“Injustice may inspire anger or rebellion, but must not create despair. Injustice has been part of our world since its beginning……..despair is when you no longer believe in anything.” ELIE WIESEL, The Night of the Uprooting
CHRISTMASTIDE – Dec 25th-Jan6th
Yes, this is an appropriate quote for the season of Christmastide. Why do we think the concept of a Savior and Deliverer was introduced to the world with the story of Jesus, born in Bethlehem? Why do we marvel that this babe was announced to shepherds, the lowest class of Hebrew society only a step above lepers? The world of Judaism 2000 years ago is a case study in oppression and social injustice from not only the Roman conquerors, but also the Jewish religious hierarchy.
Elie Wiesel suffered the most inhumane form of injustice at the hands of the Nazis in the death camps of Hitler. He could not approach the significance of his internment for several years after being freed by the Allied Forces. Fortunately for us, he eventually saw the writing of his story as a duty to the Jewish nation and the world. He shared the pain and the horror of the Nazi atrocities in his subsequent books. Mr. Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
Any of us today, me included, would surely “be inspired to anger or rebellion” if subjected to the same treatment as the Jews of 1930s and 1940s. Justifiably so. But, how many of us would not curl up in despair? Whom among us would be able to sustain faith, hope, and love while starving in the humiliation, the cold, the desolation of a prison camp where survival is a daily challenge? I pray that neither you nor I ever have to suffer those consequences.
Despair is our enemy. Not having hope is a death sentence of the soul, but faith in the unknowns of this life inspires hope and defeats despair. The Christmas story, whether I believe it to be reality or you believe it to be myth, tells us how to relate to a world filled with violence, hatred, oppression, intolerance. The life and teachings of Jesus portrayed by ancient scriptures is a blueprint to living life abundantly with faith, hope, and love in the midst of man’s inhumanity toward man.
We are witness today to unfathomable social injustice which should make us angry and rebellious. But it does not need to devour us with despair. That is the essence of the gift presented to us by the birth of a child 2000 years ago. It is up to you and I to make it a marvelous myth or a life-saving reality. Our concept of Jesus is hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
Let it be real as the morning sunshine, the stars in the nighttime sky, the singing of angelic children. Let us discover, now, in the midst of turbulence and injustice the strength of faith, hope and love. Lead us to defeat despair with the power of his eternal story.
A young, brown-skinned man, his wife and their newborn baby, fled their native country after learning it wasn’t safe for them to stay. They believed their sweet baby’s very life was in grave danger.
So, they sought asylum in a neighboring country.
Now, the people in this neighboring country had no idea who this man and woman were that sought entry.
Were they terrorists, or members of some bloodthirsty gang, intent on murdering everyone in their way?
Were they trying to smuggle something from where they had come?
Were they trying to enter the country illegally? Would they then steal jobs from some other, more deserving people, or expect to get a free ride in their new “home”, not paying their taxes or medical costs?
What possible consequences would there be for allowing this family asylum in their country?
Perhaps this can provide a clue:
The parents’ names were Joseph…
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It is difficult to feel joy and happiness while millions of my neighbors to the north are still reeling from the devastation of a Category 4 hurricane. It will take months, if not years, for them to rebuild their lives.
I believe that what the rest of us Floridians are feeling is relief. We dodged this one, but the next could get us. It’s what we live with here on the Gulf as do our friends on the Atlantic coast during the hot, summer months when superheated waters spawn super storms. I try to never say I’m glad that the hurricane missed us and made landfall in another community. I try never to believe that God saved us from the devastation because then the follow-up question would be, “Why didn’t God save them also? Don’t we have a loving and just Father who tends all his people?”
Naw, don’t need to go there. I’d rather live with the mysteries of my simplistic God-belief than the theories of scholarly minds and PHDs in Divinity. The bottom line for all of us is that nobody knows. We all get a one way ticket to eternity and nobody has come back to explain the God mysteries to us. The theses and scholarly papers written throughout history are nothing more than man’s philosophy. The scriptures accepted by many as the inerrant and infallible word of God are beautiful literature written by men and women highly inspired by their faith in what they hope is truth. But, nobody knows.
