as I bring the coolness of the air in through my nostrils to the top of my throat, I marvel at the freshness of this breath before allowing it to rest upon my lungs for a moment. then I exhale the warmness of my expended air back through the mouth. one breath is spent and the next follows. this is life
My focus is on this flame. As I exhale through my mouth, the flame flutters. I have altered the movement of a flame with my breath. So it is with the flame of life. One breath, one thought, one action alters the stream of eternity. I have done this.
Faith as small as a mustard seed can remove the mountain of despair, of anger, of fear, of doubt, of addiction just as that one breath moved the course of the flame of life. Just a tiny mustard seed of faith can move a mountain. I can do this. You also can do this.
Faith in the indwelling Spirit, in the inherent goodness of mankind, in the bountiful mercy of God can extinguish our fires of hatred and fear and doubt. It can alter our eternity. Let’s do it.
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘ Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
What is love? Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling that is felt when in the presence of special friends, family, a spouse? Maybe. But, what if love is not an emotion? What if love is an action shared with the world encompassing all of creation including humanity and the earth itself? Compassion, tolerance, understanding, non-violence, stewardship – perhaps this is the love that will save our earth and its inhabitants. Perhaps this the love which the author of 1 Corinthians was setting before us as a challenge? Let’s try it.
Today, the day after the horrific mass shooting in Pittsburgh in which eleven of my brothers and sisters were murdered, it is extremely difficult to practice what I know the Lord of my life wants me to do – love. Today, I am rebellious. No, I will not love those who hate enough to kill. No, I will not forgive those who hate enough to be unforgivable. No, I won’t.
Then Jesus says, “But, you must because that is the beginning of healing.”
So, I will experience what humans experience. I will allow the anger, the disappointment, the horror, the disgust, the sorrow, and the denial. I will allow this and move on to the necessary work of forgiving. And trust me, this is work. It is soul work which is not inherent in our human condition. I too want to lash out at those who are hateful. I want to beat them to the ground and scream, “What is wrong with you?”
But that would be giving them the victory. That would be denying the instructions of the One who lords my life. I would become an instrument of hate rather than love.
“God make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
We are nothing if we cannot be love. You and I were created to be love in this world. Don’t defy your destiny by joining the elements of hatred rampantly destroying humanity. Our species survival depends on love, sweet love.
Elie Wiesel published NIGHT in 1958, thirteen years after his liberation from the Nazi death camp of Buchenwald at 6 P.M. on April 10, 1945. It is said he could not or would not speak of his experience for several years, but decided he needed to face the memories and the horror of his experience because the world needed to remember.
Excerpts from that speech in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1986:
“I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of the Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.”
I remember he asked his father, ‘Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed. How could the world remain silent?
And now the boy is turning to me. ‘Tell me,’ he asks, ‘what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?’ And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. BECAUSE IF WE FORGET, WE ARE GUILTY, WE ARE ACCOMPLICES.”
As a caravan of desperate Central American men, women and children from Honduras snake their way north to a land which they hope will give them a chance for sanctuary from a despotic, violent government, will America shut the door?
In June of 1939 nine-hundred-thirty-seven passengers aboard the ship St. Louis, most of them European Jews, were denied entry to the port of Miami and forced to return to Europe; more than a quarter died in the Holocaust. Our government under FDR stated that they posed a national security threat.
In February of 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR ordered the internment of 110,000 – 120,000 Japanese-Americans in western parts of the United States. Sixty-two percent of those were United States citizens. Again the government said they posed a national security threat, but historians lay the blame on racism.
“And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”Harold S. Kushner in his foreword, Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press: 2006), x. cac.org
The ancient wisdom of Hindu teachings tells us that we, those of us in this human experience called life, will traverse through 4 stages. First is the student. We learn lessons from parents, teachers, spiritual leaders, peers, and life itself. Whom we become as adults is instilled during this period.
Second is the householder. We hone our skills as businessmen and women, professionals and tradespeople and assume roles as parents and providers. We become engaged in the community, take leadership roles in civic organizations, churches and politics. Asset building is paramount to many of us, while establishing ourselves within our vocations is important to many others. We build credibility as successful members of society.
