FOREIGNERS

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

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

This well-known quote attributed to Gandhi was a bumper sticker on the aged and worn automobile of one of my heroes whom I was privileged to know during the 1980s.  Father Bond was the priest at the Episcopal Church which hosted 20 AA and NA meetings weekly.  While that church social hall witnessed innumerable miracles of recovery, the sanctuary hosted a number of sober marriages.  Father Bond ministered faithfully to his parish and to his wayward flock of recovering drunks.

What is it for me to live simply?  For many years it meant a personal commitment to reducing material possessions to minimums.  It meant being an environmentalist and a steward of God’s creation.  In later years it also manifested by minimizing  theology and doctrine, bringing it all back to basics.

Father Richard Rohr in today’s comment “BE PEACE AND JUSTICE” writes:

“When you agree to live simply, you do not consider the refugee, the homeless person, or the foreigner as a threat or competition. You have chosen their marginal state for yourself—freely and consciously becoming “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as Francis put it (quoting 1 Peter 2:11). A simple lifestyle is an act of solidarity with the way most people have lived since the beginnings of humanity.”

Francis (1182-1226) and Clare (1194-1253) of Assisi lived life understanding fully what Jesus the Christ envisioned – a simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty)  Therefore, assuming a vow of poverty does not mean living in filthy hovels with no running water or sewer systems.  It does not necessarily mean hunger and starvation.  For most of us a vow of poverty would mean a commitment to jump off the insane cycle of incessant material accumulation and depletion of the earth’s resources.

With today’s screaming calls to bring social justice to the world’s oppressed perhaps we can find guidance in these further words of Father Rohr regarding a conscious identification with the marginalized of society:

“In this position we do not do acts of peace and justice as much as our lifestyle itself  is peace and justice.” (underlined emphasis are mine)

Like many of you, I would like to fix every single episode of social injustice, but in wanting to do so I will undoubtedly make myself quite insane because that fix is unattainable.  Just as Father Bond walked the path of Francis and Clare, we also can be advocates of social justice through simplicity by speaking our truth kindly, by identifying with the marginalized,  and by being living examples of Christ’s teachings.

Look at the world around us.  Living “marginalized” is the norm, not the exception.  We are all in some way a refugee, a foreigner, a visitor and a pilgrim.  Our validation as a nation of ethics and values is currently under severe testing because of governmental actions regarding immigration.  Our strength and our salvation rests not in our criminalization of those who are marginalized, but rather in our solidarity with them.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19: 33-34

CANDLE

 

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paying for forgiveness

money changers

Some pictures from Bible stories have more staying power than others.  As a young boy, I remember thinking, “OK, what’s all the fuss about?”

The cleansing of the temple of the merchants and moneychangers is recorded in all four of the canonical Gospels: Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, and Luke 19:45–48) and near the start in the Gospel of John (at John 2:13–16).

Historically, this was the way things were done 2000 years ago.  Supply and demand was a principle of economics back then in Jewish culture just as it is now.  The religious hierarchy established sacrifice as the only way to come before God and the temple merchants capitalized on the edict.  Name your price was the rule of the day.  The wealthy would buy an ox to sacrifice, the upper-middle class a lamb, the less prosperous a dove, and the destitute a sparrow.  Widows and orphans sacrificed enormously of their personal holdings to buy a pair of sparrows for their sacrifice at the altar of God.

The Roman Catholic Church picked up on this practice using cash rather than animals as the price for penance and forgiveness.  When Martin Luther came onto the scene the custom was challenged.  Thank you Martin.  Today, we accept forgiveness and grace as a free gift from an Almighty God who demands nothing in return other than our transformed lives.

But, how does this Bible story fit into our lives today as Christians, as followers of the man who overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple?  Jesus upset the tables of commercialization in the temple, of the cozy relationship between religion and money.  How does it apply today?

