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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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.

 

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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a new social order

“Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace—by the grace of God.” cac.org, Richard Rohr

Often I try to put myself back into the times of Jesus.  Sometimes I play the role of a man like Jesus in that chaotic era of history.  My imagination cannot possibly comprehend even the mundane challenges of everyday life trying to survive in a society which was tightly controlled not only by the Romans but also by the Jewish hierarchy.  Earning a living, providing food and shelter for a family, abiding by innumerable laws of government and religion must have driven many men to madness and desperation.

Remembering that Jesus was probably a typical, young man long before he became a local celebrity, I can picture his Jewish mother, Mary, lamenting, “All my other sons have jobs, earn a living, have a nice donkey to ride to work, go on vacation to Jerusalem every year and buy their wives new robes for their birthday.”

Young Jesus is just standing there before Mary with a sheepish grin, “But mother,  you just don’t understand, I have to be about my Father’s work.  I have a Kingdom to establish.”

“Kingdom, smingdom.  Why can’t you be more like your brother James?  He just built on a beautiful sewing room for his wife and rumor has it that they are sending little James to private tutoring next year with the Rabbi.”

“Aw, Mom, I am not like my brothers.  Hey, have you seen my sandals?  I’m leaving tomorrow to spend 40 days in the wilderness.”

Later in Jesus’ ministry to his countrymen, he remembered the days at home in Nazareth.  Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”Mark 6:4

His hometown people undoubtedly thought Jesus was not only lazy but also crazy.  When he began teaching his outrageous idea that all people were equal in the eyes of God, that the Jewish temple leaders were hypocrites, that women had rights, that prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans were loved by God, his mother Mary must have walked down to the well for water with eyes straight ahead, unable to bear the whispering and gossiping of her village friends along the path.

“That son of hers, Jesus….did you hear what he did over at Galilee?  He said he could move mountains and people say that he walked on water.  Can you imagine?  Poor Mary, she’s such a good woman.”

“Yes, and did you know that he has gathered a group of other men to follow him around the countryside begging for food and teaching something they call the Way.  They say he’s the Messiah.”

“Jesus was a person radically centered in God, empowered by that relationship, and filled with God’s passion for the world—a passion that led to his execution and vindication.” “—Marcus Borg

2000 years later, Jesus of Nazareth creates just as much controversy as he did when he was a young man in Israel.  Some people think he was a radical and a zealot.  Some people say he was and is God’s Son.  Others say he was just another magician supporting his homeless ways as best as he could.

But, it doesn’t matter.  Jesus, by his lifestyle and his teaching, brought to humanity an awareness that mankind is a brotherhood/sisterhood of equally loved and loving children of God and that they all, every one of them, are worthy of a Father’s love and compassion.  Imagine that!  A carpenter’s lazy son from Nazareth turned the world upside down and inside out saying that all men and women are equal, all are loved by God, all are welcome to partake of Earth’s great feast, and all are designed by their Creator to live in peace.

One man – a homeless beggar, a social reject, a charlatan, a simple teacher of brotherly love – did that 2000 years ago.  The new social order he ordained lives vibrantly and grows within the hearts of men and women today.  He was crucified so that we could live abundantly.  Do I have what it takes to be a person radically centered on God?  How about you?

cac.orgCANDLE

….and my neighbor is ?

Refer to the good Samaritan parable from the book of Luke 10:25-37namaste rainbow

“25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He (Jesus) said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?                                

2And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he (Jesus) said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

King James Version (KJV)Public Domain

“Go, and do thou likewise.”

From the first time I heard this story in Sunday School and VBS about the good Samaritan, I have been intrigued by the characters and the roles they played in Jesus’ lesson on Christian behavior.  In it Jesus defines the meaning of “neighbor”.  Obviously it is not limited to what we in contemporary society would consider a neighbor, i.e., the couple next door or the man down the street.

In Biblical Jewish culture, the Samaritans were a race to be ostracized and avoided at all costs.  At the well, the Samaritan woman drawing water was shocked and probably miffed that a Jewish teacher (Jesus) would ask her to draw water for him. John 4:7-26 In all probability, the Samaritans hated the Jews just as much as the Jews despised them.

