misfits, runaways, losers

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The Sermon on the Mount; The Beatitudes MATTHEW 5:1-11, amplified version 

If you have ever been to Bible School as a child, if you have participated in a Christian church service, if you have thumbed through the New Testament, you assuredly are familiar with the Beatitudes – the “blessed are” verses.

Often misunderstood, verses 1-11 tells us about the Jesus crowd circa 32 AD.  The powerful of the mighty Roman Empire and the elite of the Jewish hierarchy judged the followers of Jesus to be insurrectionists, rebels and losers.  The story of Jesus tells us that they were the target audience of the Gospel teachings, the ones whom Jesus loved dearly, for whom he was crucified.

I am a content misfit (according to today’s Western culture), a runaway, a loser.  Join me in my insane, joyful approach to life, will you?

(the portions in red and underlined are my emphasis)

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His [a]disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them, saying,

“Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].

“Blessed [forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace] are those who mourn [over their sins and repent change], for they will be comforted.

“Blessed [inwardly peaceful, spiritually secure, worthy of respect] are the [b]gentle [the kind-hearted, the sweet-spirited, the self-controlled]for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God]for they will be [completely] satisfied.

“Blessed [content, sheltered by God’s promises] are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed [anticipating God’s presence, spiritually mature] are the pure in heart [those with integrity, moral courage, and godly character], for they will see God.

“Blessed [spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor] are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will [express His character and] be called the sons of God.

10 “Blessed [comforted by inner peace and God’s love] are those who are persecuted for [c]doing that which is morally right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever].

11 “Blessed [morally courageous and spiritually alive with life-joy in God’s goodness] are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of [your association with] Me. 12 Be glad and exceedingly joyful, for your reward in heaven is great [absolutely inexhaustible]; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.smiley face 2

I want to be one of the biggest losers in the Jesus crowd.

 

 

 

bottom feeders

So many of us have lived our lives placing unmerited value on the opinions of others while discrediting our personal truth and reality.  Breaking the shackles of people-pleasing requires honest self-appraisal, a healthy dose of self-esteem, and an enormous commitment to self-realization.

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When was the last time you exclaimed, “Eureka, I have lost everything, all that has given me a sense of security and happiness is now gone?”

I remember a few of those profound moments of self-realization – when I finally divested of a toxic relationship which included the entirety of my possessions and my house, when I walked away from my own life-time dream to chase after and share the dream of  another person, when I closed the door on a promising corporate position to reorganize my life and follow the path of sober-living.  And honestly, I don’t remember screaming, “Eureka.”

I repeatedly found myself on the bottom rung of the ladder which had promised to lead upward to wealth, happiness and security.  The bottom was so near and the top seemed so far away once more.  This was not where I intended to be at ages thirty-five, forty-four and sixty-two.  However, following the most recent self reckoning ten years ago, I did not look again to the top hoping to some day be the man whom I felt others wanted me to be.  Miraculously, money, prestige, social standing, worldly success did not matter.  I became blissfully content to feed at the bottom.  There, where most of the world’s population dwells, egos are reduced to  a manageable condition, wants finally become distinguished from needs, and smelling the roses becomes more desirable than beating the crowd to the top.  Poor materially, but enjoying immeasurable inner wealth.

Dorothy Day (1897–1980) said much the same: “The only way to live in any true security is to live so close to the bottom that when you fall you do not have far to drop, you do not have much to lose.” [1]

Richard Rohr at CAC. ORG continues with this comment:

“From that place, where few would expect or choose to be, we can be used as instruments of transformation and liberation for the rest of the world.”

When we stop climbing those ladders set in place for us by others who have been part of life’s journey, we finally see the truth and reality of our life and the tremendous need for us to feed with the rest of humanity, not from lofty perches atop mountains, but at the bottom where we meet the poor and destitute, the homeless and persecuted, the sick and defenseless.  Centuries ago a man of great wisdom called them “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and promised them the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

Imagine that.  Heaven is not a few steps above the top of the ladder high in the clouds; rather, it is upon the ground of humanity where our ladders have been standing all this time waiting for us to step off…or fall off.

Reference:
[1] Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement (Orbis Books: 1997), 86.

