the orange tree

Let’s talk about fruit.  I love the fragrance when the orange tree out back pops into bloom around late February.  Slowly the little green orbs grow into full-sized oranges packed with exquisite citrus juiciness and flavor by Christmas.  But, they don’t do this on their own volition.  A combination of weather, feeding, pruning, and TLC are necessary for healthy growth.  A good orange tree can become an unsightly, disease-laden, out-of-control member of an otherwise beautiful landscape.  It then loses its premier status in the yard needing to be either cut down or replenished.orange tree 2

Like my orange tree in the yard, I need to be replenished daily with TLC from the Master Gardener.  I must go to the well and drink of the clear, fresh water every day and read the verses that supply spiritual food.  Otherwise I will become unsightly, diseased and bare of fruit.  My orchard becomes useless if it cannot provide spiritual food for me and comfort to  those whom God has put into my life’s journey.

“I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the lord, which made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121: 1-2

Without that help I will not grow and flourish.  I will wither and die unless I submit to the indwelling Spirit of God which teaches and guides. Just like the untended orange tree, my spirit’s fruit will be bitter and useless if I fail to give it some of God’s TLC regularly.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23orange tree

 

the quiet spaces

“God grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, courage to change that which I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”CANDLE

Those few words express a directive which can guide me to a habit of living which is essential to a content and fulfilling recovery.  The things ‘I cannot change’ in a nutshell are my past and other people.  When I give up trying to play God in these areas, my life becomes serenely simple.  Dwelling in past glories or past transgressions removes me from the beauty of now.  Focusing on a future which is as unpredictable as a capricious mistress leads me away from the truth of the present.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

Those ancient words from Jewish wisdom tell me to stop!  Stop thinking, stop worrying, stop striving, stop planning, stop conniving, stop judging, stop trying to be God!  That quiet space which then occurs between my thoughts is a God-space.  That moment when nothing is in my mind is a moment when God holds the floor of conversation.  When I am able to “be still”, the presence of a higher power has the opportunity to clean me up and fix my brokenness.   This is not Larry power; no, it is wisdom which the ancient mystics have shared in scriptural narratives for centuries.  It is not a recently discovered new age philosophy, but rather a way of living life in the present moment which has been practiced in contemplation, reflection, and meditation by followers of all the major religions.

But, it is not easy.  It requires one of the mental disciples which, unfortunately, Western culture does not value.  For me to find a noiseless place, a still woods, a meandering stream, a lush meadow, a seaside beach or just a sunny window by a quiet recliner chair is sometimes a daunting task.  The society in which I participate is geared to continual visual and auditory assaults from a variety of sources.  Five minutes alone with my HP can be a daily challenge.

We live in a time with more easily available obstacles to presence than any other period in history. We carry our obstacles in our pockets now, vibrating and notifying and emoji-ing us about everything and nothing. And let’s be honest: most of our digital and personal conversation is about nothing. Nothing that matters, namaste rainbownothing that lasts, nothing that’s real. We think and talk about the same things again and again, like a broken record. Pretty soon we realize we’ve frittered away years of our life, and it is the only life we have.” Father Richard Rohr

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

walk by faith

I had an opportunity to visit with my pastor yesterday morning.  The conversation was casual, centering on a number of concerns regarding theology.  I refer to myself as the “doubting Thomas” syndrome.  If I can’t see the nail holes and the wound in the side, I tend not to believe.  Maybe that’s why people sometimes see me as cynical and wishy-washy.  I need proof before I get off the fence to make a commitment.  In some areas of secular life this is a good thing, but in my faith walk it is not always the best path.  CANDLE

I invariably reach a point when the way forward is a confident step into the world of faith in that which is mysterious and unknown.  Given the evidence which life has accumulated for me proving that God exists and that Jesus loves me, that step should not be as difficult as it sometimes is.   My miraculous ongoing recovery from alcoholism is one such piece of the evidence that a Higher Power has the answers to all questions and the grace to lead me to green pastures and still waters.