So when Jesus uses a Samaritan traveler as the pivotal character in his parable, those hearing his message were undoubtedly shocked.  And when Jesus takes this heresy further to cast a favorable light upon the Samaritan, we should not be surprised that the ruling hierarchy of Pharisees desired to be rid of him and his teachings.  Their hatred and intolerance was justified by centuries-old racism supported by an archaic system of religious righteousness.

Jesus reckons with this racism by first stating that a priest and then a Levite came upon the traveler (we are not told anything about his background) and kept to the side of the road in order to avoid contact with him.  Perhaps they feared for their own safety should the robbers still be nearby.  Or perhaps they did not want to contaminate themselves by touching a corpse.  The priest and the Levite, although holy men of the Jewish faith, lacked the compassion to lend assistance to the dying traveler.  The Samaritan, however, even though a despised citizen of a neighboring country, felt compassion for the wounded man and gave immediate assistance to the point of ensuring his safe passage to care and recovery at a nearby inn.

“And who is my neighbor,” asked the lawyer of Jesus in the scripture, verse 29?

Jesus tells his story and then the lawyer in verse 37 answers his own question, “He that shewed mercy.”

Which character of this parable do I play?  Am I the priest or Levite, men unwilling to be involved in saving another’s life?  Am I the good Samaritan who cares enough to risk his own life for that of a stranger?  Or perhaps I am the traveler, wounded and left to die on the highway of life, saved only by the grace of a compassionate savior.

Who is my neighbor?  Certainly John next door, my tax accountant at the mall, the restaurant owner at my favorite Italian place, even the Muslim couple who smile to me whenever they walk by my house.  I consider my pastor my neighbor, my car salesman, my insurance agent, and my local sheriff.

OK.  What about the strident atheist at school, the repugnant Republican congressman, the white supremacist in Georgia, the drug dealer in the city, and the redneck who flies a Confederate flag on his pickup truck?  Are they my neighbors?

Jesus was not categorizing anyone when instructing us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus does not see anything but a person’s heart and the innate love and compassion within that heart.  Jesus wants us to do the same.

Who, then, is my neighbor?  The Nazi who would kill a gay man?  The racist who would lynch a black man?  The Jew who would harm a Palestinian?

If I were to come upon an injured man on the highway and that man was Trump, would I stop to assist or pass by on the other side of the road?  Yeah, it gets really funky now, doesn’t it?

I am supposed to love my neighbor.  Love is not always a warm, fuzzy feeling that tingles all over.  It is also a willingness to be actively compassionate toward every creature of God’s creation.

“Go, and do thou likewise.”  I know that if I just carry the willingness, God will honor my efforts.smiley 3

 

fundamentalism

“Fundamentalism is a growing phenomenon, not only in Islam and other religions, but within Christianity as well. Fundamentalism refuses to listen to the deep levels of mythic, metaphorical, and mystical meaning. It is obsessed with literalism and exclusion. The egoic need for clarity and certitude leads fundamentalists to use CANDLEsacred writings in a mechanical, closed-ended, and quite authoritarian manner. The ego rarely asks real questions and mostly gives quick answers. This invariably leaves ego-driven, fundamentalist minds and groups utterly trapped in their own cultural moment in history. Thus they miss the Gospel’s liberating message along with the deepest challenges and consolations of Scripture.” cac.org Richard Rohr

Before any of my “fundamentalist” friends light the fires around my stake, allow me to explore this viewpoint.  Those who are able to enter the realm of God, whether it be in reading or worshipping, with a literalist, inerrant mindset and then approach the world in which they live with a peaceful and non-violent perspective….they  are not the folks who give fundamentalism a questionable reputation in world affairs.  Richard Rohr is probably addressing the ones who use their interpretations to bring havoc upon the rest of the world which does not agree with them.  Their concepts about God and spirituality allows an oppressive and violent theology which ends with an “either or” philosophy.  Either believe as I believe or spend your eternity in hell.  The hell referred to is often caused by those very same religionists whose egos have driven them to formulate a God subservient to their brand of righteousness and self-serving intentions.

