FREEDOM

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“If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”  JOHN 8:36

I was not a Bible fan when my first days of recovery rocked my world.  If anything, I was quite the opposite, arguing and ridiculing Bible promoters.  I soon learned that it was not the message which I disliked, but the messengers who misconstrued, misinterpreted, and outright lied about the message.

My recovery fellowship shed light on the misconceptions which I had developed over the years of pain and brokenness.  Slowly, I adjusted my attitude to a more tolerant view of Scriptures and began listening to other voices which were proclaiming the greatness of a Higher Power.  Surprisingly, that Higher Power was not the same God of my childhood.  My earlier concept had maligned and obstructed any reasonable desire on my part to surrender my will to God.  Not until I was able to wrap my mind around a universal Essence, which they called Higher Power, was I empowered and freed by writings of Scriptures.

Many years into my sobriety sojourn I enjoyed a job on the grave-yard shift which allowed enough self direction to listen to the radio.  A favorite must-hear program was UNSHACKLED from Pacific Garden Mission out of Chicago.  It’s theme verse was John 8:36.  There is so much hope packed into those few words of encouragement that I made it my lifetime favorite. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” 

Initially, I associated this verse only with the power of alcoholism and drug addiction.  Yes indeed, faith in the Son and living by principles of a sober fellowship had freed me from the hell of substance abuse.  Over time it finally occurred to me that this very same Son had the power to also free me from the concerns of life, from behavior abuses, and ultimately from devotion to the great “me.”  It was a simple but astounding revelation.

Each of us has the capacity to interpret “the Son” as directed by our conscience and our spirit. We don’t need religion nor men/women with a divinity degree behind their names to define “the Son.”  But for me, a personality and human form as presented in Scriptures and clarified by ancient mystics defines with simplicity the life necessary to make me free.  It tells me what I must do to be aware of dirty politics and societal injustice, to struggle with the downtrodden and oppressed, to uphold the homeless and poor, but not be burdened or controlled by those same issues.  Jesus can do that.  ISAIAH 61:1 defined the mission of Jesus when Isaiah wrote:

The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
    The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
    “Be free from your imprisonment!”

The Voice (VOICE)The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

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psalm 51

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1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.  3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Psalms 51: 1-3 The Voice The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

These verses were sometimes referred to as the “Hangman’s Prayer.”  A sentenced convict was given an opportunity to set things right with the One he/she called Almighty before the noose tightened.  Grace and mercy reigned when that Power was called upon.

In addiction we also receive the sentence of death for our walk into hell.  It is a spiritual death often more onerous than the finality of a hangman’s noose.  Surely, I often prayed for a physical end to my suffering for I could not fathom a life other than that of an alcoholic.  Others were able to drink socially or totally abstain, but not me.  My demons would not allow it and my God, yes I did believe, would never forgive me.

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I am a miracle who walks aside millions of others like me who finally faced the toughest decision of our lives.  Admitted, believed, and made a decision to turn it over.  That “God of my understanding” listened to my confessions, forgave every one of my transgressions, and then transformed a wretched human into something useful, clean and serene.

God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.  Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!

Psalms 51:10-12 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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amazing grace

 

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“You are my rock and my fortress – my soul’s sanctuary!  Therefore, for the sake of your reputation, be my leader, my guide, my navigator, my commander.”  PSALM 31:3 VOICE

Many of us, me included, wear our emotions on our sleeves.  I had a great friend in early recovery who could read my eyes and immediately know what was happening within my soul.  It was disconcerting sometimes that a person could look at me and tell me what I was thinking or how I was feeling.  As our friendship deepened, he confided that my eye color was a giveaway.  Dark blue eyes meant trouble and discontent while sky blue eyes indicated a cheerful and peaceful inner being.  I eventually learned to discern the same in his eyes.

In the same way, body language can betray what is happening internally.  Arms crossed in front of me tell others not to approach too closely.  Eye contact indicates whether I am interested in continuing our conversation and fidgeting lets you know that I am uncomfortable with the interaction.  Folded hands and a bowed head extend my respect for your inner essence, “Namaste.”  A beaming smile and genuine bear hug says, “come on in and share my life for awhile.”

But, what else do I wear on my sleeve?  How about my faith?  I lived most of my adult life keeping my faith hidden within.  My church upbringing frowned upon sharing a part of me that could intrude or disagree with another’s beliefs.  Although my church named itself as evangelical, it did not practice evangelism.  Much of that attitude stemmed from cultural issues within my community which was isolated from mainstream America well into the 20th century.  We kept to ourselves because it was a safer way to approach the ridicule of the more popular cultures surrounding us.  We were Germanic people whose forefathers  had immigrated to the British colonies in the early 1700s indenturing themselves to the governor of New York for 7 years in return for land, we spoke a Germanic dialect, and we kept to the old customs.  We were not overly popular during WWII and the years following.