Third is the retiree. This is when our productive years in jobs and community leadership begin to decline. If wisdom prevails, we cede control to our children and the younger generation who will inherit the goodness we have generated or the chaos and disorder we have created. Many in Western culture refuse to move beyond the life stage of productivity and societal influence. We are dragged kicking and screaming toward stage 3 of our lives, the retirement years. It is not merely a refusal to relinquish economical or political control. It is a refusal to bow out and pass the baton to the next generation. It is their world that we now occupy as transients. They have the innovative concepts and fresh ideas that will resolve the world’s problems.
Lastly is the beggar or wanderer. We detach from the things of this world and prepare for our pending physical deaths. It is not a surrender to the uncertainties and frailties of old age, but rather, a search for comfort and security in that which is not earth-bound. We look at the pending transition focused on the spiritual aspects of our being. It is here that we can face a great sense of vulnerability and insecurity if spirit is not in balance within this human life experience. Accepting that we have no control over what happens to us, realizing that there is no financial or physical security in life can mean the difference between a terrifying home stretch as beggar and wanderer or an indwelling peace beyond human understanding.
As with all situations in life, my response is my choice just as your response is yours. Especially in the role of beggar and wanderer, we can be driven to emotional turmoil and madness when control is given to forces which are essentially beyond our control. Why give brain space to a person, a political power, a religious tradition which does not pay rent for that space? Why allow rhetoric and behavior which is not sanctifying and gracious into that inner sanctum of peace?
I can control my universe, so can you. The decision is ours.
Today the Archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated in 1980 by a hit squad of the El Salvadoran government, a government supported, sanctioned, and financed by the USA, will be sainted by the Catholic Church. He was a strong public voice for the voiceless and anonymous poor of El Salvador and Latin America. A few weeks before his murder, Father Romero said:
“I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility. . . . A bishop will die, but God’s church, which is the people, will never perish.”
From a telephone interview with newspaper correspondent José Calderón Salazar. See James R. Brockman, Romero: A Life (Orbis Books: 2005), 247-248. cac.org
In my quiet time today I want to consider Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr, the countless men and women of faith who would not deny the calling which had been put upon them by an unseen, indescribable, and undefinable Power, a greater Power. They did not follow the mandate to minister to the marginalized and oppressed because they wanted to be historical martyrs. No, they did so because their interpretation of the Scriptures said it was the right path to follow. They read the holy writings from the viewpoint of the humble, meek, sacrificial servant called Jesus Christ. Not the Church nor the authorities of the Church nor the powers of government deterred them from the mission of their lives.
Am I living my life as they did? Lord knows I want to, but I stumble in weakness and doubt so many times. Who am I to think I can make a difference, as these great warriors did, for the poor and persecuted? What can my ministry be at my age, the sunset of this life? When I arrive at that final destination will someone say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. . . . And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” —Matthew 5:10,12, The Message
Is my life directed by the promise of heaven and the threat of hell? How about yours? I spent many of my younger years in hell. Been there, done that and today I’m not afraid of hell because I know that the state of mind which I call hell can not be imposed on me by an entity which is vengeful and wrathful, a God which sits in judgement breathing fire and damnation. Only I can impose hell on me. It would have to be my choice to return to the hell I knew in addiction and, today, I won’t go there. The God of my understanding is with me and in me. We, together as one, control our destiny, so why would We impose hell on both of us? Doesn’t make sense.
Look, I am not going to engage theological arguments with those who believe a literal heaven and hell. If that trips your trigger, go for it. It tripped my trigger also for many years and I was the meanest, most miserable man on earth because I knew my eternity was going to be spent in hell. Why was that? Because I could in no way conform to the type of person who made it to the Pearly Gates to claim his room in the heavenly mansions according to the edicts of religion and preachers. I was doomed. Church could not save me, preachers could not change me, and good religious folks gave up on me.
