Am I a tuba or a piccolo?

Lord, let me be your instrument

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS – STEP ELEVEN

The chapter, STEP ELEVEN in “Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions” published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., uses as its theme prayer the popular Prayer of St. Francis.  The last stanza teaches:

“For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying to self that we are born
to eternal life.”

That last line of the prayer of St. Francis – it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life – creates a sense of timeless, never-ending spaces filled with nothingness.  Eternity is, after all, a long, long time.  I spent an eternity waiting for you at the grocery store.  That boring movie lasted an eternity.  The pastor’s homily seemed like an eternity.  I suppose my point is this: who wants a life of endless moments of boring eternity?  Eternity presents itself as action-less, a void filled with forever.  What happens should we substitute everlasting for eternal?  Everlasting life.

“Larry,” you are asking, “what’s the difference?”

I like to think that everlasting applies to values, to a faith that sustains, to a relationship with that Higher Power referenced in Step 11 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program.  Everlasting has survived religious philosophies, social fads, and worldly obsessions.  Everlasting will continue to the ‘other side’ of this life via the memories of us in those we leave behind and perhaps as a basis for our after-life continuance.  Yes, it is eternal, but it is vibrant and exhilarating to behold.

Along with other faith-based Scriptures we often turn to the wisdom writers of Christianity’s Bible for inspiration.  Galatians 5:22-23 names these everlasting gifts:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

Against such things there is no ending.  They endure. They are everlasting.  Hallelujah, we can choose our eternity filling it with good fruit.  Why would anyone want to fill life with hatred, unforgiveness, doubt, despair, darkness and misery when the everlasting gifts are freely available?

Make me an instrument of peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where injury, pardon
where doubt, faith
where despair, hope
where darkness, light
where sadness, joy
from the PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS

Again turning to Christianity’s wisdom literature, Matthew 19:16-24 relates the story of a wealthy, young man who encounters Jesus and asks,

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments, sell his possessions and give to the poor.

“Then come and follow me.”

The man went away saddened because he had great wealth.  We are not told what the man  chased – eternal joy or worldly comfort.  Where is my wealth stored?  Is it comprised of internal values that sustain or is it a temporal storehouse filled with stuff that will rust and rot?  Lord, let me be an instrument – a tuba, loud and thundering with your peace and kindness.  What would you be?speaking truth2

 

separation of church and state

Living as a Democrat in rural, Republican Florida challenges one’s sense of inclusiveness and social propriety.  A recent controversy in local politics regarding funding our library’s request to make the New York Times available online to library cardholders is a case in point. My friend at BY HOOK OR BY BOOK has shared a great post regarding this issue.  It is indicative of a population which refuses to leave the 1950s.

On Florida’s horizon is a bill filed by a State Senator which would require courses be made available in our public schools at taxpayers’ expense providing studies of the Bible.  The following is the letter which I have submitted to our local newspaper.

State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing the Ocala region, has filed SB 746 to be considered during the 2020 legislative session. The bill would require courses providing studies of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments in public schools. According to the sponsors of the bill, “all state and federal laws and guidelines maintaining religious neutrality” would be maintained.

One can easily favor this endeavor to educate students regarding religious doctrine because the writers of SB 746 guarantee that such studies would not “endorse, favor, or promote or disfavor or show hostility toward a particular religion, religious perspective, or nonreligious faith.”

Certainly it would be educational and advantageous for students to learn about man’s trek across the numerous religious philosophies created throughout history by holy men, theologians and scholars to instruct, comfort and control the masses. However, knowing the history of our state’s policy-makers, can we be assured that their explicit guarantee of neutrality will be followed? It sounds reassuring today, but, what will our teachers, students, and public schools face 5 or 10 years from now? Would it not be wiser to focus this Christian educational effort in the hands of the experts in religious education – our county’s esteemed parochial schools where children are educated in an atmosphere conducive to their family’s beliefs?

Of course, should these religious studies include all the major faiths of our world including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam among others worthy of study, then, perhaps this bill could provide a well-rounded education to young people regarding various man-created philosophies of religious belief.

The key word in SB 746 is public – public education system. It is our duty to oversee and maintain this public system serving the diversity of religions, races, creeds, and lifestyles which make us a strong melting-pot nation. E Pluribus Unum, on the Great Seal of the United States, was a motto included on the seal in 1782. It means “out of many, one.” That is who we are. We are one people, one nation worshipping or not worshipping as conscience dictates. We are church people and synagogue people and mosque people and temple people. I applaud our legislators’ work to introduce religious studies into our public schools, but let’s include all faiths as worthy of study, not just Christianity and Judaism. I would enjoy a course in Buddhism, my neighbor favors Islam. Red-blooded American citizens, we are E PLURIBUS UNUM.

my creed, your creed, whose creed?