Oh my, I can see the torch bearers coming now.  If your theology, which like mine is just another philosophy set forth by man, advocates acts of violence, exclusion, intolerance, and hatred, then perhaps that theology is not based on the One all of us in the Christian world name as Lord.  Jesus, the Christ, unequivocally directed in just one verse, Matthew 22:39, to love our neighbor as ourself.  Those few words are all this world needs to live in harmonious co-existence.  Practice verse 39 in all our affairs and we will know peace

34But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. 35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I am just a common man, not scholarly and certainly not a Biblical expert.  But, when the crux of God’s directive for man is given to us in simple words by a savior who came to earth as a common messenger, there is no need to complicate the message with “thou shalts and thou shalt nots”.  Jesus said:

13Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” Matthew 19:13-15

Children have a wonderful trust and innocence in the world around them.  They do not hate for hatred is learned.  They do not judge according to skin color for that also is learned.  They love unconditionally and faithfully using the inherent goodness they brought into the world at birth.  Oh, fellow children of God, how much we could learn from the little ones.  Picture1.pngFAMILY11

 

“Father, forgive them…”

Would anyone refuse to accept the forgiveness of  a lover, a parent, a teacher, a spouse, or a best friend?  Of course not.  If  I have transgressed against you and you offer me CANDLEyour forgiveness, then our friendship cannot continue until I reciprocate with a sincere ‘thank you for understanding’.  Only then, after cleaning house,  can we pursue our relationship.

Forgive and forget is a cliché which sounds cool but is rarely practiced in our society.  Although most of us are ready to forgive, the act of forgetting is difficult because none of us wants to be transgressed again by the same person and, if we are honest about ourselves, we enjoy the grudges which we hold.  One of my friends says he will forgive but, the transgressing person will not get a second opportunity to harm or injure.  Another holds a lifetime of grudges which fester and negate any potential good will with his transgressor.   Others say that forgiveness is an act which benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.  I can understand that but, I don’t believe the purpose of forgiveness is to make me feel better about myself.

So, what then is forgiveness all about?  Is it just a religious thing, a few spoken words that are meant to repair a relationship?  Does sincerity enter the picture?  How about compassion?  Maybe a touch of empathy?  Spirituality?

The Jewish faith in Psalm 46:10 believes that the psalmist wrote, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”  We cease striving and know God when we enter the spaces between our thoughts, relinquish those before and after thoughts to the now moment and realize the power of a God which is omnipotent and omnipresent.  That “now moment” is our God space.  Living consciously in the now moment is where we will find God.

God says, ” Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

We are exhorted to give up grudges, to forgive transgressions against us, to receive forgiveness for our wrongs because only then are we ready to enter the realm of “Be still and know.”  Our minds, when cleared of human earthly affairs, will then be receptive to God’s presence and God’s power in the stillness of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.  It’s a great exercise in spiritual discipline which I certainly have not mastered although I continually try.

Perhaps forgiveness is all about doing what Jesus did on the cross.  He wasn’t concerned about feeling better as he hung there dying.  He probably did not care if his forgiveness was accepted by the Roman soldiers or the Pharisees.  What if, at that moment of physical death on his cross,  Jesus wanted to purge humanity of it’s transgressions through forgiveness, (“Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing”)?  With this act of forgiveness mankind could resume a relationship with God released from the intolerance and hatred which nailed Jesus to his cross.

Matthew 5:23 tells me to be reconciled with my brother, if there are differences, before I come before God to offer my gift of body, mind, and soul at the altar.  In my church service, I present myself in prayer to receive forgiveness for sins and to forgive others who have harmed me.  I do this by reciting the Lord’s Prayer so that when I approach the altar to receive communion I am of clean heart and spirit, ready to receive God’s unending grace through the body and blood of Jesus.  Forgiveness is that  act of soul-namaste rainbowcleansing which is necessary prior to spirit renewal.  It is not a one-time, one and done activity.  It is a continual process which is the centerpiece of any faith walk and recovery program.  Namaste.