FORGIVENESS

“On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot eight out of ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the national media. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.”

Nearly twelve years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory.  As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families.  Their way of life was fascinating to me.  How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew?  I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.

And the Amish community fathers immediately issued a statement of forgiveness.  Did they mourn?  Of course.  Were the parents angry?  Probably.  But they followed the directive set forth by the Scriptures which they revered and followed.  Those simple folks knew something which most of the world has never learned to practice – forgiveness.

Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears.  Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman.  On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours.  My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me.  Five killed.  Others injured.  The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.

Could I have forgiven?  If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive?  Even today, twelve years later,  I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly.  I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, I know what the Amish fathers did, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger.

As He neared physical death, from the crucifixion cross, Jesus spoke these words, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

Oh Lord, if those who have suffered unimaginable horrors can forgive, if Elie Wiesel could forgive the Nazis who decimated his people, if John McCain could forgive his captors who tortured him, then Lord, who am I to withhold forgiveness for an unkind word, an insult, a selfish action?  My grievances are so extremely petty compared to those who were mentally and physically abused by the powers of evil.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Matthew 6:12

It’s a tall order.  It’s up to me, isn’t it?  I cannot live the life destined for me by a Savior if my head is filled with grudges and grievances, no matter how great or small.  I cannot be the mended broken vessel useful to Jesus if my eyes do not see beyond the hurts and humiliations which insulted my pride and sense of self-righteousness.

“Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Show me how to see what your mercy sees.”

FORGIVENESS

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Jesus in disguise

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger………

The fiercely defiant woman holding her travel bag refuses to release the arm of a small child, her 6 year-old son.  Guards surrounding her now, she screams profanities at the men who are attempting to take the child from her.  They understand her Spanish words and react more harshly to accomplish the mission of the border agents.  Since three days before, when a new government directive ordered that children crossing the border with their families be separated from parents  and confined for further relocation, detention centers were created from abandoned retail centers to house the detainees.  Within those buildings fenced cages housed the children.  Their only offense was escaping with their parents from hostile and dangerous conditions wrought by political and social turmoil in their native homeland.  They sought to start anew in a land they perceived as a place of opportunity and freedom.

………or needing clothes or sick in prison…….

Since going into hiding on 6 July 1942 with her parents and sister in concealed rooms behind a book case, the young girl remembers a previous life of respectability and shared community in the Netherlands.  A gifted writer, she passes her time keeping a diary.  They are joined later by the van Pels family and Mr. Pfeffer, a dentist.  The eight of them share the cramped quarters for two years.

Then on 4 August 1944, “Shhhhh, they are here, don’t move,” whispers their father.  The noises and sounds of footsteps grow closer and the Gestapo storms the door which has concealed their whereabouts, their hiding place.

On 3 September 1944, Anne, her sister Margot and their parents Otto and Edith were boarded on a cattle train to their final destination at Auschwitz where the Nazi government’s solution to the disposition of unwanted elements in Aryan society was carried out.  The men were separated from the women by the SS. Those deemed able to work were admitted to the camp; those deemed unfit including children under 15 years of age were sent directly to the gas chambers.  Of the 1019 passengers on that train, 549 were immediately dispatched to death. Mother Edith died later of starvation, Anne and Margot died of typhus.  Father Otto survived the death camp.  He returned to Amsterdam where, having received his daughter’s diary and notes from a friend, he realized the significance of Anne’s writings and proceeded to publish them.

……and did not help you?”

His half-frozen body hangs from the fence crossing the barrenness of the cold October prairie.  Small in stature, boyish in appearance, he has been brutally beaten and left to die by his abductors.  It is many hours after the assault before he is discovered and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he will die six days later from severe head injuries.  A bright young man, fellow students remember him as a friendly face in the college classroom where he has attended classes.

Stories detailed the events leading up to his death.  Some wanted to believe it was a drug deal gone bad, others said it was a hate crime directed at his sexual orientation.  In the end analysis, it truly did not matter to his mother and loved ones what reasons were responsible.  The boy was brutalized and left hanging on a fence in Wyoming to die.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these…..