“What would Jesus do in our context? He might once again disrupt the temple—the unholy alliance between religion and empire.”  cac.org

I think we can truthfully make the transition naming the unholy interaction of religion and government as today’s temple moneychangers.  Separation of church and state is not just about a feared, theoretical bogeyman awaiting in our temples of worship to create a theocracy such as Israel experienced during the times of Jesus.  The threat to America’s separation of church and state is real and it is entirely possible considering today’s national politics.  We are hanging on to a freedom guaranteed by our Constitution which must be vigilantly protected collectively by those of us who are believers and those of us who are not.  Our government bedded down with our prostituted churches are not empowered by anyone’s God to impose a nationally sanctioned theology.

Father Richard Rohr goes on to say about Jesus today:

“I think he would teach the wrongness and futility of violence in human affairs. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary virtues of a life centered in the God whom he knew. And of course, he would teach the importance of a deep centering in God. Richard Rohr @ cac.org 

Jesus deeply understood justice because the society in which he lived was harshly unjust.  The Judaism of his day snuggled cozily in the Roman bed of nationalism to create a society which severely oppressed the common man.  Jesus, the human, was a revolutionary and a zealot in his short lifetime and paid the ultimate price on the cross.  He, along with thousands like him, suffered the horrors of crucifixion because he stood up for justice for all mankind, all of God’s creation.

Am I also willing to suffer for what I believe to be right?  Would I carry my cross to my personal Calvary?  How about you?  Scoffers beware.  We are quickly entering the national scenario where a segment of Christians historically claiming to be the persecuted are becoming the persecutors.

rainbow-solidarity

 

 

a new social order

“Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace—by the grace of God.” cac.org, Richard Rohr

Often I try to put myself back into the times of Jesus.  Sometimes I play the role of a man like Jesus in that chaotic era of history.  My imagination cannot possibly comprehend even the mundane challenges of everyday life trying to survive in a society which was tightly controlled not only by the Romans but also by the Jewish hierarchy.  Earning a living, providing food and shelter for a family, abiding by innumerable laws of government and religion must have driven many men to madness and desperation.

Remembering that Jesus was probably a typical, young man long before he became a local celebrity, I can picture his Jewish mother, Mary, lamenting, “All my other sons have jobs, earn a living, have a nice donkey to ride to work, go on vacation to Jerusalem every year and buy their wives new robes for their birthday.”

Young Jesus is just standing there before Mary with a sheepish grin, “But mother,  you just don’t understand, I have to be about my Father’s work.  I have a Kingdom to establish.”

“Kingdom, smingdom.  Why can’t you be more like your brother James?  He just built on a beautiful sewing room for his wife and rumor has it that they are sending little James to private tutoring next year with the Rabbi.”

“Aw, Mom, I am not like my brothers.  Hey, have you seen my sandals?  I’m leaving tomorrow to spend 40 days in the wilderness.”

Later in Jesus’ ministry to his countrymen, he remembered the days at home in Nazareth.  Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”Mark 6:4

His hometown people undoubtedly thought Jesus was not only lazy but also crazy.  When he began teaching his outrageous idea that all people were equal in the eyes of God, that the Jewish temple leaders were hypocrites, that women had rights, that prostitutes, tax collectors, and Samaritans were loved by God, his mother Mary must have walked down to the well for water with eyes straight ahead, unable to bear the whispering and gossiping of her village friends along the path.

“That son of hers, Jesus….did you hear what he did over at Galilee?  He said he could move mountains and people say that he walked on water.  Can you imagine?  Poor Mary, she’s such a good woman.”

“Yes, and did you know that he has gathered a group of other men to follow him around the countryside begging for food and teaching something they call the Way.  They say he’s the Messiah.”

“Jesus was a person radically centered in God, empowered by that relationship, and filled with God’s passion for the world—a passion that led to his execution and vindication.” “—Marcus Borg

2000 years later, Jesus of Nazareth creates just as much controversy as he did when he was a young man in Israel.  Some people think he was a radical and a zealot.  Some people say he was and is God’s Son.  Others say he was just another magician supporting his homeless ways as best as he could.

