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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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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PSALM 23 – the VOICE

CANDLE

A very familiar passage of Scripture can reach out to us with profound insight and understanding when seen in the light of varied versions of the Bible.  Psalm 23 from the VOICE does that for me.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

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

psalm 31

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“Turn Your ear to me, rescue me quickly.  Be a rock of refuge for me, a stronghold for my deliverance.” PSALM 31:3 TLV

 

These are days when I feel the center of my soul is suffering a major earthquake.  Dishes fall off the shelves, bottles rattle, the floor trembles.  My faith is shaken by worldly events which depict savagery, oppression, hatred, injustice.  Run!  Run!  Run!  Run for cover.  And there is but one place to run – deeper into He who sustains and protects.

Further into the arms which wrap in comfort and protection.  “Take this world and give me Jesus; this is not where I belong.”

“So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.
When the earth shakes
I wanna be found in you
When the lights fade
I wanna be found in you.”
BUILDING 429 “WHERE I BELONG”

 

 

 

 

a mustard seed

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”  JIMI HENDRIX

It starts with me, it starts with you, does it not?  Christian writings tell us that a tiny mustard seed of faith, MATTHEW 13:31-32, can move mountains of self-doubt, fear, and uncertainty bringing the faithful to an absolute trust in a power greater than ourselves.  We know that spark of faith which ignited early in sobriety pulled us deeper and deeper into a fellowship that became our lifeline to sanity and understanding.  Some labeled it Higher Power, some called it Allah, some chose to name it Jesus, the Christ.

Just as a spark of faith tiny as a mustard seed can restore man to his heritage with the God of his understanding, a seed of love can lead to a national movement of equality and justice.  The young people of Parkland initiated MARCH FOR OUR LIVES, Bishop Curry leads the JESUS MOVEMENT, William Barber organizes the POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN, Tarana Burke used the phrase ME TOO in 2006 leading to recognition of the rampant sexual harassment and assault in the world.  That seed, that spark of love is the universal One we call upon as a  power greater than ourselves.   That tiny mustard seed matures into a powerful force which restores broken lives and fills hearts with peace and understanding.

Those of us in recovery endured our own personal hells in our addictions.  Our hell was filled with delusions of abandonment and desolation.  It was a devastating isolation from family and community.  It’s intention was to lead us to insanity and death.  Many times hell was successful in its conquest.

Today we know that we are never alone in our battles and our victories.  We are now part of a much larger fellowship of brothers and sisters who suffer that same abandonment and isolation which afflicted us in our addictions.  They are victims of abuse, assault, bigotry, and intolerance.  Just as our demons in substance abuse controlled us, the lives of millions are controlled by earthly powers intent upon destroying the dignity and self-worth of the marginalized among us.

Those powers gain control by the use of derogatory names and labels which diminish and categorize according to race, gender, sexual identity, creed and socio-economic status.  Humankind is a brotherhood/sisterhood of souls created in the image of a God whose name is love.  Love is blind.  Love cannot discriminate nor see distinctions.

We have choices today because we are sober.  It is our choice to be a voice of love or a force complicit with fear.  Which will it be?

“We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  ELIE WIESEL

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social justice 101

“………use their political power to murder…….mistreat their elders, disrespect their parents, take advantage of foreigners passing through, and treat orphans and widows with contempt……citizens lie and give false testimonies at capital trials…… murder is for hire, exorbitant interests and profits are taken from the poor, neighbors are oppressed for personal gain…..officials are like a pack of wolves tearing apart their prey. They kill innocent people and ruin lives just to get what they want! ……..people are full of wickedness: they are bullies and thieves; they have abused the poor and helpless; they have taken advantage of foreigners and perverted justice. 

What society might the above paragraph be addressing?  It certainly sounds like probably a third world country with rampant poverty and a despotic government.  It could be any one of a number of dictatorial powers in our world today, could it not?  In many ways those words describe what is happening in America. Here is the final sentence of this reading:

I will give them what they deserve.  So said the Eternal Lord.  Ezekiel 22

What appears to be a contemporary commentary of our society today is actually attributed to the words of the prophet Ezekiel in the Judaic writings dating to a time period 2600 years ago.  Whatever credibility we assign to these writings, one point is clear.  Mankind has not truly evolved much since 600 BCE during the times of Ezekiel.  Technologically, our progress has been astounding; however, spiritually we seem to be at a standstill or possibly in a regressive mode.

Social justice, historically, has been a matter of arbitrary convenience for the controlling powers.  Great advocates of justice for the world’s poor and oppressed have been ostracized, assassinated and murdered.  Jesus the Christ was crucified.  It’s what we have been as a species.  Peace and enlightenment will grace our souls when we all strive to achieve social justice and equality for the totality of mankind.

CANDLE