The PROMISES of the Alcoholics Anonymous program are no longer extravagant dreams; they are happening in my life and in the lives of others in the fellowship.  I am in dire financial straits according to the norms of society, yet I don’t fear the future.  I am an introvert by nature yet find myself comfortable in a room full of people even to the point of speaking to the group.  Today I follow a God who is doing for me what I could not do for myself.  In the beginning these were indeed nothing more than extravagant promises which required an enormous amount of faith in what was unknown.  But, they were proven occurrences in my fellow AAers; I walked with them holding a faith that I also was worthy of these promises.

So it should be with my church affiliation.  The promise that goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, that when I seek then I shall also find, that when I knock then the door shall be opened, that the Lord will give rest to my weary and burdened soul is a promise which I embrace with faith.  With faith as small as a mustard seed mountains can be moved.

“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” Matthew 17:20

It’s not rocket science, doesn’t require an impressive intelligence to realize that walking by faith in that which is a mystery, that loving a God which is unseen, that following a Jesus who was crucified cannot be measured by the world’s standards.  The things of this world repeatedly have disappointed and caused pain and will continue to do so.  Therefore, why follow the world when a mustard seed of faith will deliver unfathomable joy and peace?  It’s one of the best investments I could possibly make.

In the end, if I have been wrong, if my faith is erroneously placed, if eternity with Jesus is not awaiting, if my final breath is indeed the last of me….no one will know the difference, least of all me.  But, I will have spent this life living joyously in peace and absolute awe of a power greater than myself.smiley 3 Namaste.

 

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

smiley 3

 

guilty as charged

One of my favorite ladies in the whole world is a young woman whom I met while working at a nursing rehab center.  She was a 29-year-old nursing assistant when I first struck up a conversation in the laundry where I worked.  After several chats she offered that her 15-year-old daughter was having a birthday.  My brain, which sometimes simply works too hard, started churning.

“Good Lord, how old were you when you birthed this child?”embarassed

“Fourteen.”

From then on I was hooked on this child who gave birth to a child.  I wanted to know more.  What happened?  How did you  deal with it?  What did your parents say?  Are you ever sorry it happened?

We became best of friends.  She, at age 29, was a devout follower of Jesus, invited me to her church, “But, sweetheart, I would probably be the only white man there, and I can’t sing worth a hoot, and your church service gets pretty lively.”

She smiled and replied, “It is what it is.”

We don’t see each other much since I retired from that job.  I met up with her last year at a local MLK, Jr. rally and march; she walked with me, shared me with her friends, proudly introduced me to her son aged 6, and again invited me to her church.  From what I learned about her friends at that rally, I knew I would be welcomed at her church with open arms.

That doesn’t happen very often at the white churches I’ve attended.  There is a reserve, a cool reception, a distrust of the new guy coming to church by himself.  Where’s the wife?  Does he have children?  Why is he deciding to come to church at age 70?  I could see that attitude as a judgmental thing, but then I would be judgmental also, wouldn’t I?  My best reaction is to simply shrug shoulders and say, “It is what it is.”

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to approach life and all life’s challenges?  Our situation in Washington, D.C., which disturbs me every day, the insecurities of aging, the neighbor who flies his confederate flag…….none of this needs my approval or disapproval.  It is what it is.

The “path” described by Buddha focuses on an inner peace which allows each thought to enter the mind, say its piece, and then disappear into oblivion.  I am merely the observer of that thought, I don’t approve or disapprove, I don’t entertain a judgment.  When I am able to live my day following the Buddha’s teaching, it is a good day.  Unfortunately, I am not a perfect follower and I stumble.

The wisdom of Judeo-Christian scriptures tells us:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? Luke 6:41

When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1

Yes, yes, yes, I am guilty as charged.  I voice approval or disapproval at will, I condemn or praise according to my distorted world view, and I self-righteously judge things which I truly do not fully understand.

But, it is what it is, and I am better than I used to be.

namaste rainbow