The man standing on the corner holding his tattered cardboard sign looks longingly at motorists passing by hoping that someone will roll down the car window and pass enough money to him to feed his growling stomach.  Nobody stops.  They don’t seem to notice.  He reflects on the times he also was that motorist who ignored beggars standing on the corner with their cardboard signs.  The times back then were better.  He had a job and a family who depended on him, loved him.  But, addiction stole all of that, made him an unbathed, ragged homeless man who now lives in the nearby woods with others like him.  Different stories to tell, but all of them now hungry and destitute.

…..you did not do for me.”  Matthew 25:44

I open my eyes in a sweat-soaked bed, my pulse racing.  I recognize the man with the sign on the corner in my dream.  It is me.  I recognize the motorists passing by ignoring the man’s needs.  They also are me.

I am the one who stands along the rail tracks leading to Auschwitz wondering where the human cargo is heading, knowing where they are going, too frightened to be involved.

I am the border guard seizing the child from his mother.  My conscience tells me this is not right, but I have a family to support, I need the job.

I am the one who watches the frail boy being bullied after gym class.  They are calling him a sissy, a wimp.  I watch as the bigger boys punch and poke him.  They make fun of him because he is different.  I turn and go to my next class not wanting to be the next target for their taunts and abuse.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

ELIE WIESEL

lest we forget

 

 

As they arrived at their unfamiliar destination, fear and uncertainty filled their hearts.  The children clung to their mothers as men speaking harshly directed the travelers to an unseen outpost for processing.  Upon arriving there, the children were separated from parents and taken from the sight of mothers who by now were desperately sobbing and screaming, “Where are you taking my child?”  

A scenario from America’s southern border with Mexico where refugees from Central America and South America have been stopped by immigration officials?  No, this is a scene from Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the early 1940s.  Those children were sent to slave labor camps to work for the German war machine or to their deaths because they were too young to work.

I have often been chided for slipping from sobriety and spiritual themes offering hope and recovery to issues of social justice facing our contemporary society in not only the USA but also the world.  For reasons unknown to me even I can convince myself that I should avoid straying from noncontroversial topics.  It’s safer and it’s more pleasant to prattle on about the ABCs of ‘serene and clean” living then to face the harsh realities of the world in which we live

WWJD?  What would Jesus do?  What would any community-spirited sober-minded citizen do?  The answer always comes back to me in undeniable clarity.  Having read the words attributed to Jesus and the stories of his ministry to his oppressed and downtrodden fellow Israelites, having been advised by a Higher Power in the form of other recovering alcoholics that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is preparing me to return to society as a useful tool and voice in my community, I must muster the courage and determination to be a voice, no matter how small,  for justice in a socially unjust society.  That’s my definition of spirituality and recovery.

You say my introductory paragraphs can’t happen here in America in 2018?  Really?  It’s a slippery slope on which our experiment in democracy finds itself today.  The grand copper  Lady in New York Harbor welcomed “the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse, the homeless and tempest tost.”  The words from the Book of Matthew which evangelical Christianity tongues fervently, “As ye do unto the least of these, my brothers, ye have also done unto me,” convicts us of our failure in today’s refugee crisis.

If I am truly a child of God created in the image of God, a spiritual entity, then I must be concerned with the injustices I see on a daily basis on my media screens.  I must offer a dollar or a meal to the homeless man on the corner.  I must be involved in a political process which challenges the greed of the wealthy and the indifference of the politically powerful.  When I talk the talk of sweet verses and inspiration, I also must walk the thorny paths of human misery shoulder to shoulder with the huddled masses.  I am nothing if I can’t empathize with the suffering brother, the hungry beggar, or the homeless man on the corner.  “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith which can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2

When I am tempted to stand before the world thumping my chest with American pride and Christian hypocrisy, when I want to believe somebody else will take care of the poor and homeless, it is then that I need to find a quiet place and reorganize my priorities asking WWJD.

Think about it.  Hitler denigrated Jews as sub-human, as animals.  He fed the fears of Germans with racism and intolerance.  He appealed to human depravity at its worst.  He declared Aryans to be the superior, God-blessed race.  Their fate is well documented in historical annals and film.

Can’t happen again?  Maybe or maybe not, but I don’t want to be the one who quietly stood on the sidelines of neutrality.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it is indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” 

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel

 

 

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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neutrality?

