love, joy, peace

Like most people, I love gifts.  As a little boy, Christmas morning was a delightful time with family unwrapping the treasures given and received.  Being a member of a farming family and enduring the vagaries of farm income, some Christmases found nothing moretannenbaum than simple gifts of necessities under the tree.  Underwear, socks, toothpaste and brush were just as much appreciated in those years as were the toys and shiny bicycle in the prosperous years.

No matter the financial  status, always the Christmas spirit, the reason for the season was the prevailing theme of our celebration.  The act of giving was predominant.  Receiving a nice present was cool, but we were taught who and why we were celebrating.  That mindset was a prelude to maturing in a community of like-minded farm folks.  Life was enjoyed in very simple ways and the gifts of a loving God were not taken lightly.

It seems much has changed in America.  The biggest, brightest, most expensive gifts fill the kitchen with new appliances, the den with a 60″ widescreen, the driveway with a new Mercedes, and closets with brand new designer clothes.  Most often the holiday decorations glamorize Santa Claus, snowmen, and Disney characters.  Rarely do I see a crèche or angels on front lawns and certainly not at the county courthouse as I remember from my boyhood community.  Times have changed.  Jesus, the babe celebrated in the book of Matthew, is no longer center stage in our festivities.  His presence is no longer America’s reason for the season.

Jesus, the greatest gift-giver of all time, is relegated to candlelight services on Christmas Eve and nice music on the radio.  The giant retailers which pumped our heads full of pre-Christmas sales events and materialistic dreams of unaffordable gift ideas take a breather on the holiday only to return with a vengeance after Christmas Day to once again entice us into more debt buying the “must-have”, discounted unsold merchandise.

It’s a scam!  Americans have been hoodwinked into spending billions of dollars to create a sense of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” when that peace and goodwill are free for the asking from the greatest gift-giver ever to walk this earth.  Just ask.  Just seek.  Just knock.  It’s all there in one neat, readily available package and it costs nothing other than a willingness to open the door to the One who dispenses love and compassion as eternal gifts.

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7-8

Love, joy, and peace are the 1st three of the fruits of the Spirit detailed in Galatians 5:22-23.  They are internal gifts which will be realized when walking this journey with God as a constant companion.  They were made incarnate in the character of Jesus as depicted in our Christian Scriptures.  They are attainable elements of a life surrendered to thechristmas emoji 3 grace of an almighty God.  This is not just a fairy tale or myth.  Jesus is truth given not only at Christmas but every day of the year to those willing to ask, seek, and knock.  Try it.  Those shiny presents under the tree will fade quickly.  The gift of Jesus will not!

 

 

 

peace on earth

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” —Martin Luther King, Jr

In my Lutheran worship service, after the prayers, “the peace of the Lord” is extended by the pastor.  The congregants then take several minutes to greet each other with hugs, aCANDLE hand clasp and a repetition of “God’s peace.”  It symbolizes the attitude we are encouraged to assume in greeting the world with a universal message of  love and compassion.

During the Christmas season the words “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” will take center stage in celebratory endeavors.  It is a sentiment which our enlightenment envisions for all of humanity regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.  It is a dream shared by John Lennon, IMAGINE, Martin Luther King, Jr., millions of pacifists worldwide, and me. Sadly, peace seems to be, in the Christmas season of 2017, the last item on the agenda of the world’s politicians, strident religious leaders, and governments.  Just as a popular song by Lennon in the 1960s anti-war movement laments, “why can’t we give peace a chance”  GIVE PEACE A CHANCE , we also wonder what is so tough about peace?

Indeed, why not give peace a chance?  What is Larry doing today to give peace a chance?  Hmmm, that’s where it starts, does it not?  I can’t change the world, but I can surely, with divine help, change me; if each of the world’s 2 billion plus inhabitants could assume a commitment to peaceful co-existence, we might have a chance.  Yes, I know, it’s a pipe dream, but, the process has to start somewhere with someone.  Let it begin with me.  As the Buddhist would ask, “How is your good heart today?”  As Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I have within my being the solution to the worldwide pandemic called heart dis-ease.  Lord, bring it on, let the cure begin with me.christmas emoji 3

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”  Luke 2:14 KJV

 

 

 

a Quaker shares

Sadly, many of those who disparage the Christian walk have never taken the time to research or embrace the truth of the Christian way of living as emphasized by the character of Jesus in New Testament scriptures and other mystics throughout history.  Instead, media blips of a dying faith, a ritual life of religious intolerance, and a hypocrisy CANDLEsimilar to that which Jesus encountered in Jewish culture are displayed on screens worldwide as the universal nature of the “evil” Christianity destined to betray humanity.

