Am I a tuba or a piccolo?

Lord, let me be your instrument

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS – STEP ELEVEN

The chapter, STEP ELEVEN in “Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions” published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., uses as its theme prayer the popular Prayer of St. Francis.  The last stanza teaches:

“For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying to self that we are born
to eternal life.”

That last line of the prayer of St. Francis – it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life – creates a sense of timeless, never-ending spaces filled with nothingness.  Eternity is, after all, a long, long time.  I spent an eternity waiting for you at the grocery store.  That boring movie lasted an eternity.  The pastor’s homily seemed like an eternity.  I suppose my point is this: who wants a life of endless moments of boring eternity?  Eternity presents itself as action-less, a void filled with forever.  What happens should we substitute everlasting for eternal?  Everlasting life.

“Larry,” you are asking, “what’s the difference?”

I like to think that everlasting applies to values, to a faith that sustains, to a relationship with that Higher Power referenced in Step 11 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program.  Everlasting has survived religious philosophies, social fads, and worldly obsessions.  Everlasting will continue to the ‘other side’ of this life via the memories of us in those we leave behind and perhaps as a basis for our after-life continuance.  Yes, it is eternal, but it is vibrant and exhilarating to behold.

Along with other faith-based Scriptures we often turn to the wisdom writers of Christianity’s Bible for inspiration.  Galatians 5:22-23 names these everlasting gifts:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

Against such things there is no ending.  They endure. They are everlasting.  Hallelujah, we can choose our eternity filling it with good fruit.  Why would anyone want to fill life with hatred, unforgiveness, doubt, despair, darkness and misery when the everlasting gifts are freely available?

Make me an instrument of peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where injury, pardon
where doubt, faith
where despair, hope
where darkness, light
where sadness, joy
from the PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS

Again turning to Christianity’s wisdom literature, Matthew 19:16-24 relates the story of a wealthy, young man who encounters Jesus and asks,

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments, sell his possessions and give to the poor.

“Then come and follow me.”

The man went away saddened because he had great wealth.  We are not told what the man  chased – eternal joy or worldly comfort.  Where is my wealth stored?  Is it comprised of internal values that sustain or is it a temporal storehouse filled with stuff that will rust and rot?  Lord, let me be an instrument – a tuba, loud and thundering with your peace and kindness.  What would you be?speaking truth2

 

RELEASE

I give it to you,
the pain,
the sorrow,
the disappointment.
Too long it has
lived here,
too long.

I now release
the sadness and grief.
I release the anger,
I release the bitterness
and unforgiveness.
Take it,
burn it.

I beg of you
to let us continue,
to embrace
that which is good,
wholesome,
worthy,
glorious.

Release the resentments,
the vile thoughts,
that which hinders,
that which betrays,
that which condemns.
Bring us peace,
Bring us compassion.

In your power
hold us,
comfort,
console,
guide,
resurrect,
transform.

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separation of church and state

Living as a Democrat in rural, Republican Florida challenges one’s sense of inclusiveness and social propriety.  A recent controversy in local politics regarding funding our library’s request to make the New York Times available online to library cardholders is a case in point. My friend at BY HOOK OR BY BOOK has shared a great post regarding this issue.  It is indicative of a population which refuses to leave the 1950s.

On Florida’s horizon is a bill filed by a State Senator which would require courses be made available in our public schools at taxpayers’ expense providing studies of the Bible.  The following is the letter which I have submitted to our local newspaper.

State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing the Ocala region, has filed SB 746 to be considered during the 2020 legislative session. The bill would require courses providing studies of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments in public schools. According to the sponsors of the bill, “all state and federal laws and guidelines maintaining religious neutrality” would be maintained.

One can easily favor this endeavor to educate students regarding religious doctrine because the writers of SB 746 guarantee that such studies would not “endorse, favor, or promote or disfavor or show hostility toward a particular religion, religious perspective, or nonreligious faith.”

Certainly it would be educational and advantageous for students to learn about man’s trek across the numerous religious philosophies created throughout history by holy men, theologians and scholars to instruct, comfort and control the masses. However, knowing the history of our state’s policy-makers, can we be assured that their explicit guarantee of neutrality will be followed? It sounds reassuring today, but, what will our teachers, students, and public schools face 5 or 10 years from now? Would it not be wiser to focus this Christian educational effort in the hands of the experts in religious education – our county’s esteemed parochial schools where children are educated in an atmosphere conducive to their family’s beliefs?