Recently, friends, those who know of my Christian tradition, question how we Christians can justify our faith considering the rhetoric and actions of a minority of evangelical leaders who glaringly contradict everything the Scriptures teach according to the words attributed to the one whom they claim as Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Fr. Richard Rohr CAC.ORG addresses this issue with the following post from his daily meditation blog.

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian. [3] Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of what is emerging in Christianity today:

  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 participating in evolving Christianity. Do read it several times. It only makes more and more sense.

Fr. Richard Rohr @ CAC.org

I thank Richard Rohr and Philip Gulley for simplifying in 10 salient points our creed and how it should manifest in Christianity.  Our tradition has within it the power to create righteous leaders walking aside other faiths of the world advocating social justice and peace rather than bullying and fear-mongering.

LOVE

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Marianne rocks

Marianne Williamson, a Democratic Presidential candidate, has been on my radar screen ever since reading her book ILLUMINATA, published in 1994.  Her approach to Picture40spirituality in relation to the insanity of our world focuses on individual as well as governmental responsibility and dedication to nonviolent interaction.  It is refreshing to see an aspirant for political office who is not pumping international conflict and control.

from ILLUMINATA:

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.

It all begins within me.  Cast out of me all harsh and critical nature.  Cast out of me all violence and all anger.  Do you realize how difficult that can be in today’s world as we are blasted every day with media reports of raging conflicts, of government corruption, of unnecessary death as a result of violence?  Massacres of citizens in Syria, imprisonment of dissenters in Russia, genocide of indigenous people in African countries, suicide bombings in the Middle East, mass shootings in the USA – the ceaseless world horrors grab our attention each day as we watch the instantaneous news coverage.  How in hell can I ‘cast out all harsh and critical nature, violence and anger?’

It’s impossible unless I retire to my imaginary Mediterranean island with the monks, give up all worldly connections and meditate 24/7.  On that island is peace?  Maybe.  But living in seclusion on an island is not what Jesus taught through his own nonviolent interaction with the Jewish society of his time.  He did not cave, he did not capitulate to the Roman authorities nor the religious corruption of his time.  He participated and embraced all aspects of life in 1st century Israel.

Fr. Richard Rohr at CAC.ORG comments in today’s meditation:

“How is it that many Christians have managed to avoid what Jesus actually taught? We’ve evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): the Beatitudes, Jesus’ warning about idolizing “mammon,” his clear directive and example of nonviolence, and his command to love our enemies. I never see the Beatitudes on courthouse lawns. Perhaps we think his teaching is nice in theory but impractical in real life. Perhaps we do not believe nonviolence can actually effect real change.”

He goes on to say:

“Even the common ‘pro-life movement’ is much more pro-birth than about caring for all life—black and brown lives, refugees, the poor, the sick, immigrants, LGBTQIA people, the environment.” In fact, many “pro-lifers” I know are the first in line to oppose any gun regulation.”

I don’t have answers.  But, I do have prayers to instill in my heart and examples of nonviolent success on the world scene to inspire me.  The survival of our world depends on you and me.  We don’t have to be heroes or national celebrities to make a difference.  It all starts with me and what I harbor within.  You, too.  Let’s be instruments of peace.

PRIDE7

 

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cac.org – Richard Rohr

this little spark of mine – I’m gonna let it shine

 

“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this beautiful-cropland-dawn-1237119‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.”  EKNATH EASWARAN (1910-1999) cac.org

(Eknath Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the UPANISHADS and the BHAGAVAD GITA.)

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught:

“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name in history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.”

The world, specifically Western Culture, might do well to listen to the words of all religious traditions whose mystics searched beyond the limits of this life experience for truer meaning and self-less examination.  Escaping the insanity of violence, war, poverty, genocide, persecution, religious intolerance and greed is critical for a path to a sustainable co-existence of the human species as well as the ecosystem of earth which inarguably is essential to our survival.

Giving up self-indulgence is not easy.  Just ask any other recovering alcoholic or addict.  A primary symptom, if not the most salient aspect, of our addictions was ego-driven selfishness.  Unfortunately, that does not miraculously disappear upon our first day of the recovery process.  For most of us, especially me, this change in focus becomes a lifetime endeavor.  Some days are better than others, but the spark is there.  An AA saying that resonates is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA don’t mix.”  It’s the same with recognizing the divine spark within each of us.  Once you experience it, you can no longer ignore it.  That inner essence demands change.

I continue to be amazed that for some people this change is easily accomplished.  Involving in service work, rejoining their communities, whether in civic groups or church groups, seems to be a cakewalk for them.  Not for me.  You can drag me to a town hall meeting, but I will be kicking and screaming all the way.  It is not natural for me to do something that is not all about me, me, me.