I am the prodigal son who took his God-given inheritance, ran to the far country, drank and caroused, lied, deceived, stole, and partied himself into a moral bankruptcy that no human power could forgive or change. Finally, when totally and absolutely defeated, I looked back to the home I had left, fell to my knees and begged a new start. My Father was standing there on the return road and ran to meet me, threw arms around me, hugged and kissed, and cried, “Welcome back, my son. I have never stopped loving you.” LUKE 15:11-32
Yeah, that was 39 years ago and I remember it like yesterday. Still get weepy-eyed. No sir, there’s no way I’m going back to hell. I’m the woman at the well drawing water when Jesus stopped to ask for a cup of water. She, being a Samaritan woman, did not associate with Jews and was offended by his request. He, being a Jew, should not have defiled himself by speaking to a Samaritan. But, Jesus knew her past history of immoral behavior and offered her a drink from the living waters of eternal life which he offered to all who would believe. Just as the Samaritan woman, I accepted the offer. JOHN 4:4-21
I am Peter who swore his loyalty and love to Jesus only to betray him three times in the courtyard of the high priest because the faithful disciple was afraid for his personal safety. Loving his disciple Peter as much as ever, Jesus suffered humiliation, flogging, torture and crucifixion even though Peter betrayed and abandoned him in the greatest time of our Lord’s human need. That is who my Father is, the one who met me, a drunk who betrayed Him and all who chose to love me, on the road back to sanity and sobriety. LUKE 22:54-62
I am Thomas, the disciple who refused to believe his Master had defeated death and was still alive in Spirit. “Not until I see the nail holes in his hands and wound in His side, will I believe.” A strident atheist, a confirmed non-believer, a vocal blasphemer and doubter is who I was when I spied my Father waiting for me on the road back home. My Father wept with joy at my return with tears of compassion and forgiveness even as I had been the wayward denier assailing his person and spirit at every opportunity. JOHN 20:25
I am Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee who directed the first man to cast stones at Jesus’ follower, Stephen, outside the city’s gates. I persecuted and ridiculed those who believed in Jesus and I tried to destroy their faith in something which I had previously known but cast away in my addiction. Then, when my life detoured to my personal Damascus, the scales of darkness were removed from my eyes and, like Saul, I was unblinded to the truth of my Father as he came running to me singing “Paul, Paul, believe in me”. ACTS 9: 1-19
I am Paul, the redeemed and forgiven Saul of Tarsus, who, after the conversion on the Damascus road, dedicated his life to telling all about the Lord of his life, Jesus. This is my story, my truth. I can share it, but I can’t give it to you. You must discover your truth for yourself. Come and discover. The yoke is easy and it is light. No load is too heavy, no burden too great, no sin too unforgiveable. Give it up. Our Father will joyfully meet you on the road and carry you home.
It is difficult to feel joy and happiness while millions of my neighbors to the north are still reeling from the devastation of a Category 4 hurricane. It will take months, if not years, for them to rebuild their lives.
I believe that what the rest of us Floridians are feeling is relief. We dodged this one, but the next could get us. It’s what we live with here on the Gulf as do our friends on the Atlantic coast during the hot, summer months when superheated waters spawn super storms. I try to never say I’m glad that the hurricane missed us and made landfall in another community. I try never to believe that God saved us from the devastation because then the follow-up question would be, “Why didn’t God save them also? Don’t we have a loving and just Father who tends all his people?”
Naw, don’t need to go there. I’d rather live with the mysteries of my simplistic God-belief than the theories of scholarly minds and PHDs in Divinity. The bottom line for all of us is that nobody knows. We all get a one way ticket to eternity and nobody has come back to explain the God mysteries to us. The theses and scholarly papers written throughout history are nothing more than man’s philosophy. The scriptures accepted by many as the inerrant and infallible word of God are beautiful literature written by men and women highly inspired by their faith in what they hope is truth. But, nobody knows.
And therefore, why was my coastline spared while the Panhandle got blasted? Do you think that maybe God had nothing to do with it? The reason I’m hot about this tonight is because a neighbor commented, “Well, God surely protected us from the wrath of Michael.” Really? She also believes that Sodom and Gomorrah got incinerated because of their sins. Folks, active volcanoes, not God, do that kind of thing. Volcanoes spew fire and ash into the air and destroy villages and cities. If we need to credit anyone let’s give Mother Nature a hand for being the weather-master of our planet. She creates and destroys.