g.o.d.

orange treeThose of you in a recovery program will recognize this acronym and some of you who read me know that I have referenced it before in my writing.  It represents a concept which many of us newly sober men and women grasped gratefully because we refused to acknowledge an entity which had been so miserably projected unto us by religionists.  It stands for “good orderly direction”.

It kept me returning to the meeting rooms and undoubtedly led me to a serene sobriety.  Ultimately my Higher Power did soften my strident anti-God attitude and introduced me to the miracles found in all the scriptures and wisdom sayings of numerous religions.  For me to profess a God of any understanding is in itself one of the most profound miracles in my entire life.  To finally realize the love of a Higher Power and to name that power God was unimaginable even after several years of sobriety.

So, you can understand my aroused interest upon reading another man’s viewpoint that God is not truly a noun, an entity to be beheld, but a verb, a word of action.  Actually this is not merely a point of view, it is a legitimate interpretation by a recognized researcher and scholar of Jewish scriptures.

“COMMENTARY ON THE TORAH” by Richard Elliott Friedman discusses the passage in Exodus 3:14-15 in which Moses is speaking to God who has just informed him that he, Moses, would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage.  Moses’ response was, “Well, who are you, what shall I call you?”

Thus we have the familiar words, “I am who I am”, YHWH, which is translated into Anglican texts as Yahweh.  Christian interpretation is, at best, confusing and unclear.  But in his commentary, the author explains to us that the imperfect verb used is not limited to present tense; it can also be future tense, thereby also rendering the words as “I shall be who I shall be.”  Furthermore, in this passage the name of God is now revealed for the first time to the Israelites.

“YHWH” is a verb, third person, singular, and masculine.  Its root meaning is “to be”.  It cannot be limited to past, present or future time.  It is timeless and its nearest translation would be, “He Causes To Be”.  Don’t get hung up on the masculinity attribute as that was the Jewish custom.  Biblical Israel conceived God as male.

Adding this insight to a compendium of prior revelations about the Higher Power whom I name God gives an added layer of meaning to the acronym, g.o.d., in the ongoing process of recovery.  It suggests motion, movement into a life of dedication and service which is essentially what Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and other recovery programs emphasize.  Good, orderly direction is more than a cute phrase hanging in a picture frame on our meeting-room wall.CANDLE

 

the Critic

I watched several messages on You Tube by a popular pastor, Marcus Mecum , at 7 Hills Church located in Florence, Kentucky.  The man delivers inspiring teaching to his non-orange treedenominational followers and his “church” is not adorned with all the usual accoutrement one expects in a Christian church.  The pulpit is more akin to a stage setting with a background of contemporary light displays.  There is a lot of shouting from the audience, I mean congregation, and lifting of arms and hands towards the heavens.  Although many verses from Old and New Testament scriptures are referenced, one has no doubt that Jesus Christ is the mainstay of this church.

“When you are a critic, you become a victim.”  Pastor Mecum struck a deep nerve with those words.  That describes me in many situations occurring in my life today.  It is especially apropos in the political climate of the past year.  Being a critic has become so easy when I am fed a steady diet of scandalous stories and personal slander on every news outlet and late night TV show.  My character defects thrive on the garbage which flows ceaselessly from the mouths of pundits and experts.  It all makes me feel so absolutely normal and well-adjusted.  I’m not like those imbiciles and morons who are being internationally scorned and ridiculed.  Yea for Larry !

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Oh, well that doesn’t apply in this scenario, does it?  Those fools deserve what is being unleashed on them.  They are idiots.  Their mouths are forever talking trash about the other guy and just look how they conduct themselves.  The carousing, the immoral behavior, the greed, the obscenity, the lasciviousness and crassness which I see paraded in front of me as newsworthy information.  Thank God I am not like them !

“Really?  You have no sin?  You are not just as broken as they are?  You got all your ducks in a row, right?”

“Well, not exactly, Lord.  I’ve got some minor problems, too.  Well, actually, my defects are pretty glaring.  You know all of them.”

“Yes, I do.”

Victimized.  I have been victimized by my own ego; my pride is telling me that I am a notch above all the shenanigans happening on the national scene. My sins are not as egregious as their sins.  My behavior is more civil, more godly.  I have the authority to be a critic because I am better.

And it’s not OK to spend so many hours of my day judging the actions of others rather than celebrating in meditation and prayer the  freedom bestowed on me by a gracious Savior who loved me enough to pull me out of those same slime pits.  I still belong there, I am still more comfortable there, and I shall return there if I continue to be a victim of my own judgmental nature.

Jesus told the men of the village when an adulteress had been apprehended,  “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

We know the rest of the story.  Not s single man had the moral authority to cast the first stone.  10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11She said, No man, LORD. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:10-11

Overlooking an opportunity to castigate and berate national figures, “neighbors”, is sometimes difficult, many times impossible.  For me, it takes a lot of prayer and practice.  It does not come naturally because in my natural state I am not a nice man.  But, Jesus has called me to be better than that.  He has called me to “go, and sin no more.”