We don’t hear WWJD very often these days.  “What Would Jesus Do?”  In no way have I perfected this approach, but when I ask myself this question, I can usually depend on a positive, forward-moving answer.  It doesn’t matter whether one believes a divine Jesus, a virgin-born Jesus, a reverential Jesus or a bodily resurrected Jesus, the keys to successful, peaceful, empowered living are contained in the writings which are attributed to the words of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those nuggets of inspiration and truth culled from the Bible’s chapters detailing Judaic history, folklore, and ancient wisdom present a lifestyle and mindset that lead to the change demanded by each individual’s inner essence.

Not surprisingly, this truth can be gathered from most of the world’s great spiritual traditions if we put aside the hype and tribal prejudices of religion and instead search for the reality of inner discovery.  History’s mystics lead that search.

 

 

we are One

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So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  GENESIS 1: 27

Millions of Christians are obviously dyslexic.  That verse does not say that man created God in man’s image.  OUCH!  Have I deflated any egos, yet?  If not, keep reading.

In Western culture, many of those who profess a God, especially those of Christian persuasion (and I honor 🙏 any who do not profess), conduct lives led by ego and personal advancement.  Individualism is lauded, winning at all costs is admired, the boys with the most toys win.  The comparison game runs rampant, many egos are shattered upon realizing they don’t measure up to that which is considered success and prosperity.  I know what I speak of because, yes, I have been there and done that.  I can still go there today if I am not mindful of the fact that I am created in the image of God, I also am Spirit.  Let that sink in.  You, me, all of humanity and all of Creation are made in the image of God, the permeating life energy which is our reality.

We are primarily spirit and our physical existence on this earth should not be what defines us.  This body, this life we have created embracing materialism, this set of prejudices we harbor, this ego we strive to protect is not reality.  The spiritual persona, which is exactly what God was, is, and always will be, is most often reserved for Sunday morning church and Easter time reflection, yet it should be the everyday, 24 hour a day endeavor to align with what we know to be truth – the Life proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth or the Path advised by Buddha.

In Hindu teachings it is enlightenment, Christianity calls it salvation, Buddhism names it the end of suffering (dukkha).  It is the surrender of egoic and self-serving lifestyle to a transformative and liberating awakening.  It is when Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, Nirvana, Buddhahood and God, in whose image we are made, becomes reality and this earthly life is known to be illusion.

A deflated ego is a good thing.  It removes any need to attain material wealth, to strive for social status, to always be right in religion and politics, to proclaim my God better than yours, to be judgmental, to fear and hate, to be anxious about tomorrow.  A deflated ego ushers in enlightenment, salvation and the end of suffering.  Namaste. 🙏

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NAMASTE – is it really so difficult?

“The crises we find ourselves in as a species require that as a species we shake up all our institutions—including our religious ones—and reinvent them. Change is necessary for our survival, and we often turn to the mystics at critical times like this. Jung said: “Only the mystics bring creativity into religion.” [1] Jesus was a richard rohrmystic shaking up his religion and the Roman empire; Buddha was a mystic who shook up the prevailing Hinduism of his day; Gandhi was a mystic shaking up Hinduism and challenging the British Empire; and Martin Luther King, Jr. shook up his tradition and America’s segregationist society. The mystics walk their talk and talk (often in memorable poetic phraseology) their walk.” MATTHEW FOX  cac.org – Richard Rohr 

Do I do that – walk the talk and talk the walk?  How about you?  Those of you who have read my ramblings over the past few years probably realize I have a serious issue with religion and religionists.  Many of them talk a great spiel from the pulpit and the pews of their churches, but then don’t walk it in their lives or in their behaviors.  That is not real; it is not empowering.  If not embraced in lifestyle this pretty rhetoric becomes just more trash on the pile of religious deceit.  Preachers are guilty, parishioners are guilty, black and white are equally guilty, politicians are guilty.  Me too.  I do not always walk the talk.

But I highly esteem those mystics who have.  The four named in the introductory quote are just a few of the many men and women who discovered their inner truth and then lived lives accordingly.  Buddha was human, Jesus was human, Gandhi was human, and Martin Luther King was human, all acclaimed mystics were humans who acknowledged the Divine center of their beings as the most consequential and significant reason to talk the walk and walk the talk.

Our world is racing to the annihilation of the human species.  Accompanied by rabid politics, fear-mongering politicians, greedy capitalism and heretical religions, the voices of those who pursue social justice, peace, and inner searching seem lost in the insanity.  That which could turn the tide and redeem civilization from a sure demise is often obscured by conversations of victory at any cost rather than sensible compromise embracing the rights of all mankind and all earth’s natural resources.

We must come to realize and surrender to the premise that this planet is not a hodgepodge of several billion humans intent on survival as individuals, but rather, an ecosystem which includes all mankind, all animals, all plant life, all resources interdependent on one another and living together as one cohesive environment.