Of course, should these religious studies include all the major faiths of our world including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam among others worthy of study, then, perhaps this bill could provide a well-rounded education to young people regarding various man-created philosophies of religious belief.

The key word in SB 746 is public – public education system. It is our duty to oversee and maintain this public system serving the diversity of religions, races, creeds, and lifestyles which make us a strong melting-pot nation. E Pluribus Unum, on the Great Seal of the United States, was a motto included on the seal in 1782. It means “out of many, one.” That is who we are. We are one people, one nation worshipping or not worshipping as conscience dictates. We are church people and synagogue people and mosque people and temple people. I applaud our legislators’ work to introduce religious studies into our public schools, but let’s include all faiths as worthy of study, not just Christianity and Judaism. I would enjoy a course in Buddhism, my neighbor favors Islam. Red-blooded American citizens, we are E PLURIBUS UNUM.

my creed, your creed, whose creed?

Recently, friends, those who know of my Christian tradition, question how we Christians can justify our faith considering the rhetoric and actions of a minority of evangelical leaders who glaringly contradict everything the Scriptures teach according to the words attributed to the one whom they claim as Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Fr. Richard Rohr CAC.ORG addresses this issue with the following post from his daily meditation blog.

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian. [3] Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of what is emerging in Christianity today:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already participating in evolving Christianity. Do read it several times. It only makes more and more sense.

Fr. Richard Rohr @ CAC.org

I thank Richard Rohr and Philip Gulley for simplifying in 10 salient points our creed and how it should manifest in Christianity.  Our tradition has within it the power to create righteous leaders walking aside other faiths of the world advocating social justice and peace rather than bullying and fear-mongering.

LOVE

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what do you see?

Where do you go for comfort, reassurance, consolation?  In our past lives many of us found our fix sitting on a honky-tonk barstool listening to jukebox favorites as we watered down our drinks with tears while sharing sad stories with the unwitting stranger sitting next to us.  We always had misery and heartbreak riding on our shoulders and, unfailingly, it was never our fault, was it?

This will not be a war story, there are millions just like mine; rather, it’s a testimony of personal victory gained through the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the dedicated people sitting around the tables of a recovery meeting, and the grace of a God as I understood God.  Trust me, in those early days, understanding God was a challenging proposal because in 1981 at my first AA meeting, a more strident atheist than I could not be found.  “Don’t talk to me about God, don’t expect me to pray, don’t give me any God literature.  All I want out of this group is to learn how not to drink or, even better, to learn how to drink socially like my buddies.”

The first 90 days were a long and tedious journey through numerous nail-biting nights of sheer terror fearing the old demons would reclaim me.  But also, bringing me back to the tables day after day and night after night (yes, I was one of those freaks who did at least 2 meetings daily) was the promise from others in the rooms and from the Big Book that I too could get better, that even for me there was hope.

One of those AA guys with a no-nonsense demeanor which I admired took me aside one night and suggested that I use g.o.d. as my higher power until I became ready and willing to consider a sober-minded understanding of God.  Good Orderly Direction served me well for the time necessary to clear the alcoholic fog from my brain and explore the joys and promises of a developing spirituality.

The time from then to now is my story, a fantasy trip surpassing any drunk or any high I ever experienced prior to sobriety.  It has been filled with absolute joy and unbearable sorrow, heights of fulfillment and lows of abject despair, moments of awe and days of drudgery.  Guess what?  That’s life.  It is the same as it always was – suffering sprinkled with joy and peace. But, today I don’t have to sit on a barstool crying in my beer.  I am changed.  Me, a few good friends, and g.o.d. can handle anything that comes along.

Not surprisingly, comfort and strength can be found visiting with an old friend.  I find sustaining reassurance through many of the foundational hymns and verses learned as a young boy, but rejected later in life as lies and deceit.  Today, I am an integral part of the stories and songs I remember.  I am the prodigal son, I am the doubting Thomas, I am the denying Peter, I suffer with Jesus on his cross.  These are my friends from years ago who have taken new meaning in a spiritual awakening.

Sobriety does not force us to find religion, to profess creeds, to do weekly confessional.  Sobriety does, however, expect that we will surrender to a Higher Power and pursue changed perspectives.   An aspect of those changed perspectives is our approach to worldly things.  Especially in today’s tumultuous social and political atmosphere, the words of Helen Lemmel, a writer and hymnist who lived 1863 to 1961, urges us to turn our eyes upon Jesus (an old friend), look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  

Don’t need to worship, don’t need to adhere to any particular faith walk, don’t need to bow to any deity – just know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and work, his compassion.  Then look upon that as a path to living life soberly in spiritual comfort and reassurance.  Perspectives will change when the things of earth grow strangely dim.