I learned early to keep my faith to myself.  In retrospect, I probably did not have much faith during my active alcoholism because I could not allow an old gray-haired, bearded, eyes-on-fire entity dwelling somewhere in the heavens into my life.  It was far too frightening.   I knew that I was always in His cross-hairs and the fear was overwhelming.  So I drank as much as I could to overcome my fears and inhibitions.  When I was drunk that old man in the sky was powerless over me.

When drinking finally brought me to my knees, I did some praying while I was down there.  The miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous and its concept of a Higher Power pulled me from the insanity which had become my life.  I learned how to hold my head high and I learned to wear my faith on my sleeve for the world to see.  If you want to talk about faith, give me a big smile and a huge bear hug.  We’ll talk.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see

John Newton 1779

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it’s my party

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A friend asked this morning, “How are you getting along these days?”

“Just fine and dandy, couldn’t be better.”

I lied.  But I truly could not put a finger on what I was feeling.  Where was my head floating?  Was I sad, depressed, melancholic?  Or was I just lazy and unmotivated?  Then, those thoughts that help us decide whether to get up and function or just lay around accomplishing nothing, yes those thoughts that are familiar to everyone, swirled through my brain and before I knew what was happening, I was engaged in a full throttle emotional crisis. What in tarnation is wrong with me?

I ran a few more words through my brain.  Nope, not that.  No, that’s not the problem.  Well, maybe I’m just over-tired.  Yes, I could be playing the control game again, I’m very good at that.  And then like a bolt of lightning it hit me.  I recognized what the problem was.

Irrelevance.  I have another birthday next month and I realized how irrelevant I have become to society in year 2018.  This old caveman from the 1960s simply does not like 2018.  Oh sure, girl scouts still try to help me across the street and 50 year-old men call me sir.

“Sir can I help you, may I get that for you, sir?”

“Bug off, sonny, I ain’t dead yet.”

They are just being nice, but they don’t need me for anything.  They still have a purpose in this world.  My life has become….well, jaded and irrelevant.   I want to go back to 1968 when life had meaning, when the future was bright and promising.  Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix cranked me up every morning and the Doors put me to sleep every night.  Life was good.

I don’t own a smart phone because I refuse to have a device that can make me swear like a sailor.  I watch ads on TV for services and electronics about which I haven’t a clue.  What’s that thingamajig for?  My vehicle is a 22 year-old pickup truck.  It has a key to open the door and start it, and a cassette player.  The dashboard shows speed, RPMs, gasoline, oil, and voltage.  Yes, they are the old fashioned gauges just like pop had on his car.  If I should ever need to buy another vehicle I will need operational lessons to simply drive it.

My 8 year-old neighbor spied me talking on my flip phone and immediately turned to his mother,  “He’s really old, isn’t he?”  AARP has stopped mailing me applications for membership.  The stores which I shop give me the senior discount without asking if I am a senior citizen.  Out on the highway, younger folks pass by flipping me the bird because I’m driving the speed limit.  I get phone calls from local funeral homes asking if I’m ready to prepay my final expenses.  People automatically raise their voices when speaking to me thinking I’m just an old deaf man.

Yep, I’m irrelevant in this world.  I haven’t left my mark nor have I made my fortune.  There are no children nor grandchildren to aggravate me and my friends are moving into assisted living or rehab centers.  Now, does anybody really think there’s any rehab going on in those rehab centers? Heck no!  They put you in a bed aside a total stranger with a severe case of flatulence, they feed you food that Grandma would have thrown to the hogs in the pigsty, they make you participate in silly games or arts and crafts, and than you die.  Old Mr. Irrelevant gets two or three lines in the obituaries, ashes get tossed in the ocean, and in about a month people will ask, “What ever happened to old man….ah, what was his name?”

Irrelevant, totally irrelevant.  Unnoticed, unnecessary, unconnected.

Phew!  Well, I’m glad that pity party is over.  Was it as much fun for you as for me?

“Self-pity is one of the most unhappy and consuming defects that we know.  It is a bar to all spiritual progress and can cut off all effective communications to our fellows because of its inordinate demands for attention and sympathy.  It is a  maudlin form of martyrdom, which we can ill afford.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT

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GENA TURGEL

NAMASTE       

 

“Truly I tell you that whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have also done to me.”

Chapter 25 in the book of Matthew shows humanity a blueprint for us to follow into a world dedicated to compassion and peaceful co-existence.  The lives we live can be a powerful testimony to the one we call Lord or they can be complicity with a world run amok.  It’s our choice, yours and mine.