Father Richard Rohr in his daily meditation at cac.org quotes the Quaker pastor, Philip Gulley, in presenting to us the true nature of the Christian mindset:

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, IF THE CHURCH WERE CHRISTIAN.  Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of Emerging Christianity:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already inside of Emerging Christianity.

namaste rainbow

The 10 points listed above clearly indicate that the prevailing world view of our faith, especially that of the strident anti-religionist, is based on misinformation and error.  Jesus is more than a mythical character whom some Christians remember and worship at Christmas.  The story of his life is an example to be lived by us in our lives today.  It is the greatest story ever told.  Namaste.

Advent

Those of us who celebrate Lutheran Christianity are welcoming the season of Advent.  It is a time of joyous anticipation of the Emanuel tradition, “God with us”.  My church affiliation begins special services on Wednesdays up until the Christmas Eve candlelight celebration on December 24th.  It’s all a part of appreciating the rites and traditions of an extended spiritual journey which has been taken with like-minded sojourners seeking sober-minded living within a drunken world system.tannenbaum

There has been much discussion regarding the reason for the season, Jesus, the Christ.  No matter how a person dices it, the Christian depiction of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem is Christmas.  Matters not if a man doubts the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts of this story or if a man shouts “Hallelujah” this is literal truth, the essence of the season is the message shared by the mystical Jesus of Nazareth.  He arrived on the scene amidst a society controlled by a hypocritical religious doctrine and governed by a ruthless Roman Empire.

We have been fooled by the marketing geniuses of retailers like WalMart, Target, Macy’s, and Amazon into believing that spending money is a prerequisite for holiday joy and happiness and that the spiritual path is merely a side story that pleases Christian scrooges.  But scriptures tell us that this story is much more than powerful mega-retailers peddling their wares; it is about the arrival of truth and compassion on the world scene of brutality and intolerance which ruled 1st century Israel.

Many people dismiss that connection.  I did for many years and allowed myself to be drawn into the holiday shopping frenzy, the mindless drive to please people I didn’t really like with nonsensical presents that they didn’t really like, and the partying into oblivion with my friend, alcohol.  New Year’s Eve and January 1st usually found me too hungover emotionally, physically, and spiritually to even think about my soul’s path or the Father’s recently celebrated loving gift of Jesus to my life.

It’s a celebration, a birthday party, for the greatest humanitarian ever to walk the earth, for the greatest story ever told, and for the legendary purveyor of compassion and truth to a broken mankind.  I am broken and I need that savior’s fix.  I am searching and I rely on his message which was given for all of humanity.  I am lost and I need a shepherd’s guiding voice.

I come to the birthday party just as I am, in rags, in turmoil, with shattered dreams and disillusionment.  When I arrive, he puts his arms around me and shouts,

“Welcome to my party.  All are invited and I have gifts for everyone.  Merry Christmas.”smiley-face-2

God’s Not Dead

I spent a few hours last evening watching the movie GOD’S NOT DEAD.  Music from the NEWSBOYS  enhanced the script which detailed a challenge in the life  of Joshua, a pre-law student at the university who is a faithful follower of Jesus enrolled in a philosophy course taught by a strident, self-proclaimed atheist.  CANDLE

Supporting roles include Josh’s girl friend, a young woman who values worldly pursuit over spiritual values, a student reporter who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, an oriental student presumably from China who comes to believe in the Christian God much to the dismay of his father, a Muslim student who is disowned by her father upon his learning that she has become a Christian, a Christian pastor who becomes involved with lead characters in a salvific role, and the professor’s lover, a student who has denied her Christian faith to be “unequally yoked” with an atheist.

The heart of the movie is a challenge presented by Professor Radisson to Joshua to prove to his philosophy class that God is real and God is alive.  It is great wholesome entertainment and a somber reminder that our world does not love us nor respect us for carrying the Christian faith or any God centered philosophy.  Ridicule, condescension, and persecution of our ideals and beliefs have become commonplace in social media and secular entertainment.  And yes, it is often well-placed, deserved derision and mockery based on the religious hypocrisy which has overtaken an element of Christianity.  But, that hypocritical element is a notable minority which unfortunately has garnered significant attention in American society and has overshadowed the goodness and compassion of the overwhelming balance of the Christian world.

In the movie, Professor Radisson ultimately has to admit that contrary to his atheist stance he does believe that there is a God but, decided to hate God because at age 12 God allowed his mother to die of cancer.  He was a denier rather than an atheist.  I also hated God for many years for allowing me to wallow in alcoholism, for not saving the world from famine, for allowing wars to destroy and maim.  I proclaimed myself an atheist but reclaimed my inheritance when, as a recovering alcoholic, I realized that I was a disillusioned victim of a misguided theology which claims God controls every nuance of my life.

I have free will, I have choices, I make decisions and these are liberties that have been granted to me living under the grace of a loving God who is not Santa Claus.  He does not grant nor deny my desires.  Yes, I discuss those needs and wants with my Higher Power and that sovereign entity simply gives me the guidance and discernment to make good or sometimes bad choices.  He gives me the strength and courage to face life on earth on earth’s terms.