I cannot be a winner when I am a victim of myself, my sinful nature and character defects.  For me, Jesus is the only “Way” to victory over myself.smiley 3

 

 

….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

 

my cross

The oppressed and the hated members of civilization have always been around.  The oppressors and the haters have also been always a historical fact.  They could not exist without each other, could they?  A number of religions advocate violence to achieve the Kingdom, some followers are committed to conducting a murderous rampage on earth in attempts to eradicate evil.  But, this cannot be God’s plan for humanity.  God’s plan forCANDLE his children is to evolve to a state of enlightenment in which violence is non-existent, where brotherly love and compassion reign, where each man serves his neighbor but no man is a slave.

How dare I say this with authority?  Simple.  Our God does not contradict God.  I know without question that Jesus, the premier endorser of active non-violent protest against a corrupt world system, gathered his disciples, taught love and compassion, healed the sick, cleansed the demon-possessed, and then died on his cross because the message from God  to be shared and carried across earth said, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Jesus was crucified for loving his neighbors and teaching peaceful co-existence.  Likewise, we also are exhorted to crucify ourselves, carry our crosses for the benefit of mankind.

But, we also know that Jesus did not die.  Jesus, his life and the message, live on eternally because God will not contradict the love and compassion of God by allowing the message to die.  Jesus came to us, a desperate and broken humanity, as the example to follow to enlightenment, not just another divinity to be worshipped.  Christianity, in its historical commitment to worship and adoration, has sometimes missed the Jesus boat.  Jesus is an example for us to emulate, not just an image hanging on the wall to which we bow heads and recite fervent prayers.  Jesus on earth was a man of social action giving himself in namaste rainbowtotality to the needs of the less fortunate and teaching the established religious orders of his day the truth of a loving, compassionate God.  Jesus is no less than that today and we, as followers, must live by his Way or die by the ways of a world driven by corruption, oppression, and hatred.

Marianne Williamson & MLK,Jr

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY – JANUARY 15, 2018

(I have read and loved Marianne Williamson for many years.  This snippet of one of her talks is absolutely apropos for today’s national climate)

APRIL 3, 1968

 

APRIL 4, 1968

spiritual beings?

                                       “We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re already CANDLEinherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! I believe that’s why Jesus came as a human being: not to teach us how to go to heaven, but to teach us how to be a fully alive human being here on this earth.” cac.org

Trying to become “more spiritual” has led me down many paths.  Most of them dead-ended into a briar patch filled with thorny theology and noxious self-righteousness or a deep, dark, ominous forest filled with fairy-tale goblins and witches.  Yes, my best efforts aimed at becoming a more spiritual man usually began with an honest desire for growth, but then resulted in a retreat to a comfortable position which put Larry down here on earth and God somewhere between Pluto and the ends of the universe.  I liked it that way.  “Don’t get too close, God.  I don’t like change and I know growing closer to You requires change.”

Fortunately, the return trip to a somewhat sane reality, even if not a true reality, has always taken hold before my sobriety or sanity was compromised.  (Some would argue the sanity part).  The church fellowships which painted an extremely bleak picture for my soul if I did not acquiesce to their theology,  the book which promised eternity if I followed every paragraph of its treatise, the do-gooders who sincerely tried to save my soul with a litany of “thou shall and thou shalt not” all appeared real and salvific from afar.  But, up close and personal, they failed to make Larry a better human being.  I continued to wallow in my universe of self, accepted God’s forgiveness and grace when times were tough, then , wandered off into self-absorption until the next crisis arose. Never could find true north, never could understand what in the world was missing with my faith.  I read the books, studied the theologies, and explored the religious traditions, but I knew I was not growing.

Today, I continue to be amazed by the ways in which God comes aside me and says, “Listen to me.  Follow me.  Live for me.  I am the salvation for which you are searching. I have the answers. It’s all in a neat little package called Jesus.  Read him, know him and follow his Way.  When you do that you will also know me and you will become a better human.”

“Yeah, God, easy for you to say.   Do you know the sinkholes on that path, the fallen trees crossing it, the raging rivers to ford, the giant animals waiting in the forest to devour me, the savage natives wanting to cook me for dinner?  You do remember that Jesus got crucified for following the Way, don’t you?”

“Of course I know all about that.  I created it, remember?”  God’s reply is not always encouraging and it rarely is easy.

Father Richard in his daily meditations points to the facet of mystic teachings that can be elusive in today’s Christian teachings.  That forgotten aspect of Christianity says that I am not separated from God by space, time, or physical limitation.  I am a spark of the spiritual entity which I call God because every member of humanity was created in the image of God and every man/woman has that divine DNA within.  We are spiritual manifestations of the creators.  I am inherently a spiritual being dwelling in a limited physical body. My task here on Earth is not to search for ways to increase spiritual acumen, but to recognize who I am as a child of God, what God taught through the man named Jesus and thereby morph into a better, more compassionate, more loving, more altruistic human.  For me, that makes much more sense than chasing after spiritual gurus and distant heavenly salvation.

22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23rainbow-solidarity

These are not external qualities which need to be acquired through good deeds and righteous behavior from a heavenly source. Rather, they are within each one of us waiting to be nourished and then shared with the remainder of humanity and God.