what does Advent mean to us?

 

three kings day

FAN Newsletter (FranciscanActionNetwork)

Sunday, December 1st, marks the beginning of the Christian season of Advent which leads up to the announced birth of Jesus, the Christ, Christianity’s reason for the season.  Have you, whether a professed follower or a non-believer, ever wondered what would happen to this child if he were born in the year 2019?

“I cannot help but think of the journey of the children, women and men forced to migrate.  In September [2019] the number of migrants globally reached 272 million, outpacing the growth rate of the world’s population.”  Sr. Maryann Mueller, CSSF

Most of us who were raised in the comforts of an American Christian community surely remember the sweet stories about baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger being adored by the shepherds and wise men and lovingly attended by Mary and Joseph.  We remember the art masterpieces depicting a handsome Jesus, obviously an Anglo-Saxon man, decorating the church wall.

We were somewhat dismayed upon learning that this proclaimed savior of the world was probably a brown-skinned, short man with curly black hair born into poverty to just one of numerous illiterate families earning a meager living working for the wealthy, religious elite.  They were, of course, Jewish and followed Judaic traditions.  Undoubtedly, they experienced hunger and probably did not have clean water or adequate sanitation.  Security was to be found not in material wealth but in their devotion to the God of their ancestors and the cooperative charity of fellow villagers.

If Jesus were born today, he and his family would probably be immigrants on some nation’s border, possibly ours.  He would risk violence at the hands of racial prejudice or trafficking in child sex trade.  On the southern border of the wealthiest nation in the world, Jesus would likely be separated from Mary and Joseph and caged with other immigrant children.

Not much has changed, has it?  Two thousand years later and we still treat immigrants as if they somehow do not really matter to the Father/Mother of us all, that they are less loved than we are.  We continue to hang on to that image of Jesus, the privileged, Anglo-Saxon white man adorning the church wall.  We noisily thump our Bible to support our prejudice while reading the words which state explicitly that every person on earth is made in the image and likeness of God.  We somehow ignore the scriptures which tell us that we are to love our neighbors [earthly brothers and sisters] as ourselves.

The season of Advent is a journey for the Christian world leading up to the birth of its proclaimed Christ child.  In addition to all the joy, jingle bells, gifts and Santa Claus let’s set aside time to contemplate what it would be like to be an immigrant.  What if you and your family were forced to leave the comfort and security of your home and your community because of political or economic turmoil?  What if the people on the other side of the border which you must cross hated you because of your skin color, creed or social status.  What if you were financially disadvantaged and had to rely of the goodness and compassion of strangers to provide for your family?  Would you be afraid?

If we justify our intolerance and lack of compassion for immigrants by citing the need to protect our families or protect our faith tradition or protect our racial purity, or protect white identity, then truly what we cherish is but a heap of rubbish, is it not?  We are denying the reason for the season.  How can we proclaim amazing grace at the altar while disregarding the message given to us through the life of Jesus, the impoverished immigrant?

LOVE

 

Your Vote – does it matter?

“Do we dare keep voting according to our pocketbooks and private morality? Yes, we are God’s beloved, but so is everyone else! If we believe God wants what is good for us, how do we not understand God wants what is good for each and every living thing? What would it mean to vote as if the very presence of God were in our neighbor and the stranger alike, which is simply what Jesus taught?”  CAC.ORG – Fr. Richard Rohr

Namaste – not the word Jesus used, but it certainly means the same.  A follower of Buddhism would bow to you (and all of Creation) and say namaste – “I honor the divine in you.”  Jesus said, “Love your neighbor (and all of Creation) as yourself.”

What’s so difficult about that?  Why can we not believe that Jesus from Nazareth, during the time between ages 12 and 30 when no historian can provide an account of his activity, met up with traders from the East who followed the teachings of Buddha.  Even non-believers in the historicity of Jesus or Buddha will have to admit that namaste is certainly a great way for earthlings to conduct themselves.  It could be the key to the survival of our species.