And therefore, why was my coastline spared while the Panhandle got blasted? Do you think that maybe God had nothing to do with it? The reason I’m hot about this tonight is because a neighbor commented, “Well, God surely protected us from the wrath of Michael.” Really? She also believes that Sodom and Gomorrah got incinerated because of their sins. Folks, active volcanoes, not God, do that kind of thing. Volcanoes spew fire and ash into the air and destroy villages and cities. If we need to credit anyone let’s give Mother Nature a hand for being the weather-master of our planet. She creates and destroys.
“It is greedy desire and wrath, born of passion, the great evil, the sum of destruction: this is the enemy of the soul. All is clouded by desire: as fire by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an unborn babe by its covering. Wisdom is clouded by desire, the ever-present enemy of the wise, desire in its innumerable forms, which like a fire cannot find satisfaction. Desire has found a place in man’s senses and mind and reason. Through these it blinds the soul, after having overclouded wisdom.” Krishna, BHAGAVAD GITA
With the beginning words in this excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna laments the soul’s destruction through greedy desire and the wrath of passion. This deadly duo of greed and anger are reproved in Hindu writings. Greedy longing and craving coupled with extreme anger born of obsession and yearning are the sum of destruction. With ageless wisdom, the most ancient of wisdom’s revealers, Krishna, says that soul is perishable.
Buddha attributed suffering to desire. Humanity is not content with what it has and thereby desires what it does not have. When health, wealth, fame, fortune, peace, excitement, popularity, solitude, possessions, become the objects of man’s unfulfilled desires, suffering is the result.
Can we agree that much of mankind’s suffering in this life can be attributed to man’s covetousness, the desire for something not owned or controlled? The fathers of Judaism made this one of the commandments of the Decalogue as a means of preserving social order in the desert. “Thou shalt not covet.”
In today’s jargon, “Don’t covet your neighbor’s ass or his wife or his house or his servants or any of his stuff.” Pretty simple, right?
Desire for acceptance and social status drives most of contemporary society to keep up with the Joneses, working a second job to the detriment of family obligations in order to facilitate buying things not truly necessary to impress neighbors not necessarily neighborly. Desire for prestige drives many to sometimes boast, maybe lie, and possibly commit fraud to cover failings and inadequacies. That tangled web of desire, deceit, corruption and anger is indeed a soul-killer.
Just a glimpse – How’s your good heart today? Namaste!
Consider the moments when all is just as it should be, when the world seems to be perfect, when a cup of tea is enjoyed quietly empty-headed, when life’s beauty lies peacefully ahead in it’s absolute perfection. What if those moments are chosen as reality and all else is seen as illusion, a deception, a prelude to pain and suffering?
Removing the demands of self from the center of its personal universe is when eyes can be opened to a Divine Presence. Hearts swell in communal joys. Together, when joyful souls engage by pools of cool waters, in fields of green grass and lilies, with blessings of a life lived quietly, there the path of eternity is realized.
Although those moments of peace are sometimes fleeting, they become deeply etched and worthy of devotional pursuit. Then the pleasures and pains of earthly illusions will pale when compared to a life lived in awe of soulful excursions into truth’s reality.
Just a glimpse – of the joy and peace which a magnanimous Creator has intended to be enjoyed always in every moment, every word, every thought.
“For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!” MOBY DICK, Herman Melville
Melville likened the depths of a man’s soul to Tahiti, a dot of island in the Pacific Ocean. He used the adjective “insular” to describe Tahiti. Uncivilized, provincial, backwards, remote. But the island was “full of peace and joy” even though it was surrounded by an ocean of horrors. It was primitive, untouched by modern complexities.
How is your “Tahiti” today? Feeling encompassed and threatened? Relax! Many centuries ago a psalmist wrote, “Be still and know.” Be still! Relax and then know God. But first, be still. Stop striving with the world and be still. Find that quiet space and be still for it is there in stillness that the guiding light of truth will create an island of peace and joy illuminating the dark, ominous corners of life.
Even so, the worldly oceans, as in Melville’s day, remain deep and ominous filled with treacheries that cannot be fully understood by mankind. Contemporary life is frightening for those who do not have an island of tranquility offering safety and comfort. It is equally frightening for the ones who have discovered their Tahiti and yet observe from afar the continuing pummeling of winds and waves upon its shores.
“God keep thee!” Therein lies our truth, does it not? God will keep thee and me. The greater power to which we turn during our earthly struggles confessing our worldly fears will be the victorious captain in the storms of our lives. That power provides shelter from the assaults of society’s insanity while instilling a peace and understanding which transcends our physical world. The violence surrounding the soul’s island cannot penetrate when we vigilantly live this life honoring our truth. Creatures of the deep darkness are powerless when bound in chains by the dominating brilliance of our Tahiti.