I shared recently with a friend that my life sometimes seems to be driven by a need to stand ready and armed in the attack mode.  So many happenings in our world, so many leaders, and so many “experts” could benefit immensely by a few words of advice and castigation from me, the great I am, the final word of wisdom on anything from negotiating with North Korea to relief for the poverty-stricken of the world.  I know all; I have the answers and I am going to let you know what they are.

With that frame of mind being on the offensive, some of the people I encounter immediately assume a response of counter-attack and, by golly, the fight of the century is happening amongst the pots and pans hanging in my kitchen.  Words for fighting and weapons hanging from the cupboards were the last thing on my mind when I offered my expertise on problems within our government.  But, words were shared, pans did fly and the least of my worries became the antics of an infantile President.  Duck!! here comes Grandma’s favorite 9″ cast iron fry pan.

Fear and insecurity often drive pride into my world.  That pride, if left unchecked, will take me to places I truly don’t need to go, to places best left to those who are willing to suffer the consequences of voicing opinions about political corruption and ineptitude.  Although, in the words of Elie Wiesel, neutrality is not an option in issues of social injustice, maintaining neutrality in a political discussion with neighbors is often an action of pure wisdom.  I would do best to save my fight for issues that bring me to a state of weeping and compassion for oppressed and suffering brothers and sisters.  Political structures are a dime-a-dozen, they come and go just as the seasons of the year pass without fail.  But, the suffering and oppressed are always with us, always needing an advocate.  No, I don’t suffer from a savior complex.  I simply must anticipate always the scenario which Jeremy Camp sings about…..there will be a day.

REVELATION 21:4

CANDLE

 

Irena Sendler

“The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.”  Elie Wiesel

The children called me Jolanta.  My real name is Irena – Irena Sendler.  I was born in 1910 in a small town to the southeast of Warsaw.  My father was a doctor and one of the first Polish Socialists.  Most of his patients were poor Jews.  I learned from Father to care for the needs of other people, especially the children.

Then in 1939 my country was invaded by Germany.  The Nazis were horribly brutal spreading  violence and terror throughout my home town and Warsaw.  I was a senior administrator for the Social Welfare Department at the time.  Our job was to provide meals, financial aid, and other services for the orphans , elderly, the poor and the destitute.  However, with the Germans here, we soon were needed to provide clothing, medicine and money for the Jews.  We registered those people under fictitious Christian names and to avoid the Nazis’ inspections we often reported the families as being afflicted with very infectious diseases as typhus and tuberculosis.

But, conditions got worse for the Jews.  In 1942 the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of them into a 16-block area and then sealed it off from the rest of the city.  We called it the Ghetto.

Well, I couldn’t just stand by and watch those people die.  I became involved in the underground resistance movement, became one of the first recruits of Zegota.  Our job was to rescue the Jewish children.  Because I was issued a pass from the Epidemic Control Department, I could enter the Ghetto legally.  I took food, clothing, and medicines to those poor starving people.  But 5000 of them were dying each month and I then decided that I must help the Jewish children get out.

Several of my friends and co-workers wanted to help me.  We smuggled the children in ambulances hidden in whatever was available.  Gunnysacks, body bags, potato sacks, coffins, even a mechanic’s toolbox were used to hide the children.  They had false documents with new identities awaiting when they arrived to safety.

I knew I could count on the Sisters and the churches to help me place the Jewish children.  They were placed in homes, orphanages, and convents.  None of them ever refused to take a child from me.  I kept record of their original names and new identities in a jar that I kept buried under my neighbor’s apple tree.  At last count there were 2500 names in that jar.

Oh sure, the Gestapo finally caught up with me in 1943.  They broke my legs and my feet and threw me in prison but I didn’t tell them anything.   I was sentenced to execution but one of my Zegota friends bribed one of the Germans and they called off my execution.  I escaped from prison and spent the rest of the war running from the Gestapo.

After the war, I dug up that jar and tried to contact the names and reunite them with their parents.  Most of the parents died in the Holocaust.

The children called me Jolanta.

In 1965 Irena Sendler was accorded the title of “RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS”  and in 1991 was made an honorary citizen of Israel.  She died in 2008 at age 98. 

Written in 1st person narrative by larrypaulbrown from information credited to:

  JEWISH VIRTUAL LIBRARY