grace that’s amazing

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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PSALMS 82

God calls the judges into his courtroom,
    he puts all the judges in the dock.

2-4 “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough,
    you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.
You’re here to defend the defenseless,
    to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
    and prosecute all those who exploit them.”

Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!
    They haven’t a clue to what’s going on.
And now everything’s falling apart,
    the world’s coming unglued.

6-7 “I commissioned you judges, each one of you,
    deputies of the High God,
But you’ve betrayed your commission
    and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted.”

O God, give them their just deserts!
    You’ve got the whole world in your hands!

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This is a great reading from the Ketuvim, the 3rd section of the Hebrew Bible, set to contemporary dialog.  Why should I be surprised that social justice was a concern of the early Jewish culture much as it is today with our Christian tradition?  Apparently man, although he has conquered many technical impediments to enlightenment, has yet to master his own ego, that part of him which says he is better than, different from, and entitled to.

I often inventory these aspects of my own inner forces which determine who I shall be today – better, different or entitled.  And sometimes miraculously, I tune in to a greater self which tells me I am a son of that universal essence which created all mankind equally deserving of justice among their fellow-man whether wealthy and powerful or poor and needy.

I can picture the author of Psalm 82 standing before a panel of appointed judges reading the riot act to them for their lack of compassion towards the defenseless and underdogs.  In today’s society I am one of many, not only judges and politicians, who would do well to reflect on attitudes toward and treatment of those who have hit personal bottoms, endured unjust racism, struggled through financial difficulties.  The homeless, the emotionally challenged, the addicted, the prisoners, the broken, the afflicted – all are deserving of a day in the court of compassion and empathy.

When honesty hits me between the eyes, I would have to admit that I am unworthy of mercy and grace, that I should be sleeping in the woods, scrounging for food, sitting in jail for my disobedience.  That honesty tells me that I am not special nor gifted nor smarter.  No, I am merely luckier because I have escaped the harshness which afflicts my brothers and sisters.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed
When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun. 

John Newton, 1779 OLNEY HYMNS

John Newton understood this undeserved gift from a gracious God.  He lived a profane and wicked life, but turned the page which all of us turn when we exclaim,

“Dear God, there has to be a better way than this.”

His actions endorsed social reform and supported the fight to abolish slave trade in the British Empire resuling in the British Slave Trade Act in 1807.

the marginalized

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“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.” —Isaiah 10:1-2, The Message

This passage quoted by Fr. Richard Rohr is attributed to the writings of Isaiah, one of the most prolific prophets of Judaism who probably wrote all 68 chapters of the Book Isaiah sometime during the years between 740 BCE and 686 BCE.  Believing in prophecy, or not, is irrelevant to the significance of this message to us living during these tumultuous times in contemporary society because it describes the trials and perils we, the marginalized, face today.  I do not need to be a believer or follower of Jesus (which I am) to recognize the remarkable parallels.

“When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.”

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), dedication page

Has the world forgotten what politics should be?  Today’s  world of politics has become so overshadowed by greed and self-interest that it is very difficult to view it as a conduit for the welfare of all earth’s humanity including the poor, the homeless, the children, the elderly, and the mentally ill.  The most fitting adjective we can use for that segment of society is marginalized and oppressed.  It need not be that way given the enormous wealth in the hands of a small percentage of the population.

Politics is derived from the Greek word “politikos”meaning “of, for, or relating to the citizens” and “civil, civic, belonging to the state.”

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35). [3]

Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis, http://reclaimingjesus.org/.

The core belief of the traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is committed to compassion and hospitality.  Adherents are known by their actions and works.  If professing anything other than love and tolerance as depicted in their Scriptures, then they are not true followers of their faith.  It’s a simple assessment based on the writings of the ancients.

Principalities and powers pass away, but the inner power of the Spirit as represented by the Hebrew prophets, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed is infinite and eternal.

12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  EPHESIANS 6:12

the political believer, it’s in the works

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

In his daily writing for July 8th Father Richard Rohr , a proponent of social justice, states that most of the negative feedback he receives advises him to not get too political.  He responds,

“Yet how can I read the Bible and stay out of politics? Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. The Gospel is rather “socialist” in its emphasis on sharing resources and caring for those in need.”

Well said.  If I read in Scriptures about the life and works of Jesus, the Christ, if I profess this same Jesus as my Lord, if I receive Jesus within my heart and pattern my life according to His, then how can I not be political?  Jesus was the ultimate petitioner for the poor and needy.  He opposed the wealth of the greedy, the corruption of Judaism, and the oppression of Rome in his ministry to the downtrodden of Israel.  He did so knowing that his would not be a pleasant trip through an earthly life and that a violent death awaited him on the cross.  Yet, in human form he persisted because that is what humanity is supposed to do.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick regardless of the consequences.

“The primary role of religion and spirituality is to reconnect, the very meaning of the Latin word “religio”. The Greek word “polis”—which led to the word politics—simply means city or public forum, where people come together. Why have religion and politics become so antagonistic when they have similar goals?”  Richard Rohr

America boasts its Christian roots.  History tells us that Christians were at the forefront of social movements to end slavery, support women’s rights, encourage laws providing civil rights, Mediare, Social Security, and Medicaid.  Most famously America has welcomed the downtrodden and oppressed from other nations regardless of creed or race.  We are a beacon of hope to the hopeless, a land of opportunity for everyone.