We dare not abandon our island when threatening skies loom on the horizon. Instead, we take refuge within the learned words and verses of sacred writings, we turn our eyes toward the clear blue skies where hope lies, and we acknowledge with reverence that power which has always kept us and always will keep us from spiritual harm. Our ultimate truth is that we are spirits dwelling in physical forms. Physical bodies shall die but spirit is eternal. Protect and cherish the indwelling Tahiti. Never leave it!
“Dear lord, please lift me up and heal me. Cast out of my mind all thoughts that are not of You. Cast out of me all harsh and critical nature. Cast out of me all violence and all anger. Cast out of me all demons from my past. For I would be made new. I wish to walk so close to You that we might be as one.” Marianne Williamson, ILLUMINATA
“Harsh and critical nature, anger and violence”. We betray the truth of our lives, the love and compassion of a Savior, when we fail to speak our truth kindly. Our Lord’s truth cannot be spoken in any other way. Tolerance, patience, and forbearance are synonyms of the old English “longsuffering”, a word which occurs frequently in Scriptures. Probably the most familiar is:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…” Galatians 5:22
and in the Buddhist tradition:
“The greatest prayer is patience.” Lord Buddha
Is one born with patience? Probably not. Most agree that patience is earned the hard way. Life situations teach us patience. Other people teach us tolerance. Compassionate listening is developed by listening for hours to the trials of another person. Children teach us unconditional forbearance. Our friendships are the result of communications tempered by attitudes of longsuffering. When we enter into a life occurrence with anything less than a prayer for patience on our lips, the outcome will likely be less than spiritual.
“Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint. This carries a top-priority rating. When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot.” Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 113
Finding a patient friend is a blessing of the greatest order. Being a patient friend is more desirable than fame and riches. Nations have crumbled, politicians have failed, families have disintegrated, wars have been waged, and genocides have been initiated because one person failed to engage another in conversations of tolerance and longsuffering. Words that are harsh and critical, angry and violent will never establish mutual understandings which are necessary to peaceful survival. And that is our mission, that is our evolution. We are commanded by all of God’s messengers to live as a brotherhood of mankind speaking our truth kindly.
Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.
Do we know what truth is? In today’s worldly rhetoric, truth has become a relative concept. Truth depends on circumstances, truth is shaped by one’s environment, truth can be bent to fit one’s personal ambitions. We are told that trusted news sources are untruthful and mankind is not inherently honest. Political views are castigated by those professing a different truth, spiritual bearing is challenged by sects who claim theirs is the only truth. So, the question is, “How do we know truth?”
“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Buddha
Must we search? Should we read scriptures? Do we need to find a spiritual guru? The Buddha says the sun and the moon cannot be hidden for long. We know this to be truth because, when we look at the heavens, there we see the sun and the moon. That fact is evident, it is obvious. The Buddha also says truth cannot be hidden. It is as evident and as visual as the sun and the moon.
In the tradition of Buddhism, a path is offered. It is called MAGGA, the eight-fold pathway to enlightenment:
- right understanding
- right thoughts
- right speech
- right action – nonviolence
- right livelihood – nonviolent
- right effort
- right mindfulness
- right concentration – meditation
We should note that none of the eight-fold path involves deeply secretive, spiritual practices to finding enlightenment or truth. It is totally a manner of lifestyle which we undertake to the best of our abilities.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
This directive set forth by Jesus of Nazareth is clearly specific. Know the teachings and lifestyle of the human manifestation of Christianity’s God, follow that example known as “the Way” as best as humanly possible, and we shall know the truth. Hallelujah! Truth is not relative to circumstances or environment. It cannot be manipulated or bent to one’s personal needs and desires. Truth is attainable by adherence to a lifestyle of love and compassion directed toward others, to ourselves, and to the Earth itself. It will be as evident as the sun and the moon in our skies.
“Watch out for false prophets. They will come to you in sheep’s clothing , but inwardly they are as ferocious wolves.”Matthew 7:15
It is our mission to share our truth. When attuned to the spiritual presence which defines each of us, we are able to share and communicate in a kindly manner the truth which has set us free. Jesus and the Buddha in us will always portray as non-violence in thought, word, and deed.