But, it doesn’t matter.  Jesus, by his lifestyle and his teaching, brought to humanity an awareness that mankind is a brotherhood/sisterhood of equally loved and loving children of God and that they all, every one of them, are worthy of a Father’s love and compassion.  Imagine that!  A carpenter’s lazy son from Nazareth turned the world upside down and inside out saying that all men and women are equal, all are loved by God, all are welcome to partake of Earth’s great feast, and all are designed by their Creator to live in peace.

One man – a homeless beggar, a social reject, a charlatan, a simple teacher of brotherly love – did that 2000 years ago.  The new social order he ordained lives vibrantly and grows within the hearts of men and women today.  He was crucified so that we could live abundantly.  Do I have what it takes to be a person radically centered on God?  How about you?

cac.orgCANDLE

spiritual beings?

                                       “We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re already CANDLEinherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! I believe that’s why Jesus came as a human being: not to teach us how to go to heaven, but to teach us how to be a fully alive human being here on this earth.” cac.org

Trying to become “more spiritual” has led me down many paths.  Most of them dead-ended into a briar patch filled with thorny theology and noxious self-righteousness or a deep, dark, ominous forest filled with fairy-tale goblins and witches.  Yes, my best efforts aimed at becoming a more spiritual man usually began with an honest desire for growth, but then resulted in a retreat to a comfortable position which put Larry down here on earth and God somewhere between Pluto and the ends of the universe.  I liked it that way.  “Don’t get too close, God.  I don’t like change and I know growing closer to You requires change.”

Fortunately, the return trip to a somewhat sane reality, even if not a true reality, has always taken hold before my sobriety or sanity was compromised.  (Some would argue the sanity part).  The church fellowships which painted an extremely bleak picture for my soul if I did not acquiesce to their theology,  the book which promised eternity if I followed every paragraph of its treatise, the do-gooders who sincerely tried to save my soul with a litany of “thou shall and thou shalt not” all appeared real and salvific from afar.  But, up close and personal, they failed to make Larry a better human being.  I continued to wallow in my universe of self, accepted God’s forgiveness and grace when times were tough, then , wandered off into self-absorption until the next crisis arose. Never could find true north, never could understand what in the world was missing with my faith.  I read the books, studied the theologies, and explored the religious traditions, but I knew I was not growing.

Today, I continue to be amazed by the ways in which God comes aside me and says, “Listen to me.  Follow me.  Live for me.  I am the salvation for which you are searching. I have the answers. It’s all in a neat little package called Jesus.  Read him, know him and follow his Way.  When you do that you will also know me and you will become a better human.”

“Yeah, God, easy for you to say.   Do you know the sinkholes on that path, the fallen trees crossing it, the raging rivers to ford, the giant animals waiting in the forest to devour me, the savage natives wanting to cook me for dinner?  You do remember that Jesus got crucified for following the Way, don’t you?”

“Of course I know all about that.  I created it, remember?”  God’s reply is not always encouraging and it rarely is easy.

Father Richard in his daily meditations points to the facet of mystic teachings that can be elusive in today’s Christian teachings.  That forgotten aspect of Christianity says that I am not separated from God by space, time, or physical limitation.  I am a spark of the spiritual entity which I call God because every member of humanity was created in the image of God and every man/woman has that divine DNA within.  We are spiritual manifestations of the creators.  I am inherently a spiritual being dwelling in a limited physical body. My task here on Earth is not to search for ways to increase spiritual acumen, but to recognize who I am as a child of God, what God taught through the man named Jesus and thereby morph into a better, more compassionate, more loving, more altruistic human.  For me, that makes much more sense than chasing after spiritual gurus and distant heavenly salvation.

22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23rainbow-solidarity

These are not external qualities which need to be acquired through good deeds and righteous behavior from a heavenly source. Rather, they are within each one of us waiting to be nourished and then shared with the remainder of humanity and God.