CAC.ORG

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I   AM   LARRY – worthy, unique, loved

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blessed are the sick

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12

What’s that you say?  Blessed are the sick is not one of the Beatitudes.  Are you sure?  Hmmm, maybe I’m just feeling especially needy today and wanting another blessing.  My body has been plagued with this year’s influenza “du jour” for the past ten days and I am, well for lack of better words, sick of it.  The bug has visited every part of my body and is now considering follow-up visits.  I won’t have it.  Enough is enough.

A friend, not known for encouragement nor social tact, commented that this is God’s way of using me in another person’s spiritual walk.  Really?  Obviously, God and I need to have a talk.  I can visit the sick, I can write encouragement, I can hold another’s hand in solace, I can cook a dinner, I can run errands, I can mail a cute ‘get well’ card.  But, I don’t see the benefit of puking for God.

“Son, you have so much to learn from me.”

“Lord?”

“Who else talks to you in your hour of need?”

Nowhere in Matthew 5: 1-12 does it say, “Blessed are the hale and hearty, the fit and healthy.”  Each of the Beatitudes bestows a blessing on the weak and needy because it is there in that weakness, need, and abject powerlessness, that our Father can meet us and use us to further his work in our kingdoms.  When I become absolutely incapable of controlling my body and my affairs is the time when Jesus can nominate another of his followers to step in and become a dispenser for his tender mercies.

That is one the most difficult parts of recovery.  We have learned to love with patience and compassion, but allowing ourselves to be loved with patience and compassion is a challenge.  Allowing our weakness and sickness to be a tool in another’s faith walk is not part of the ego’s game plan.

The great mystics speak of the need to give up the gaze upon the heavens for guidance and direction, but rather to descend into the masses of suffering and despair to discover the essence of a Savior.  Religion often tells us to look up.  Jesus teaches us to redirect our attentions downward where humanity suffers because that’s where He exists.

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BEGGAR & WANDERER

Is my faith walk measured by correctness and certainty? Or is it filled with intense need and desire?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Matthew 5: 5

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matthew 5: 6

None of the above verses from the wisdom of the ancient writings say anything about getting it right or being sure about my thoughts concerning God.  As a matter of fact they point to the need to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to hunger for righteousness. I do not have the answers to the mysteries nor will I ever in this lifetime, but there is a way to search for those answers and that searching is in itself the purpose of faith.

Knowing that I just don’t know is sometimes difficult.  It is not an inherent human trait to admit that the object of my searching is an undefinable, indescribable, unspeakable mystery which is the driving force in this earthly life.  Many men and women have taken a stab at descriptions and definitions, but in the end they fall short of certainty.

But, we do know what a God-driven life produces in our lives.  It is love.  Not the warm, fuzzy feelings associated with a friend, family member or spouse, but the gut-wrenching compassion for victims of violence, for the hungry and needy, for the financially stressed, for asylum seekers.   A God-driven life produces peace makers rather than war-mongers, stewards of the earth rather than exploiters, givers rather than takers.

We can know this as truth because the Spirit (conscience) within says this is right and this is love.

“All we have to do is receive God’s gaze and then return what we have received.  We simply complete the divine circuit, ‘love returning love’ as my father St. Francis put it.  This is our spiritual agenda for our whole life.” Richard Rohr

Can’t get any simpler than that.  Look at God’s gaze (the Spirit within – love) and then return it to God and every other creature on earth.  I am a spiritual beggar and wanderer filled with an intense need and desire.  This is all I need to know.35

massive indifference

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”smiley 3

“To live a just life in this world is to identify with the longings and hungers of the poor, the meek, and those who weep. This identification and solidarity is in itself a profound form of social justice.”  cac.org

Who are the poor, the meek, and those who weep?  Who are the huddled masses, the vulnerable?  The homeless man standing outside Micky D’s waiting for a breakfast handout, the father working two minimum wage jobs with a wife and three school-aged children, the single mother with two children in elementary school trying to get her GED while working full-time for WalMart, the mentally challenged lady who is losing her group home setting due to government budget cuts, the retired man who tries to survive on his Social Security check and has to decide between medical care or food.

The Syrian refugee family living with relatives, the Muslim woman who is hassled daily on her way to school because of her head covering, the black man who has to take the midnight bus home from his job through a white neighborhood,  the woman who has suffered sexual abuse at work by her supervisor, the 13 year-old who is bullied mercilessly at school, the gay man who is threatened with death, the Mexican laborer facing deportation, the prisoner who is raped, the drug addict who lives on the streets, the jobless man facing eviction.