The Gospel is often called the Good News because it carries a message of not only redemption, but also hope for those who have no hope.  The refugee, the widow, the orphan, the persecuted, the outcasts of society are the target of Jesus’ ministry today just as back in 1st century Israel.  The oppressed are empowered by words which tell them that God loves them equally regardless of social status, wealth or faith profession.  Because of that Good News we know that all mankind dwells within the family of a mighty and just God.

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. JAMES 2:14-17 CEB

The above verse from the Book of James is well-known in recovery programs.  It reminds me that my success in defeating alcohol has been a miracle, a gift from the Higher Power of my understanding.  But, it is not free.  A continued and contented sobriety requires payments.  Service to others is written on my IOU to God.  “Faith without works is dead.”

“Today I am encouraged to see many of my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist brothers and sisters actively engaged with the political realm, speaking truth to power, and holding our political leaders accountable. Being political is a basic civic, human, and spiritual duty!” Richard Rohr

CANDLE

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Pope Paul VI

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

 

“If you want peace, work for justice.”

 Pope Paul VI

 

As a precursor to thinking about world peace, it is necessary to recognize that governments and government agents cannot enforce peaceful co-existence.  Governments desire power above peace,  governments covet profits from its nation’s war machine and munitions industries above peace, and governments employ military might as an insurer of peace within its own borders at the expense of violent oppression elsewhere in the world.  The great Roman Empire was created on this principle.  The American experience also became an empire in this manner.  Peace on an international level is unattainable without the intervention of a supernatural mediator.

Perhaps that is what Pope Paul VI is inferring in this quote.  Wise men know that mankind is violent and warlike and that the governances created by man are equally so.  The peace envisioned is not going to happen in the halls of government but rather within the temples of man.  Man is a spiritual being housed in a physical body, his temple.  When that spirit is tuned in to a greater universal force, the process of peacemaking can begin.  It is a miracle of interior transformation which prepares each individual to journey to the destiny of enlightenment offered by his/her Creator.

The transforming process begins with a recognition of inherent ego and its continual demand to be self-satisfied.  Slowly ego is replaced by sacrifice and awareness of surrounding suffering.  The injustice of world systems becomes increasingly apparent as the individual reaches out to live in solidarity with all brothers and sisters, to seek justice for all people.  Justice mothers the driving desire to share resources equally, to treat others compassionately, and to extend peaceful co-existence to the entire creation.  Striving for universal justice becomes the life work which will usher peace into the worlds existing within the temples.  No government can deter or destroy that which dwells within.

 

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).

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

paying for forgiveness

money changers

Some pictures from Bible stories have more staying power than others.  As a young boy, I remember thinking, “OK, what’s all the fuss about?”

The cleansing of the temple of the merchants and moneychangers is recorded in all four of the canonical Gospels: Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48) and near the start in the Gospel of John (at John 2:13–16).

Historically, this was the way things were done 2000 years ago.  Supply and demand was a principle of economics back then in Jewish culture just as it is now.  The religious hierarchy established sacrifice as the only way to come before God and the temple merchants capitalized on the edict.  Name your price was the rule of the day.  The wealthy would buy an ox to sacrifice, the upper-middle class a lamb, the less prosperous a dove, and the destitute a sparrow.  Widows and orphans sacrificed enormously of their personal holdings to buy a pair of sparrows for their sacrifice at the altar of God.

The Roman Catholic Church picked up on this practice using cash rather than animals as the price for penance and forgiveness.  When Martin Luther came onto the scene the custom was challenged.  Thank you Martin.  Today, we accept forgiveness and grace as a free gift from an Almighty God who demands nothing in return other than our transformed lives.

But, how does this Bible story fit into our lives today as Christians, as followers of the man who overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple?  Jesus upset the tables of commercialization in the temple, of the cozy relationship between religion and money.  How does it apply today?

“What would Jesus do in our context? He might once again disrupt the temple—the unholy alliance between religion and empire.”  cac.org

I think we can truthfully make the transition naming the unholy interaction of religion and government as today’s temple moneychangers.  Separation of church and state is not just about a feared, theoretical bogeyman awaiting in our temples of worship to create a theocracy such as Israel experienced during the times of Jesus.  The threat to America’s separation of church and state is real and it is entirely possible considering today’s national politics.  We are hanging on to a freedom guaranteed by our Constitution which must be vigilantly protected collectively by those of us who are believers and those of us who are not.  Our government bedded down with our prostituted churches are not empowered by anyone’s God to impose a nationally sanctioned theology.

Father Richard Rohr goes on to say about Jesus today:

“I think he would teach the wrongness and futility of violence in human affairs. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary virtues of a life centered in the God whom he knew. And of course, he would teach the importance of a deep centering in God. Richard Rohr @ cac.org 

Jesus deeply understood justice because the society in which he lived was harshly unjust.  The Judaism of his day snuggled cozily in the Roman bed of nationalism to create a society which severely oppressed the common man.  Jesus, the human, was a revolutionary and a zealot in his short lifetime and paid the ultimate price on the cross.  He, along with thousands like him, suffered the horrors of crucifixion because he stood up for justice for all mankind, all of God’s creation.

Am I also willing to suffer for what I believe to be right?  Would I carry my cross to my personal Calvary?  How about you?  Scoffers beware.  We are quickly entering the national scenario where a segment of Christians historically claiming to be the persecuted are becoming the persecutors.

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