Let’s give this idea a shot in our 2020 voting.  Rather than endorsing candidates who claim to be God-sent, or candidates who claim to have the inside track to God, or candidates who attend the ‘right’ church, or candidates who profess the tenets of an intolerant and exclusive Christianity, let’s try “namaste.”  Let’s try “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Let’s vote as if the earth and all its creatures (including us) depended upon it.

Fr. Richard Rohr of the Franciscan order is an outspoken critic of the political and religious status quo.  We agree that somehow Christianity, as envisioned in its early genesis, has missed the mark of its founders.  We agree that the purpose of Christianity is not to look heavenward for salvation nor to follow a reclusive lifestyle.  Christianity was meant to involve Christians in the nitty-gritty of the world’s disadvantaged and oppressed people.  We are designed to focus downward upon earth’s sorrow and heartbreak, to participate in the world rather than seek escape in heavenly promises.

Buddhism calls this life “dukkha” – suffering.  It is suffering which stems from our human tendency to want what we don’t have and not appreciate the blessings we do have.  I can relate.  How about you?  We have houses which would be palatial to many of the world’s people, but want even larger and more luxurious homes.  We have closets full of clothes whereas many people have nothing more than rags to wear.  We eat to the point of unhealthy obesity while many babies are starving.  We are coming into the Christmas season where the mantra is, “shop till you drop.”  Yet this extravagance of material blessing does not eliminate dukkha.

Externals will not eliminate suffering.  Only by resetting the internal defaults will we ever reach the heaven described by Jesus or nirvana promised by Buddha.  It’s an inside adventure which each of us can undertake.

“We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.  We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.  Self-seeking will slip away.  Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.  We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.  We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Are these extravagant promises?”  AA PROMISES

WE THINK NOT

Get out there and vote.  Jesus did not give us THE WAY and Buddha did not give us THE PATH  for us to twiddle our thumbs and be recluses uninvolved in the planet’s survival.  Bill W. and Dr. Bob did not give us recovery through ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS to muddle through life uninvolved in the lives of still-suffering fellow man. god bless america

I hate you

How often have you and I thought or voiced these emotionally-charged words?  Maybe it was yesterday when the neighbor was critical of our yard maintenance.  Or it could have angry emojibeen the boss unfairly expecting us to give up weekend plans in order to come in to work.  Or maybe it was a national leader speaking words which are contrary to our personal moral compass.  Or maybe it was directed inwardly because of our own faults and misdeeds.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love…”

Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (1181 – 1226) is attributed with these words, an excerpt from a  familiar prayer commonly called THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS.

Hatred is one of the most difficult words to comprehend because it carries an immensely negative emotion.  Within that negativity we create enemies, despicable visions of others, and ultimately, discontent within our own souls.  Let’s, for the sake of rational dialog, nail hatred to the underlying emotion of fear which is a very real motivator in all of mankind.

Fear prevents unconditional love.  Fear promotes violence.  Fear murders, maims, persecutes.  Fear promotes separateness among men and warfare among nations.  Fear is the darkness in mankind’s soul which enables genocide and ethnic cleansing.

White nationalism embraces fear, our leaders project fear, some men of religion preach fear.  Hatred is taught, but fear is that innate human condition which in today’s society is being used as a weapon against practicing social justice, tolerance and equality.

That is why we recite the words of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.  We cannot fight hatred with hatred.  We cannot fight violence with violence.  We cannot vie to be top dog in the world at the expense of the huddled masses desiring nothing more than the crumbs under the table.  We cannot destroy our planet by exploiting resources to fill corporate coffers or because we fear that there is not enough for everybody.  Peace is not just a state of inner being – it is a call to action.  It is a determined effort to illumine the darkness.

We in Western culture have been conditioned to think of love as a warm, fuzzy feeling reserved for spouses, family, friends, others who step in line to our own personal march.  We celebrate love with cute greeting cards and expensive gifts.  We write romantic songs and poems about love.  We fall in love with the idea of love.

The ancient wisdom teachers would disagree.  In their writings love is the opposite of fear.  Love unifies the Christian and the Muslim, the white man and the black man, the Republican and the Democrat, the straight and the gay.  There are no enemies in the world of love, there are merely differences to be embraced.  Love is not the opposite of hatred;  it is the cure for fear which is the root of hatred.  It is the understanding that we as co-equal inhabitants of this planet are responsible for living in peaceful co-existence.

