what does Advent mean to us?

 

three kings day

FAN Newsletter (FranciscanActionNetwork)

Sunday, December 1st, marks the beginning of the Christian season of Advent which leads up to the announced birth of Jesus, the Christ, Christianity’s reason for the season.  Have you, whether a professed follower or a non-believer, ever wondered what would happen to this child if he were born in the year 2019?

“I cannot help but think of the journey of the children, women and men forced to migrate.  In September [2019] the number of migrants globally reached 272 million, outpacing the growth rate of the world’s population.”  Sr. Maryann Mueller, CSSF

Most of us who were raised in the comforts of an American Christian community surely remember the sweet stories about baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger being adored by the shepherds and wise men and lovingly attended by Mary and Joseph.  We remember the art masterpieces depicting a handsome Jesus, obviously an Anglo-Saxon man, decorating the church wall.

We were somewhat dismayed upon learning that this proclaimed savior of the world was probably a brown-skinned, short man with curly black hair born into poverty to just one of numerous illiterate families earning a meager living working for the wealthy, religious elite.  They were, of course, Jewish and followed Judaic traditions.  Undoubtedly, they experienced hunger and probably did not have clean water or adequate sanitation.  Security was to be found not in material wealth but in their devotion to the God of their ancestors and the cooperative charity of fellow villagers.

If Jesus were born today, he and his family would probably be immigrants on some nation’s border, possibly ours.  He would risk violence at the hands of racial prejudice or trafficking in child sex trade.  On the southern border of the wealthiest nation in the world, Jesus would likely be separated from Mary and Joseph and caged with other immigrant children.

Not much has changed, has it?  Two thousand years later and we still treat immigrants as if they somehow do not really matter to the Father/Mother of us all, that they are less loved than we are.  We continue to hang on to that image of Jesus, the privileged, Anglo-Saxon white man adorning the church wall.  We noisily thump our Bible to support our prejudice while reading the words which state explicitly that every person on earth is made in the image and likeness of God.  We somehow ignore the scriptures which tell us that we are to love our neighbors [earthly brothers and sisters] as ourselves.

The season of Advent is a journey for the Christian world leading up to the birth of its proclaimed Christ child.  In addition to all the joy, jingle bells, gifts and Santa Claus let’s set aside time to contemplate what it would be like to be an immigrant.  What if you and your family were forced to leave the comfort and security of your home and your community because of political or economic turmoil?  What if the people on the other side of the border which you must cross hated you because of your skin color, creed or social status.  What if you were financially disadvantaged and had to rely of the goodness and compassion of strangers to provide for your family?  Would you be afraid?

If we justify our intolerance and lack of compassion for immigrants by citing the need to protect our families or protect our faith tradition or protect our racial purity, or protect white identity, then truly what we cherish is but a heap of rubbish, is it not?  We are denying the reason for the season.  How can we proclaim amazing grace at the altar while disregarding the message given to us through the life of Jesus, the impoverished immigrant?

LOVE

 

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.

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

35

I will not!

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.  But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” ERNEST HEMINGWAY

broken hearted

The very good and the very gentle and the very brave – let’s focus on those words.  The world system seems to despise those who have a moral compass, those who are peacemakers, those who have the courage to march to a different drummer.  Governments, religions, and financial systems do not honor a man/woman who answers their demands with “no, I will not live that way.”

We are labeled ‘unpatriotic’ if we do not toe the current disgrace posing as a legitimate government.  When we kneel in obeisance to compassion and tolerance rather than stand pledging  allegiance to the cloth symbol of a nation, we are castigated as revolutionary and disrespectful.  Well, maybe we are.  All great accomplishments in governing have been manifested by protest.  No, I cannot be silent when brothers and sisters of a different color or creed do not equally enjoy the fruits of the nation they have served in battle and embraced as home.

I will not profess the creeds of religions which deny even the most basic human understanding that all creatures are made in the image of the One whom they profess as God and Savior while simultaneously endorsing locked cages of children on our border and a war in the Gulf which threatens the citizens of Yemen with epic, catastrophic starvation.  No, I will not.