The PRODIGAL SON in the book of Luke in Christian scripture is undoubtedly my favorite of the parables taught by Jesus. It is my story.
I was raised within the love and protection of a community of hearty, salt-of-the-earth farmers. Their lives were dedicated to raising families and raising crops. Very simple needs, even simpler desires. I often have reminisced that we were the prototype for the “Waltons” of television fame. Indeed, it is true. My extended family of great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and two aunts lived in an early 1900s house with 9 upstairs rooms which could be used as bedrooms when necessary. During the years previous to my arrival in 1947, the household consisted of numerous children and a full live-in housekeeping staff plus an assortment of farm-hands. During the harvest season Mammy (my great-grandmother) assisted by her daughters prepared a lunch table groaning with several meats, 2 or 3 potato dishes, vegetables fresh from the garden and at least 4 pies for dessert. They fed 6 to 12 hungry men. As was customary, the women folk ate after the men had finished.
But it was a hard life. I was earning a wage by the time I was 12 years old, had after-school chores, and during the summer worked long days in the fields as well as helping to tend the cattle, pigs, and chickens. It was a very hard life. I determined early in my youth that I was not going to be a farmer. When my friends from town came to visit they were awed by my lifestyle. I, on the other hand, was envious of their freedom to join social groups and participate in extracurricular school activities. They enjoyed the farm chores which to me were onerous.
Church attendance was mandatory. Through the eyes and ears of this thirteen year-old, the preaching was ominous and the threats of a punishing God were overwhelming. I finally accepted that anything which felt good was probably a sin. When I turned sixteen I was no longer required to attend services or participate in my family’s religious tradition. When I turned seventeen, one of my multiple addictions had already consumed much of my life and another two, smoking and drinking, kicked in with a vengeance. By nineteen I was fully controlled by substance and behavior addictions.
My grandfather, who raised me as his own son, offered me his farm. I ridiculed the offer saying that no way in hell was I going to be a farmer. Fifty-two years later I am still haunted by the look of rejection on his face. We never recovered that father-son relationship. My last remembrances of him are of a sickly man sitting in his favorite chair which offered a view of the highway. Reading his Bible he would look up to see who was driving by. Sometimes it would be the community’s undertaker, a solemn man named Lawrence. Looking at me with his clear blue eyes, Grandpa would quip in his Dutch accent, “Well, maybe next time Lawrence will be coming for me.”
I had an idyllic upbringing and a wonderfully simple life surrounded by people who loved me. But, I thought something was missing. I thought that those city folks living in the midst of glitz and excitement were offering a dream which my community and my family’s traditions could never provide. And at age nineteen I chased after that dream.
Drinking, smoking, drugging, and carousing assured me that finally this farm boy had arrived. Life was going to be grand and lavish. Partying every night, trashing relationships became the norm and for a few years I loved it. Never looked back on what had been sacrificed. Lost my job because of drinking, failed college because of my drinking, destroyed a military opportunity because of my drinking…..”Aw what the hell? That wasn’t the life I wanted anyway.”
Then the blackouts began. The car wrecks, the addiction-imposed poverty, the broken promises to friends and family stirred within me memories of a much simpler life, a life of hard work, joy, and focus. Like the prodigal in the book of Luke, I asked myself if I could go back home. Could I return to age sixteen and redirect?
Of course my answer was no. The farm had been sold, my family was cautious of their wayward son, no eligible prospects for a relationship wanted to take a chance with me, and my faith walk had virtually dead-ended. I was spiritually, morally, and physically bankrupt. I was a broken man at age 34 with no hope for redemption.
With nothing to lose except my wretched life, I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Something about those AAers sparked hope within me. Their message of sobriety through a Higher Power and a fellowship with kindred sober-living drunks offered a glimpse of a new life through recovery. I latched on to the enthusiasm and promise which I discovered in those rooms and held on to it for dear life. Unspeakable joy interspersed with debilitating depression controlled many of the early days getting sober.
My Father welcomed me with open arms as if we had never separated. He told me that those arms were wrapped around me all of the 17 years spent in the far country. I finally understood that God walked that trek every step of the way protecting and loving me while patiently waiting for me to return. The parable of the Prodigal tells me that Father was overjoyed to have me home. He prepared a feast and a celebration for my return. The celebration continues. We are no longer strangers, I have come home.