“The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself.” CAC.ORG

Mohandas Gandhi said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. —John Dear CAC.ORG – FR. RICHARD ROHR

 

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.

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it can be heaven or hell

you can choose where you abide

speaking truth2

“….there’s a place to go where the eagles fly high, the rivers run deep, the grass is lush.  In that place there is peace and kindness, no violence nor intolerance.  Whenever solace and rest are needed, this internal heaven can be right here and right now or we can allow it to carry us a million miles away.  Joyfully, in that space the good vibrations of the soul embrace a higher calling.” (1)

“Most of the world religions have some concept of heaven and hell. Why? Because human freedom matters. We have to be given the freedom to say no to love and life, and one word for that is hell.” Fr. Richard Rohr (2)

LIFE…yes life can be heaven or hell.  It’s a choice each human must make regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof because it has nothing to do with religion or faith or concepts of God.  This choice is life’s golden ticket.  Have you ever been amazed by the man standing on the corner with a cardboard sign asking for food or work and upon talking to him realizing that this man is happier than you are in your comfort and material security?  Or, conversely, speaking to your wealthy neighbor at the grocery store who is buying steaks and lobsters for a Sunday dinner hosting twenty relatives and she is absolutely distraught because her investments earned only $125,000 last year?  Heaven or hell – we choose where we spend life.

Why spend precious ‘now’ moments reliving past transgressions, reviewing years-old grudges against others, fearing the current political scene, comparing yourself to the Joneses next door who just bought a new Mercedes, feeling angry because your co-worker, Mary, got the promotion you wanted?  STOP! just stop and look at the roses in your garden, the great kids or the terrific spouse you have, the reliable pickup truck parked in your driveway.  When the last breath is drawn, that stuff and those resentments will not matter.  What will matter is how the miraculous gift of life was used to serve and to enjoy.  We choose how we use life, whether we opted to spend it in heaven or hell.

Living in a state of awe and amazement over the multitude of blessings bestowed is not only for monks and mystics.  We, too, can participate.  It’s our choice.  How we communicate, how we conduct our interactions, what mindset we entertain will be our heaven or hell.  We must be very conscious of where we allow the mind to traverse.  Much of the world seemingly opts for a life lived in hell.  Why?

“As we observe our politics, antagonism appears to be the primary style of communication today—how to fight and win, how to be suspicious, how to be hateful, how to tell lies. Who can we exclude now? Which race, religion, or group is unworthy? (All in the name of God, remember!) That’s simply hell right now.”  Fr. Richard Rohr (2)

(1) GOOD VIBRATIONS

(2) https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/

 

us versus them…really?

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Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

Be persistent in asking.  When in that quiet inner space, don’t be timid with requests.  The answer will always be “yes, no, or not now”.  But, whatever the answer may be, rest assured that our internal GPS has got us covered and will bring us safely to the next plateau of life when heeding that inner voice.  Very simple.  A degree in spirituality is not required to know what the conscience speaks in those quiet moments.  The secret, if there is any secret, is to slow down, be quiet, silence the wandering mind, and listen.  Ask for guidance and it will be given.

Seek joy and peace relentlessly.  Life changes with every passing moment.  We must also adjust.  Our central core of understanding has an amazing capacity to adjust.  What was yesterday’s hot flash is today’s old fogey flashback.  When hanging on to the ‘way things used to be’ we are stifling what needs to happen now for continuing growth.  Doesn’t mean giving up values or the moral compass which has been a lifetime beacon; rather, it means evolving those values to make them workable in today’s crazy world.

Only a few centuries ago when one element of society disagreed with the beliefs and actions of another, it could find new, uncharted lands to settle and follow its philosophy in peaceful bliss.  Unfortunately, vacant, unexplored land has disappeared and thus it has become essential to the survival of our species to practice co-existence with next door neighbors who look, talk, behave and worship differently.