I respect the right of every man/woman to walk their chosen path.  But please, if you define yourself as atheist, be sure you are not a believer who is in God denial.  Your eternity is not some future occurrence.  It is happening now and it can be awesome or it can be drudgery.  Your choice.smiley 3

Atheist & Agnostic

CANDLE

I have many friends in real life and in the blogosphere who follow the path of atheism and agnosticism.  I respect their choices and refuse to view my given path in life as “better than” or more spiritual.  What I have discovered is that the common thread in these friendships is mutual acceptance of the other person’s ideas.  No, a pursuit of evangelism and proselytism is not my cup of tea.  The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly states that it follows the concept of “attraction rather than promotion”.  That works for me.  If you like what you see in me and want to know more, than I will fill your ears for hours with the truth which has discovered me in some of the darkest corners of my life.

One of my blogger friends posts daily about his spiritual walk.  From the first time I read his writing I felt drawn to what he was saying and wanted to hear more.  Mike’s NEW HOPE FOR DRY BONES approach is somewhat different from mine, but his message rings clearly about his faith and love for Jesus.  I like that.  Recently, I’ve come to realize that the most salient thing about Mike’s stuff is that he never preaches.  It is always about his experience, strength, and hope.  I trust folks who share themselves rather than preach morality and righteousness.  Jesus did not preach. He was accorded the title of teacher, not preacher. According to the scriptures of Christianity, he walked with the common people, he shared their sorrows and joys, he hurt when they hurt, he partied with them, but he also shared the joy, wisdom, and freedom of a spiritual kingdom.  He was extraordinarily honest and self-less in the world of hypocrisy followed by the Jewish hierarchy.

I suppose this is why I love recovery programs.  They attract real people with real problems.  I cry with them and I grieve with them.  We console and instruct.  But, we also live joyously a new life with a renewed spirit.  Then, if we choose to do so, we can navigate the waters of spirituality, commune with people of varying understandings, and receive the blessings of a loving and compassionate Higher Power in a colorful array of worship and celebration.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10smiley 3

 

 

Helen Lemmel

CANDLE

I encounter a number of people who do not want to hear “Jesus” in the conversation.  It’s as if a brain wave has a fart and immediately odorizes the thought patterns.  I understand their reaction and I can’t take offense because they often equate Jesus with religion and the Christian Church.  But, consider this.  Does Christianity need Jesus to validate its existence?  Yes, of course.  The theology is thick with the virgin birth, the man/God, the divinity, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  Without those elements , it would be just another minor, extremist sect.

Does the living Jesus need Christianity?  Absolutely not.  Leave theology out of the Christian walk and what remains is the man who has eternally been a voice for tolerance, love, and compassion; he remains a champion of the world’s disenfranchised and oppressed.  Unfortunately, as in Jesus’ earth life, the dogma and doctrines of some of today’s hypocritical religious institutions are crucifying that unifying voice.  They have disguised the power of the universal almighty Sovereign and one of its messengers, Jesus of Nazareth, and have defined that power as a vindictive, intolerant code of laws.

The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth has been studied, argued, and disputed by scholars who have devoted a lifetime to this undertaking.  Some reference the writings of a Jewish historian, Josephus, who mentions Jesus, a worker of incredible acts and a teacher.  Other scholars dispute this paragraph in the writing of Josephus saying it was inserted at a later time.  Some scholars note that the time span of the writings later defined as the Gospels by Christianity point to historical accuracy.  More recently the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi scriptures give further credence to the belief that Jesus was a  historical fact.  It doesn’t matter if the man called Jesus was a living being in ancient Israel.  The legacy he created, the legacy attributed to him is sufficient to lead me through the valleys of darkness and despair and the lion pits of life.  It is more than sufficient to set me on the highest mountain and soar with the eagles.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and I have been to the mountain top; we have seen the promised land.

The bottom line is that none of us knows with certainty whether the Christian Church has nailed the truth with its theology.  Karl Marx called religion….”the sigh of the oppressed creature….the heart of a heartless world.”  He also named religion as the opioid of the masses.  karl marx

In a world overrun with physical and psychological brokenness, is there anything wrong with a spiritual opioid?  Perhaps not.  “The heart of a heartless world” strikes a chord within me.  I have experienced the joy of communal worship, the escape from a heartless world afforded by my religious tradition.  As in the realm of pharmaceuticals, a spiritual opioid used as intended can be a tremendous pain reliever.  Used indiscreetly, it can become a vicious master and enslaver intent on destruction.

I need a doctor in my life to fix my brokenness, a physician who can prescribe a faith walk which will enhance my solidarity with all mankind, not just the ones who look, think, talk, smell, and worship like me.  I need a shepherd who will lead me into pastures of inclusiveness and tolerance, not thorn-filled fields with noxious weeds.  I need Jesus in my life, not to make me more religious, but to create me in a new image, a transformed version of the old Larry.

Here’s a verse from Helen Lemmel’s song which has renewed my spirit innumerable times when I feared being swamped  by a heartless world:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace. 

Helen Lemmel 1863-1961

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