Gena Turgel died on June 7 in London, England.  She was 95.  As a survivor of the Holocaust, she witnessed Nazi horrors at the death camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Bergen-Belsen.  She said at a tribute recently in London’s Hyde Park:

“Maybe that’s why I was spared – so my testimony would serve as a memorial like that candle that I light, for the men, women and children who have no voice.”

She once told BBC of her time providing comfort to 15 year-old Anne Frank dying from typhus:

“I washed her face, gave her water to drink, and I can still see that face, her hair and how she looked.”

What is my testimony today?  Would it be pleasing to the one I call Lord?  So much that is happening in today’s world is abhorrent and evil and it is so easy to feed into the hatefulness and violence that we see everyday on the news media.  But, it is also happening next door, in my neighborhood, in my community.  The horror of homelessness and hunger is not a distant problem in a foreign country.  It is a daily struggle for people living in the woods down the street.

Drug abuse is rampant.  My county is termed as a “rural area”, yet it has the 2nd highest drug abuse problem in the state.  Poverty and absence of job opportunities feed this drug use.  Good men turn to illegal activity in an effort to support a family.  Addiction does not discriminate.  It accepts the poor and wealthy, men and women, illiterate and educated, gay and straight, black and white.  Unfortunately, jails fill with men and women who don’t really have a drug problem.

It is a heart problem from which they suffer.  Empty, bitter hearts need to be filled with something.  For many alcohol and drugs are the solution.  The recovery fellowships which bring addicts and alcoholics to a better way of living are filled with stories of forgiveness and redemption.  Mine is one of them.

But is my sober testimony adequate recompense for the miracle allowed to me by the grace of a Higher Power?  Perhaps Jesus would say, “Depart from me, I knew you not.”  Gena Turgel believed she was spared from death at the hands of the Nazis in order to tell the world again and again and again what happens when good people don’t care enough to protect and nurture the “least of these”.

The least of these could be you and I someday.  In a tumultuous world society, we don’t know when we could be the next target of racism, bigotry or hatred.  I see my life as a day-to-day blessing from God.  I am not assured that I will have food tomorrow or a roof over my head.  I do not know that my freedoms of today will be here tomorrow for me to enjoy.  But I do know that what I do unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, today will have eternal consequences.  How about you?

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#Honor them with Action

On June 11, the Pulse community will rally to demand action from political leaders to end the epidemic of gun violence, reject NRA influence, and address the forgotten needs of the community two years after a horrific mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando left 49 people dead. Parkland survivors will stand alongside them. Join us: https://bit.ly/2xO1849 #HonorThemWithAction

was it good for you?

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

smiley-face-2I would like to think that I am the guy who always keeps a cool head, always speaks kindly, always responds in a civil manner.  But, I am not.  I stammer, spit, and sputter in moments of anger or disgust.  In my mind I am able to read to you the riot act when I feel I’ve been maligned.  Don’t you know who I am?

In the previous paragraph “I” or a form thereof was used 8 times.  That is the problem.  “I” sometimes becomes the dominant pronoun used in thought and conversation leading to a severe case of me,me,me which almost always excludes “you”, “they”, and even “we” from any dialog.  It becomes a one-sided conversation which clearly clarifies my position, but simultaneously bars you from taking part in the interaction.  Great ego stuff for me, not much fun for you.

The world is like that, is it not?  Tact, civility, and compromise have all but disappeared.  Conversation consists of pointing accusatory fingers, pumping personal ego, and demanding respect where respect is undue.  “My way or the highway” has become the norm in political discourse separating your party from my party and forcing one of us to be the boogeyman.  In a candidate debate for elected office, the debate often turns into a tit-for-tat assault on personal integrity.  Oh, never mind that children in America are starving, that violence is escalating alarmingly, or that we could be nuked tomorrow.  You, candidate A, are a scumbag and I, candidate B, will let our constituency know all your lurid details.  Really?  Do you think the homeless veteran scrounging for a meal in the dumpster really cares what candidate A did?

It seems that we take our cues from celebrities, the rich, and the famous.  As they do, we want to do.  As they speak, we speak.  Twitter and Facebook have made it too simple to assail, insult, assault, libel someone we probably don’t even know without any threat of accountability.  No need to fear blackened eyes or missing teeth from a physical one-on-one confrontation.

Personally, as I have confessed, I still go there sometimes.  The verbal barrage, the unkind thoughts, and the judgmental attitudes can swoop down on me in a heartbeat.  But, when the emotion is spent and the brain is engaged, I find myself saying to a beleaguered me, “Was it good for you? Did that tirade make you feel better about yourself?”

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