Perhaps the common denominator is that the vast majority of the world’s population wants to live peaceably, support families, have a comfortable standard of living, practice a chosen faith walk (or absence of faith walk), and leave this world a better place then when arriving.  The violence advocated by an extremely small, but vocal, percentage of extreme religious adherents has, unfortunately, grabbed today’s headlines.  Each brand of religion is guilty.  Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu each have an element devoted to hateful rhetoric and unenlightened teaching.

Demonizing an entire faith for the actions of a few of its adherents is not evolving to a plateau of world brotherhood necessary to co-exist.  Rather than name-calling, fear-mongering, and instilling lies about those outside our tribe, what would happen if we allowed ourselves to recognize the divinity in all mankind?  Loving another’s divine nature regardless of religious tradition does not diminish our own spiritual walk.  It can only enhance the God connection.

Lead me by example and not by edict.  A primary principle of Alcoholics Anonymous is ‘attraction rather than promotion’.  Show me your wisdom instead of forcing it upon me.  St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Let’s try to be instruments of peace.  It could be the only chance for the human species to see a 22nd century.

speaking truthNAMASTE

 

 

ecological refugees

“We are at war with ourselves. We have put our faith in the mythical god of progress and are seeing the consequences. Millions of ecological refugees wander the earth, seeking an environment capable of sustaining their lives. . . . Did God have this kind of progress in mind?”

-Louis Vitale, OFM, Love is what Matters

My dedication to a simple lifestyle was not a choice I made altruistically.  No, it was forced medicine for a chronic financial malady.  But, it opened my eyes to an alternative world where the Joneses do not matter, accumulation of stuff is not a priority, big boy toys are unimportant and money is a resource to be respected and used wisely.

Yes, by Western standards, I am the poorest man I know, but I am extraordinarily blessed with every one of my needs filled.  It took severe financial reversals at age 60 to teach me life’s true priorities.  It is not about the stuff we gather unto ourselves, nor the clothes we wear, nor the degree behind our names, nor the shiny new BMW we drive, nor the universities our kids attend, nor the upscale church we attend, nor the country club memberships.

Real blessings have no price tag nor can they be bought.  You and I awakened this morning breathing air and pumping blood.  Of all the people on earth we probably have the most reasonable chance of surviving for the next 24 hours without fear of being murdered or maimed.  If we are hungry, someone nearby will feed us.  If we are cold, someone will provide us a blanket and a breakfast.  When we are lonely, a friendly ear is just minutes away.  With raised arms to the heavens let us be grateful!  Most of the world’s population does not have what you and I have at this very moment.

For meditation today, consider those who have lost all possessions and their homes to natural disasters.  Floods, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes devastate without discrimination.  Droughts are causing famines, changing weather patterns are creating wastelands out of productive lands.  The vagaries of nature combined with the unbridled greed of Western society have set the stage for a deluge of ecological refugees.

Man, in his quest for material wealth, social status, and personal comfort, seems to have forgotten that all of us need this earth to survive, all of us need to share the resources.  There are no shortages if we learn to compromise and share.  We do not live in a world of scarcity; rather, we live in a world of plenty designed by nature to accommodate its people if they learn to share the bounty.  No one blessed with material wealth and financial success is more privileged or more deserving than another of the world’s brothers/sisters struggling to survive as refugees, either ecological or political.  We ARE our brothers’ keepers; we cannot allow political or social influence to refute ancient wisdom.

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when belief becomes action

“Over the past few decades, our Christianity has become obsessed with what Christians believe rather than how Christians live….But in Jesus we don’t just see a presentation of doctrines but an invitation to join a movement that is about demonstrating God’s goodness to the world.”  Shane Claiborne (1)

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In chapter 2 of the Bible’s book of James, verse 17 – “faith without works is dead” – is a favorite of addiction recovery programs.  It is the foundational premise of the fellowship’s call to live a life of service to others through works.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not the copyrighted property of Christianity.  Many major religions and cultures profess an obeisance to this maxim.

But it is not merely a statement of belief.  It demands supporting action in the way I live, in the way I treat other people.  Not only family, friends and neighbors should receive my best efforts to live by the “golden rule,” but everyone on earth who names themselves a member of the species homo-sapiens.