I will not participate in the corporate destruction of our sacred ecosystem for the sake of increased profits of corporations which have abdicated ecological responsibility in lieu of financial extravagance.  While much of the world’s population  lives without the basic comforts of adequate food and clean water, placating the luxuriant appetites of the privileged at the expense of the marginalized poor cannot possibly advance the survival of our species materially or spiritually.

Enough is enough.  Enough corruption, enough hatred, enough greed, enough racism, enough killing.  Where will we choose to stand as our country approaches the threshold of despotic, authoritarian leadership?  As the earth’s ecosystem is screaming “enough” where will our allegiance be placed?  The answer for each of us is within.  When that quiet voice of protest within becomes a scream reverberating throughout the universe, then, perhaps, we can be assured that we have done enough.

sad emoji

whore? who – America?

“See how the faithful city has become a harlot!  She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her – but now murderers…..Your rulers are rebels, cropped-black-and-white-black-and-white-boy-1299417-e1556554337831-2.jpgcompanions of thieves; they love bribes and chase after gifts.  They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”  ISAIAH 1:21,23

Of course Isaiah was directing his admonition to Jerusalem, the city central to Judaic life and justice in the 8th century BC.  Social justice was established within Judaism as a mandate directly from the God whom they worshipped.  To not follow the writings of scriptures regarding care for widows and orphans was anathema to Jewish ecclesiastical doctrine.

The parallel to contemporary society is uncanny.  Isaiah may as well be speaking to the institutions, religious and governmental, of our country in 2019.  Some of those who proclaim the Good News of Jesus with the right hand use the left hand to cover their deplorable justification of racism, intolerance, and persecution.  Confinement in cages at our border is acceptable.  Widows and orphans of the unimaginable violence in countries south of us are vilified and labeled by our political servants and errant religious leaders as unworthy of the  compassion demanded of us as children of a universal God.

If you have studied ancient civilizations, you will know that once-proud Israel was not only subjugated by the Roman Empire, it was destroyed from within by the arrogance and greed of Israel’s leaders who at the time were its religious elite and powerful. The final annihilation was completed by the Romans in 70 AD and Israel no longer existed as a nation.  Only in 1948 did it regain its independence.

Can’t happen here?  Why not?  Are we not complicit in child abuse, human rights violations, corruption, deceit, murders?  Has not our once great nation given up its moral compass, its beacon to the world’s huddled masses?  I think we have.  We have become the whore of whom Isaiah prophesied.

“Prophet Isaiah reflects on the condition of Jerusalem. Once the city held to justice, but the present tense reality reveals much corruption, greed and complicity. Injustice plagues the city, seen in thwarted action on behalf of orphans and widows, the city’s most vulnerable residents. Society shows wear and tear, a sign of coming destruction. The failed city is a contemporaneous image. Massive corruption, mass complicity and loud maligning of immigrants and foreigners surround us now.” RED LETTER CHRISTIANS

broken hearted

me – a mosquito?

“If you think you are too small
to make a difference…..
just sleep with a mosquito in the room.”
TENZIN GYATZO
14TH DALAI LAMA

DALAI LAMA

Photos by EGOR KAMELEV and icon0.com

Never underestimate your impact.
A butterfly’s flutter is felt on the other side of the world,
a ripple in the brook moves the ocean,
a grain of sand combined with billions of other grains
creates one of nature’s most beautiful masterpieces.

old codger

 

YOU ARE NEVER TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil….
not to speak is to speak,
not to act is to act.”
DIETRICH BONHOEFFER 1906 – 1945

dietrich bonhoeffer

“There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.” (Letters from Prison, p.16)

“In following Jesus, people are released from the hard yoke of their own laws to be under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. … Jesus’ commandment never wishes to destroy life, but rather to preserve, strengthen, and heal life.”

DIETRICH BONHOEFFER

Having read the short biography of this German pastor and social activist who was imprisoned by Hitler’s Nazi regime and executed by hanging in 1945 just a month before the collapse of the 3rd Reich, I can only ask myself, “What would I do?”  And then without hesitation I ask, “What would Jesus do?”  I pray that my actions would mirror those of Bonhoeffer and Jesus when confronted by the challenges of pursuing social justice.  What would you do?