When I care enough to look, I see the vulnerable everywhere.  They are my brothers and sisters who have not had the opportunities to prosper in a country which boasts itself as “the land of opportunity.”  They are the misdirected who took destructive paths of addiction as young people.  They are the ones who followed the wrong crowd.  They are the product of tragedies beyond their control.

But they also are you and I.  Those of us who profess a lifestyle contrary to the norms of society, who renounce Christianity’s Gospel of prosperity, who question the traditions of our forefathers are also vulnerable to the condemnation and persecution of the status quo.  We seek justice – not merely for self gain but, for the welfare of everyone and every creature and every aspect of our Earth.

Dr. Cornell West states in one of his lectures:

“America is suffering massive indifference to its vulnerable people.”  Cornel West

Dr. West’s focus is on the plight of African-Americans, but, his words are apropos concerning the “spiritual blackout” he sees occurring in a land which historically has welcomed the huddled masses, the poor, the meek, the weeping, the vulnerable onto its shores.  He attributes much of this to corporate greed, to short-sighted politicians, and to a population which has relinquished its spiritual backbone.

Jesus spoke of justice in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) :

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they will have their fill.” 

Social justice is not the responsibility of our governments or our court systems.  That endeavor and responsibility belongs to us .  Working together in solidarity as people who hunger and thirst will fill our hearts with blessing.

rainbow-solidarity

 

 

 

 

 

 

poor in spirit

If you, like I, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, you probably memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, and maybe the Beatitudes.  The eight short sayings of the Beatitudes give the core teachings of Jesus in a concentrated format.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 5:3

Oh, how I struggled with this one.  This proud country boy did not want to be “poor” in any way, shape or form when he grew up.  Although my family, as farmers, provided adequately for our needs, we could not afford the vacations other people took each summer nor the fancy new car every 2 years.  Fortunately, designer jeans were not a necessary fashion statement in high school in 1961 and most often I started the new school year with last year’s clothes augmented by new shoes or a new shirt.  Life was pretty good but, when I considered the first of the Beatitudes, this 13 year-old farm boy raised up a few secretive, quiet prayers, “Lord, anything but poor.  I don’t want to be poor.”

I believed for many years that when the pastor recited the first Beatitude, he forgot the last two words, “in spirit.”  A more likely scenario is that  I did not hear them because I was too enamored by the cute neighbor girl sitting beside me on the pew. I think that maybe I missed a lot of the things I needed to hear in church because I was distracted.  Whenever I heard “blessed are the poor,”  my mind pictured a crowd of people saved by grace mulling around heaven in tatters and rags.  What is so blessed about that?

I’m sure my boyhood pastor recited the Beatitude in full.  I simply was not ready to hear it in full just like so many other lessons and teachings from Jesus.  That could explain why for many years I stumbled through life filling my God hole with everything but God.  Ranging from alcohol to sex to pot to pornography to numerous other idolatries, I did not become ready to listen to all the words from Jesus until I was utterly defeated by my own life.  No enemy could have defeated me as soundly as I defeated myself.  Finally the sweet words of surrender filled my heart when I put some verses into that God hole.

“Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted….”  Psalm 46:10

“If the Son, therefore, will set you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

Those were the first verses I memorized.  And yes, I finally heard the full verse of Matthew 5:3.  It happened only when my mind understood “poor in spirit” to mean that I need to be fully open and receptive to Jesus, I need to find a state of nothingness  and then let Jesus fill the void.  I need to go to that space where there is only God.  When there I am as a beggar on the street seeking alms, begging for the bread of Life which feeds, the living waters which quench.  I have then been impoverished, made poor in spirit, and Jesus will relieve my poverty.

Sure, my mind still shuts down God’s space sometimes, fills it with junk.  My thinking says that I should pursue a spirituality based on knowledge, surety, certitude.  My ego begins reviewing the spiritual advancement, the learned theology, the numerous books, the good works.  I can very quickly become haughty and self-assured within my own religious arrogance.  But then, when I have suffered enough from running my own show, Jesus says, “Come back, you will find assurance in me.” cac.org

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” 

Frances J. Crosby 

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