Tall order, isn’t it?   Now, let’s stretch it.  How about every creation of the God whom I name as Lord of my life?  The birds, tigers, my pet cat, fish, the flowers of the field, our water resources, the air we breathe – everything?  They are all a portion of the gift given to us to use and enjoy.  Treat creation with the respect and stewardship with which we want to be treated.  Might be a much better world, don’t you think?

Every seed is awakened and so is all animal life.  It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our animal neighbors the same right as ourselves to inhabit this land.”  Sitting Bull

In contrast to our world of greed and disregard for the elements of nature, the forgotten creed of the Native American embodied a legendary wisdom and spirituality.  Animals were respected as equal in rights and, when hunted, they were killed only for food. The hunter first asked permission of the animal’s spirit. (2)

Born in 1182 into wealth, St. Francis of Assisi, during his conversion period, was considered a madman when he renounced money and chose to live simply practicing equality by honoring, respecting and loving every person whether beggar or pope.  Francis’ love of nature is well recorded in writings, but his love was much deeper than enjoying time in the woods to admire the beauty.  His brotherhood included all of God’s creations.  To him the sparrow was as much his brother as the pope. (3)

Francis, born Giovanni Bernardone, had no thoughts to establish a monastic order named after him, but when called to serve his God, his answer was yes.  What will my answer be?  How about you?  Please take 5 minutes and 27 seconds of your life to watch the Franciscan Plea For the Soul of America.

(1) Shane Claiborne

(2)  www.pantheism.net

(3) www.catholic.org

 

St. Bonaventure

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

All of us are driven by a philosophy concerning life.  It could be derived from any number of prolific authors, leaders, and statesmen.  Quite often our personal life philosophy is a result of theological teachings.  The beliefs which I inherited from my forefathers went unchallenged in my younger years because the community in which I lived all abided by the principles of those beliefs.  Christianity ruled.

And that would have been just fine if I had not ventured into the world beyond my community and experienced different cultures, different creeds, and different lifestyles.  Tribalism was not at the forefront of conversations as it is today, but in retrospect, it was alive and well.  Unwittingly, we all were suspicious of those who spoke, looked, thought, and worshipped differently.

Even more devastating to the growth of a young man finding his way in a life apart from the community of his upbringing was the concept of his forefathers’ God.  There were numerous new ideas and experiences outside that sheltered life of boyhood and teenaged years.  Most of them felt exhilarating and exciting, needed to be embraced and explored.

But, in the recesses of my mind, one dinosaur of theology always tempered the thrills of newly found freedoms.

“If it feels good, it is probably a sin.”

Thankfully, the alcoholism which controlled my life for so many years also brought me to a reckoning with the man I had become. 1) admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable 2) came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity 3) made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a God of our understanding.

The key words in step 3 which changed my life dramatically were ‘God of my understanding.”  I finally realized that God had given to me at birth a sense of reason and inner understanding with which I was designed to understand  this ‘God-thing’.  Nobody else could do this for me.  It was a personal spiritual journey which became a lifetime endeavor.  And finally I was able to embrace a life of wonderful experiences without the sin factor hanging over my head.  Today, in my world, the word sin is a negative connotation used by others to control and intimidate when, in my reality, it simply means a temporary state of separation from the God of my understanding.

St. Bonaventure, an Italian medieval Franciscan, scholastic theologian and philosopher was born in 1221 Giovani di Fidanza and died in 1274.  He entered the Franciscan order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris.  Marked by an attempt to completely integrate faith and reason, he thought of “Christ as the one true master who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God.” St. Bonaventure

“Bonaventure pays little attention to fire and brimstone, sin, merit, justification, or atonement. His vision is positive, mystic, cosmic, intimately relational, and largely concerned with cleaning the lens of our perception and our intention so we can see and enjoy fully!” cac.org

I think I would have enjoyed life as a Franciscan living and studying with Giovani di Fidanza.  Hmmmm, maybe I did and simply have not yet realized that previous life.  🙏

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