Darkness in today’s political climate is real.  Evil exists in the policies of a regime intent on instituting white, Christian control of this country and evil abounds in the minds of those who support those policies.  That evil is fed by fear and by greed.  It is no longer an issue which we can hope reason and compassion will remedy.  Non-violent confrontation, not only in action but also in spirit and intention, mirrors the lives of Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and certainly the example presented by Jesus of Nazareth.  For contemporary church leaders to disavow these teachings while sanctioning racism and xenophobia is heretical doctrine akin to the regime Bonhoeffer confronted before his murder.

Lord, open our eyes to the evil within our own hearts and then guide us to non-violent confrontation of the evil existing in our nation.

Picture1.pngconfession (2)

 

$$ MONEY $$ – is it overrated?

banknotes-cash-currency-545064

Lord knows I have carried a basketful of stupid decisions and irrational choices in my lifetime which have determined my ‘prosperity’ status.  But truly,  my recollections from years past point simply to a contented life earned and learned by living a simple life.

We were not prosperous by today’s standards.  But, in my eyes, we were the most affluent and blessed people on earth.  Stuff and money did not matter.  We did not compare to the Joneses.  I never went to bed hungry, never walked to the school bus in rags, never slept without a blanket.  Life was good.  In retrospect, what made life good was the fact that just about everybody we knew lived as we did.  We counted our blessings everyday, helped those neighbors who had fallen onto tough times, worshipped in a beautiful country church with other folks who knew the meaning of sharing, compassion, and humble faith.  Oh, a few thought they were special and had the inside track to God, but most of us just accepted that maybe we didn’t really know all the answers and we tried to live a life that pleased family, friends, and neighbors and in doing so, hopefully pleased God.

Yes, we had abundant security even if we did not have money.  We depended on each other knowing that the world would have to end before any one of us would abandon the other.  Do we have that security today?  Do you know your neighbors’ names or where they were born?  Would your community feed you, house you, and clothe you if hard times hit or would you need to pitch a tent in the woods and eat bugs and lizards?

Compassion prevailed back then because we were a community of individuals who knew each house and family along the country roads leading to church, to the general store, to the Ford dealer, to the Grange hall, to the telephone office where an operator manned (or womanned) the switch board 24 hours a day, and to the undertaker’s house to which  each of us would someday take a quiet journey.  Everybody knew everybody else – Mrs. Johnson’s bouts with depression, the Mitchell children needing new shoes, the insurance agent’s penchant for Jack Daniels, and the milkman’s weekend trips to the city to walk on the wild side.  We did our best to live right, but none of us were cocksure of eternity and none of us claimed to have the answers.  Life was a mystery and we knew it was wise to leave it as such.  In that simple, uncomplicated, unsophisticated bygone community of farmers, our lives had meaning.  Life was precious and each member of that community had a sense of belonging.

Today’s times are troubling.  The ones who proclaim to be spiritual leaders seem to be speaking from both sides of the mouth, their lives betray the words coming from the pulpits.  Some houses of worship have become palatial with a senior pastor, junior pastor, assistant pastor and a staff of office help.  Preaching hell and damnation for those who don’t adhere to their narrow litany of thou shalts and thou shalt nots, they go home to an equally impressive mansion with amenities and ‘stuff’ which most of the congregation cannot afford.

The gospel of prosperity and exclusion which I am hearing from numerous religious leaders nationwide starkly contrasts to the teachings of Jesus that I remember from my little country church years ago.  Humility is lacking, compassion is lacking, love for every member of humanity is replaced by an attitude of tribalism.  The strident position of excessively cocksure Christians evidenced today is alarming.  “You are going to hell, but I’m not because I have discovered the path to salvation.  I am a believer, you are lost.”

I don’t remember in my younger experience that Jesus taught any of those things which extreme-right fundamentalists are pumping from their pulpits.  Maybe I wasn’t listening well enough, maybe I missed the spiritual boat just as I missed out on the prosperity boat.  But, you know what?  I would not trade the soul security and contentment which I learned in that country church attended by simple folks who practiced a gospel of humility and social justice.  I would not trade the peace of mind I have for all the promises today’s prosperity preachers dangle from their pulpits of hypocrisy and intolerance.

Just a few thoughts from a simple man who still believes there is more to life than money.