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Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow him there

Helen Howarth Lemmel

a better way

Fr. Richard Rohr, in the mission statement for the CENTER FOR ACTION AND richard rohrCONTEMPLATION, shares the following:

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”

It’s all about energy, isn’t it?  Physical exertion, emotional expenditure, spiritual contemplation – it all revolves about the issues that are present in our lives.  Where we spend our time and energy determines who we are, what we advocate and ultimately the state of mind we enjoy in peace or endure in turmoil.  Therefore, next time I am tempted to jump into the mud with the other mud wrestlers (or whatever else hangs out in the slime), perhaps I should remember the exhortation of Fr. Rohr.

…and they all chimed in, “Yeah, Larry, and we’re going to nominate you for sainthood.”

Y’all ought to know by now that I live by the principle of progress rather than perfection, that lofty ideals are meant to be pursued, not attained.  It’s the journey, not the destination that constitutes a successful life.  Striving for a world dedicated to non-violence begins in me with every action, thought and prayer offered to the cause of personal earthly peace – “oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” 

That’s difficult to digest.  Does it mean that I should not be concerned about the injustice and hypocrisy which permeates the world?  Should I just throw my arms up in frustrated surrender over the racism and intolerance infecting American society? Should I sit in my quiet place with my beads and prayer shawl praying away the hatred and bigotry?

No, certainly not.  I should continue to see with dismay the horrors of social injustice, I should continue to speak out against the racism in my neighborhood, I should continue to protest by whatever resources I have the denigration of brothers and sisters of another race or creed or nationality.  But, I should not jump into the mud and lather up in my own  hypocrisy, intolerance and bigotry.  Justifying my disagreement and winning a victory over another’s viewpoints is not the goal of non-violence.  Proving the insanity of national politics will not make ours a better country.

I refer often to the wisdom of the ancients.  The thoughts, the words, and the sayings which have survived the test of time have done so because they are – wisdom.  In my opinion (and yes, I have many) the one nugget of wisdom erringly ignored by religious leaders and politicians alike is lead by example.

What examples are we choosing to lead us and guide us through an extremely violent period of world history?  Whom do we choose to inform us and thereby sway our opinions?  To what and to whom do we listen?  What do we read and view on media screens?  Where are we expending physical, emotional and spiritual energy?  Is it oppositional or is it conducive to understanding and peaceful solution?

Hillary (yeah, don’t allow the name to betray your religion) famously said in her campaign, “When he takes the low road, we take the high road.”

Doesn’t really matter whether she meant it or actually lived it.  The advice is great wisdom.  Let’s not get mired in the mud (or sewage) which poses as moral guidance or political leadership.  Observe it, digest it, and then continue to follow the compass which points true north.  Let our criticism of the bad be tempered by practice of the better.

Center for Action and Contemplation

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my KETO journey – chicken bundles

PORCUPINES – KETO STYLE

GABBY'S PLACE

Are we weary yet of chicken breast fried, baked, braised, roasted, fricasseed or chicken legs and thighs coated with crushed pork rinds and baked?  Are ya?  This keto challenge can be daunting when meal planning is on the agenda.  Can’t have this, no, can’t eat that, whatever happened to the nice side dish of brown rice or pasta?  Hmmm, out of necessity, new recipes are born.

I have always loved porcupines.  That was my grandmother’s name for cabbage bundles she created with ground beef and rice or ground pork and rice.  Of course by the time she added the onion, herbs and spices and then simmered those bundles in a zesty tomato sauce, all hands were on the dinner table waiting impatiently for her bowls of porcupines.  Served with a slice of homemade bread – Lord, it don’t get any better than that.

Ground chicken!  Yep, that’s right.  Grandma’s recipe…

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OCTOBER 2

 

 

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Are you an advocate for non-violence?  Do I commit on a daily basis to non-violence in my life?  It is fitting that the International Day of Non-Violence be celebrated on the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi who was born October 2, 1869.  Bestowed the title of Mahatma (a person who is revered and respected) he led to the independence of India from British rule by mass non-violent civil disobedience.