Learning to love ourselves and others begins from a place of reverence for all of life.  This reverence flows forward in the Buddhist greeting, “Namaste”, I honor the divine in you.  Not only other brothers and sisters on this earth, but every part of creation should be viewed and greeted with namaste.

“Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we share the Earth.
Four-leggeds, winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.” 

(Native American prayer for the earth)

 

 

Mine is better than yours. Really?

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“At their most mature levels, religions have a common goal: union with all beings and with God. Unfortunately, many religions and Christian denominations have over-emphasized differences and claimed that their particular brand is superior to others. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion but to reveal God’s presence in all of us. The Christian name for the universal incarnation is Christ, but it is known by innumerable other names.” cac.org – Richard Rohr

“….it is known by innumerable other names.”

I also believe that Jesus did not appear in 1st century Nazareth  to start a religion called Christianity.  The church fathers in the 3rd and 4th centuries did that in pursuit of theological and political power.  They approved or disapproved the writings to be included in their Bible and severely persecuted those mystics and wisdom writers who disagreed.  Mysticism, however, did persist with Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226, being the salient, well-known proponent.  His followers were the beginnings of today’s Franciscan brotherhood.

“A “better” world is one in which we recognize that all people possess an incomparable value that we are morally obliged to respect . . . in social, political, and economic terms. Honoring the humanity of your fellow beings means that if they are hungry, ill, or oppressed, you must exert yourself to help them. . . . But this . . . runs up against our inherited instincts of self-protection, greediness, and desire to dominate others. . . .” cac.org – Richard Rohr

Following the above suggestion is a lofty goal of enlightened spirituality – I fail miserably on many fronts.  But, as with all goals, perfection is not the destiny; progress is.  Especially, today’s political and social climate can lead me astray in a heartbeat.  I want to rant, I want to berate, I want to wander off into profanity and name-calling when I read the day’s headlines or listen to media news programs.  After all, that is just human, isn’t it?  But, then remembering what Jesus endured and suffered as a human, what authorities of religion and government inflicted on him, I am forced to accept that this life’s suffering is the price to pay for spiritual enlightenment.  None of us, not one, will reach the other side unscathed.

If we could rearrange energy from within—if we more often nurtured our companions and promoted their well-being, we would suffer much less. Rearranging energy from within is what mysticism does.” cac.org – Richard Rohr

Not an easy task, but we must start somewhere if we expect our species to survive.

PRIDE7

are you a secret?

Am I a secret?

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.”
13 th chapter of JOHN verse 35 

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photo courtesy of PIXABAY

Does my life leave doubt in anyone’s mind that I am a Jesus disciple?  Will people remember me as a Jesus follower?  Or, is my life a secret?  People know my story of drunken betrayal and subsequent recovery, but how many people have heard my story of resurrection?  It is the story of a redeemed alcoholic following the man whom scriptures call Jesus of Nazareth.  If there is one solitary nugget of truth in Christianity’s Bible, it is the narrative set down by writers in the 1st and 2nd centuries as a blueprint to live life in peaceful co-existence with all of God’s creation, all of humanity and nature.  It is the design by which a wretched, lost man can rediscover wholeness and learn to peacefully co-exist with himself and fellow man. It is a story of forgiveness and redemption attributed to the man called Jesus.

The nucleus of the Way, the Truth and the Life is ‘love for one another’ as written so simply yet eloquently in 13 John 34-35.

A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” NIV 

Were we, the human species, to hold that one statement on our hearts in all our affairs, the world would know peace.  There would not be deprivation, poverty or war.  There would not be murder, genocide, or racism.

I can hear many of you saying, “Larry, that’s a nice dream, but it will never be reality.”

It starts with me – it starts with you.  One by one we can find a better way to live in this world even as we are surrounded by intolerance and hatred, even as men despise and revile us because of the love we show for those of different color, those who live in distant lands, those who come to our border as refugees.

The Jesus story does not put qualifiers on the love which he taught us to practice in our lives.  It is not written to love only those of same skin color, same nationality, same religion.  No, the words say, “Love your fellow man as you love yourself.”  Perfection is impossible, but willingness is necessary.  The insanity of this world, of its politics and politicians is unimportant.  The vile names hurled at us and the injury intended for us will be forgotten in the next chapter of life.  All I want to hear when this chapter of life is closed are the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want to be known as  a disciple.  I don’t want my discipleship to be a secret.  How about you?

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me – a mosquito?

“If you think you are too small
to make a difference…..
just sleep with a mosquito in the room.”
TENZIN GYATZO
14TH DALAI LAMA

DALAI LAMA

Photos by EGOR KAMELEV and icon0.com

Never underestimate your impact.
A butterfly’s flutter is felt on the other side of the world,
a ripple in the brook moves the ocean,
a grain of sand combined with billions of other grains
creates one of nature’s most beautiful masterpieces.

old codger

 

YOU ARE NEVER TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.