divide & conquer

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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“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.  Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but for us alcoholics it is poison.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT

When was the last time you screamed at or threw a middle finger to your TV screen?  Last week, yesterday, maybe a few minutes ago?  And did it accomplish anything? Probably not.

Today I understand how fragile my inner ecosystem can be.  My emotions are not like those of normal men and women who view or hear an outrageous story deserving of anger.  They process the news, digest it, and respond in a constructive manner.  I do not, although, I am infinitely better than I once was.  No, I can still be the guy standing in front of his TV screen flailing arms and fingers, hurling profanities at the image which has provoked me.  Do I believe that person heard or saw me?  No, of course not.  But I sure told him a thing or two, did I not?

Anger destroys every inch of peace and contentment that dwells within.  It alters the thought processes which lead to a God-honoring state of mind.  One minute of outrage can develop into 24 hours, or longer, of festering resentment.  Just one moment of anger can do that.  Am I willing, today as a sober man, to sacrifice my serenity for anger?

It’s one of the seven deadly sins according to numerous faith walks.  Let’s call it a character defect.  My inner demons use anger very effectively to divide and conquer.  When my mind is consumed with discord it cannot process the love that awaits in communion with a higher power.  All things spiritual are ushered to a back burner while the negatives boil away at a furious burn. Division conquers.  Calling 911 to God’s help line is the only solution.  Pray, pray, pray.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I certainly cannot change the doofus on TV who has taken control of my emotional state of mind.  Lord, why would I willingly give a conduit of hatred and division such a presence in my world?  Divide and conquer is not only an inner manifestation that destroys my serenity.  It also works for political figures and world leaders intent on personal power and prestige.  Divide the people, then go in for the kill.

I don’t have to play the game.  Sobriety has opened a world of possibilities for a life apart from the games politicians play.  Religious leaders also sometimes deserve that middle finger of dissent.  Divide and conquer.  “My God is better than yours.  I’m going to heaven, you’re going to hell.  I am unique and special.”

Does that kind of rhetoric meet the standard set by Jesus or any of the messengers of truth which have been shared with us?  Many years ago, a wise old man advised me, a newly sober man searching for a better way, “If your religious affiliation doesn’t teach love and compassion for your fellow-man, then it is not of God.”

Take that advice with a grain of salt – or adhere to it like I did.  It has made the search for truth in theological philosophy mind-blowing and simultaneously comforting.  Consider these words from my foremost first read every morning:

“Buddhism affirms that there is only one of us, and therefore we are each responsible for every link in the web of being. Christianity offers us the unconditional mercy of an incarnational God who permeates the whole of creation with love. Judaism urges us to demonstrate our love for God in the way we treat each other and care for creation. Hinduism kindles the fire of devotion for reunification with the Beloved who is no other than our own true Self. Islam shares the peace that comes with complete submission to the One.”

FATHER RICHARD ROHR   Mirabai Starr in The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, Rami Shapiro, ed. (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2017), vii-viii.

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the marginalized

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“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.” —Isaiah 10:1-2, The Message

This passage quoted by Fr. Richard Rohr is attributed to the writings of Isaiah, one of the most prolific prophets of Judaism who probably wrote all 68 chapters of the Book Isaiah sometime during the years between 740 BCE and 686 BCE.  Believing in prophecy, or not, is irrelevant to the significance of this message to us living during these tumultuous times in contemporary society because it describes the trials and perils we, the marginalized, face today.  I do not need to be a believer or follower of Jesus (which I am) to recognize the remarkable parallels.

“When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.”

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), dedication page

Has the world forgotten what politics should be?  Today’s  world of politics has become so overshadowed by greed and self-interest that it is very difficult to view it as a conduit for the welfare of all earth’s humanity including the poor, the homeless, the children, the elderly, and the mentally ill.  The most fitting adjective we can use for that segment of society is marginalized and oppressed.  It need not be that way given the enormous wealth in the hands of a small percentage of the population.

Politics is derived from the Greek word “politikos”meaning “of, for, or relating to the citizens” and “civil, civic, belonging to the state.”

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35). [3]

Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis, http://reclaimingjesus.org/.

The core belief of the traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is committed to compassion and hospitality.  Adherents are known by their actions and works.  If professing anything other than love and tolerance as depicted in their Scriptures, then they are not true followers of their faith.  It’s a simple assessment based on the writings of the ancients.