Concurrently reported on the same news page which tells of Gandhi and today’s celebration of non-violent actions to confront the world’s affinity for violence, is an account of a national leader suggesting in a private meeting with aides that the immigration “problem” could be resolved by “shooting them in the legs” or “topping a 2000 mile electrified border wall with flesh piercing spikes.” MSN NEWS

We can only hope that this account of the President’s words were a summary of foolish and facetious statements by one who attempts to lead by division and fear.  Other actions and speech, however,  confirm that our nation is not governed by policies of non-violence.  Peace through enforced powers of violence is not what Gandhi had in mind when crusading for independence from Britain.  It is an unsustainable truce in which the oppressed must submit to an oppressor.

Who is my personal oppressor?  Yours?  What inner powers keep us from knowing peace?  What violence do we inflict upon our souls?  Perhaps the most significant factor in world-wide violence is absence of self-love.  No, not talking about ego and its deceptive need for attention, rather, the realization that compassion and tolerance of others begins with an attitude of compassion and tolerance for me.  I MUST LOVE ME BEFORE I CAN LOVE OTHERS.

Are you a movie fan or prime time TV viewer?  Ever question the need for all the blood and violence being shoved into your head?  Yes, it gets terrific ratings above and beyond any ratings SOUND OF MUSIC or I LOVE LUCY would garner.  But, it shows a complete absence of reverence for life.  Self-love and non-violence begin in a place of reverence for all life, all creation, all races, all tribes, all creeds, all religions, all lifestyles.  Doesn’t mean I need to understand or agree with your choices, but I must respect your right to live your choices.  Namaste, my fellow earthlings.  Have a blessed INTERNATIONAL DAY OF NON-VIOLENCE.

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ostensibly

The word has a ring to it that piques my attention.  I have been writing blogs for several years and never had opportunity to use the word ostensible.  Now is my chance to realize another of life’s dreams.

“I ostensibly bought the two bags of candy for my partner because he loves candy.”

And since that candy was on sale at the grocery store, BOGO, (buy one, get one free) of course I had to take two bags.  One does not refuse a BOGO offer.  Who in their right mind would not take the second box of cereal, or the second package of chicken, or the second can of tuna?  Lord forbid!

Friends, I had a major slip last night.  For 3 months I have been adhering to the keto lifestyle which excludes, along with grains and refined seed oils, SUGAR.  Yes, sugar is a major faux pas with keto-genic.  AND, this old man loves his sugar snacks.  Force me to choose between the life of my best friend and a Snickers bar and I would need a minute or two to make that decision –  the Snickers bar of course.

I should know better.  I am a recovering alcoholic.  An alcoholic does not tempt his sobriety with a bottle of his favorite whiskey.  He does not buy it at the liquor store just because it is on sale and his best friend (the one he just betrayed for a Snickers bar) loves that brand of whiskey.  He does not honestly believe he can take that whiskey home and not think about sneaking a swig.

I sat in front of my TV for 3 hours trying to convince myself that I was deep into the football game – it was a good game.  The occasional thought of the recently bought candy in the candy dish certainly would not break my resolve to avoid sugar in my newly found dietary keto-genic miracle which had enabled me to drop 25 excess pounds of belly fat, eliminate my diagnosis of pre-diabetes, and astound my Medicare doctor with my healthy lipid profile.  No, hell no!  I was stronger than those wonderful chocolate morsels just waiting to touch my tongue with their delicious mouth-watering delight.

This morning I am a defeated man asking myself, “How did it happen, how could I have been so clueless?”

If you are one who prays, please pray for my recovery.  If you cross fingers (or any other body parts) please cross now.  Above all, please don’t hate me.  I’m just another human trying to negotiate the powers of addiction.  Oh Lord, why can’t I be addicted to foods like sardines or avocadoes or celery sticks…..or kale?

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let’s dance, shall we?

“…..you then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you.  Life is the dancer, you are the dance.”  A NEW EARTH – Eckhart Tolle

How many of us believe that we are the dancers, that we put the action into life? Do-si-do your partner – EEEEEHAW!

Think about this for just a moment.  Realizing that little old me never was the one in charge of this life which I claim as mine can be somewhat diminishing if not outright devastating.  It relegates the ego to a minor role in life’s theatrical production.  In the book which many alcoholics refer to as the BIG BOOK, Bill W. tells us:

“Most people try to live by self-propulsion.  Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way.  If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great.” Bill W. ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, pg. 60

Lights, camera, action!  Let the dance begin.  I am that which is being danced, life provides the script, the scenery, the other actors.  Maybe asking God to do the do-si-do will result in a spectacular production?

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