kidnap my soul.  It was merely the traditional theology handed down generation after generation from father to son, mother to daughter because they truly believed this was the only path to goodness and eternal life.  My first taste of religious intolerance occurred within my closely knit community, when an upstanding Catholic parent thought he was worthy of a seat on the school board, but was met with vehement opposition from the “true” Christian community fathers.  I became familiar with the words, “We love you as Christians, but you don’t qualify”.

That screaming “but you don’t qualify” became the signature arguing point in my withdrawal and subsequent denial of anything religious.  Unfortunately, it also enabled the demon of alcoholism to replace all that had been taught to me as a young lad.  I recognize today, as a sober man, that not everything of those early learning years was errant and repressive.  When reading familiar scriptures, I can now agree and reflect on the truth contained in many of those verses.  But I also recognize that the tradition of my Christ-centered faith is not exclusive.  It is not the only way.  AA’s concept of a “God of my understanding” led me to find sober salvation along with millions of others who could not swallow a narrow, wrathful and vengeful entity sitting upon his throne breathing fire and damnation.

Today I hold to the thought that a truly loving and compassionate God does not have the capacity to hate or deny God’s love based on man’s theological interpretation.  Period.  God is love, love is God.  It is impossible for God to not love. That is cemented by none other than Jesus, the Christ.

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

Believing in Jesus, not as the man nor as the divinity, but as the way to a lifestyle free of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”, as a path to unconditional acceptance and compassion for all of God’s humanity regardless of race, creed, sexuality or ethnicity – that is the freedom expressed by every one of the world’s major religions and especially in John 8:36.  I can realize a life which is  no longer bound by the shackles of judgement or hatred or intolerance.  Free indeed!

Bottom line for me is that this freedom is a choice I make every day.  Do I bow to the God of my understanding or do I submit unquestioningly to the God of my tradition?  Ironically, they are the same God, but do I follow the narrow interpretations of theologians or do I live my life according to a God understood by me?  Today I know that God is God is God, the One and the same universal entity referenced by Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity, but never intending to be exclusive to any one faith walk.  Man has encouraged that exclusivity.  Man has kidnapped, pigeon-holed, and taught lies about God which are contrary to the core tenet of each of the 5 great traditions.

In Exodus 3:14, the writer reports that when Moses asked, “Whom shall I tell the people you are,” the vision he was seeing replied, “I am that I AM.”

I AM is the same supernatural power which mankind from the beginning of time has searched within himself for the answers to these questions: 1)who am I?  2)why am I here?  3)what am I supposed to do here?  The cave man in his natural questioning painted pictures on the cave walls to express his connection to nature, the world’s first mystics knew they were one with the universal power to which they chanted, the shepherd boys in the hills marveled at the star-lit night ushering  the arrival of a new messenger to show THE WAY to a lost tribe.   I AM has always been with us and in us throughout eternity.  I AM does not belong to any man’s theology or doctrine.  I AM cannot be humanly defined, cannot be humanly described.  I AM simply is.

“Just as the same lump of clay can take on infinite form and remain itself unchanged, so God takes on infinite form while never being other than God.” – Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), 66.

a beggar

A beggar and wanderer in life’s trek reaching beyond the horizon’s mysteries.  Take me, consume me, I no longer fear your infinite wisdom.

Life can be a blessing wandering through the mysteries of the universe as a beggar hungering for truth.  Or life can be a daily disappointment filled with the sufferings of dissatisfaction because the simplicity offered freely is unappreciated while the worldly desires unmet are futilely sought with gold and silver.  It’s my choice – yours too.

So, wherein is wisdom, the nugget of truth?  Is it with the one who merely endures each day of his life because he is counting with dread the moments until the death transition, the end of physical existence, the decay of body?  Or is it in the one who embraces each new day of his life with excitement and anticipation because he sees beyond the horizon to the other side where infinite wisdom dwells aside love and peace?

I don’t know.  I am nothing more than a traveler, a messenger for a greater truth which I do not completely understand nor am able to humanly define, yet know it exists.   But, as a beggar and wanderer of this universe, I know nothing will be lacking when nothing is desired.  Death and suffering will have been defeated.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi

divide & conquer

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.  Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but for us alcoholics it is poison.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT

When was the last time you screamed at or threw a middle finger to your TV screen?  Last week, yesterday, maybe a few minutes ago?  And did it accomplish anything? Probably not.

Today I understand how fragile my inner ecosystem can be.  My emotions are not like those of normal men and women who view or hear an outrageous story deserving of anger.  They process the news, digest it, and respond in a constructive manner.  I do not, although, I am infinitely better than I once was.  No, I can still be the guy standing in front of his TV screen flailing arms and fingers, hurling profanities at the image which has provoked me.  Do I believe that person heard or saw me?  No, of course not.  But I sure told him a thing or two, did I not?

Anger destroys every inch of peace and contentment that dwells within.  It alters the thought processes which lead to a God-honoring state of mind.  One minute of outrage can develop into 24 hours, or longer, of festering resentment.  Just one moment of anger can do that.  Am I willing, today as a sober man, to sacrifice my serenity for anger?

It’s one of the seven deadly sins according to numerous faith walks.  Let’s call it a character defect.  My inner demons use anger very effectively to divide and conquer.  When my mind is consumed with discord it cannot process the love that awaits in communion with a higher power.  All things spiritual are ushered to a back burner while the negatives boil away at a furious burn. Division conquers.  Calling 911 to God’s help line is the only solution.  Pray, pray, pray.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I certainly cannot change the doofus on TV who has taken control of my emotional state of mind.  Lord, why would I willingly give a conduit of hatred and division such a presence in my world?  Divide and conquer is not only an inner manifestation that destroys my serenity.  It also works for political figures and world leaders intent on personal power and prestige.  Divide the people, then go in for the kill.

I don’t have to play the game.  Sobriety has opened a world of possibilities for a life apart from the games politicians play.  Religious leaders also sometimes deserve that middle finger of dissent.  Divide and conquer.  “My God is better than yours.  I’m going to heaven, you’re going to hell.  I am unique and special.”

Does that kind of rhetoric meet the standard set by Jesus or any of the messengers of truth which have been shared with us?  Many years ago, a wise old man advised me, a newly sober man searching for a better way, “If your religious affiliation doesn’t teach love and compassion for your fellow-man, then it is not of God.”

Take that advice with a grain of salt – or adhere to it like I did.  It has made the search for truth in theological philosophy mind-blowing and simultaneously comforting.  Consider these words from my foremost first read every morning:

“Buddhism affirms that there is only one of us, and therefore we are each responsible for every link in the web of being. Christianity offers us the unconditional mercy of an incarnational God who permeates the whole of creation with love. Judaism urges us to demonstrate our love for God in the way we treat each other and care for creation. Hinduism kindles the fire of devotion for reunification with the Beloved who is no other than our own true Self. Islam shares the peace that comes with complete submission to the One.”

FATHER RICHARD ROHR   Mirabai Starr in The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, Rami Shapiro, ed. (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2017), vii-viii.

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