Principalities and powers pass away, but the inner power of the Spirit as represented by the Hebrew prophets, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed is infinite and eternal.

12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  EPHESIANS 6:12

the political believer, it’s in the works

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

In his daily writing for July 8th Father Richard Rohr , a proponent of social justice, states that most of the negative feedback he receives advises him to not get too political.  He responds,

“Yet how can I read the Bible and stay out of politics? Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. The Gospel is rather “socialist” in its emphasis on sharing resources and caring for those in need.”

Well said.  If I read in Scriptures about the life and works of Jesus, the Christ, if I profess this same Jesus as my Lord, if I receive Jesus within my heart and pattern my life according to His, then how can I not be political?  Jesus was the ultimate petitioner for the poor and needy.  He opposed the wealth of the greedy, the corruption of Judaism, and the oppression of Rome in his ministry to the downtrodden of Israel.  He did so knowing that his would not be a pleasant trip through an earthly life and that a violent death awaited him on the cross.  Yet, in human form he persisted because that is what humanity is supposed to do.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick regardless of the consequences.

“The primary role of religion and spirituality is to reconnect, the very meaning of the Latin word “religio”. The Greek word “polis”—which led to the word politics—simply means city or public forum, where people come together. Why have religion and politics become so antagonistic when they have similar goals?”  Richard Rohr

America boasts its Christian roots.  History tells us that Christians were at the forefront of social movements to end slavery, support women’s rights, encourage laws providing civil rights, Mediare, Social Security, and Medicaid.  Most famously America has welcomed the downtrodden and oppressed from other nations regardless of creed or race.  We are a beacon of hope to the hopeless, a land of opportunity for everyone.

The Gospel is often called the Good News because it carries a message of not only redemption, but also hope for those who have no hope.  The refugee, the widow, the orphan, the persecuted, the outcasts of society are the target of Jesus’ ministry today just as back in 1st century Israel.  The oppressed are empowered by words which tell them that God loves them equally regardless of social status, wealth or faith profession.  Because of that Good News we know that all mankind dwells within the family of a mighty and just God.

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. JAMES 2:14-17 CEB

The above verse from the Book of James is well-known in recovery programs.  It reminds me that my success in defeating alcohol has been a miracle, a gift from the Higher Power of my understanding.  But, it is not free.  A continued and contented sobriety requires payments.  Service to others is written on my IOU to God.  “Faith without works is dead.”

“Today I am encouraged to see many of my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist brothers and sisters actively engaged with the political realm, speaking truth to power, and holding our political leaders accountable. Being political is a basic civic, human, and spiritual duty!” Richard Rohr

CANDLE

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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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salvation-noun or verb?

smiley-face-2Just 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.

 

Sometimes we get caught up in Christianity’s preponderance with salvation.  This basic tenet says to us, in contemporary Christianity, that the goal of our faith walk should be salvation thus guaranteeing a place in God’s eternity.  Take the New Testament walk through the verses of salvation, become saved and born again, and miraculously a seat is reserved beside Jesus at the throne of Almighy God.  Unfortunately, for mankind, that viewpoint of salvation allows us to escape the primary command to live our lives humbly with graciousness, compassion, honor, respect, and love for the Creation.  We did the salvation thing and life can now continue as before because we’ve been “saved”.

Eternity happens later and there is no reason to become concerned with it in this life because we have achieved salvation.  There is no dire need to transform or evolve into the present Kingdom surrounding us and residing within us.

That transformation and evolution would require change of heart and change of mind, would it not?  It would require reworking the internal me.  Yes, I too followed that train wreck of modern evangelical Christianity until I realized, “Hey, if I’m born again, if I’m saved, why has nothing in my life changed?”  The answer came to me through the fellowship which led me into sobriety.  One of the primary observances of AA was a verse found in the book of James:

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  James 2:26

Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart.  That verse in James revealed to me that I could not rest on my laurels just because I claimed salvation.  The profession of being “born again” was just the start of a new way of living my life following the example of Jesus, the Christ.  I could not continue being the man I was before my proclamation.

I found it insightful to rethink the word salvation.  One of the definitions in the dictionary is 1) deliverance from sin and damnation, but another is simply 2) redemption.  Redeeming has less of a moral conviction, it denotes recovery and that is what I, a man who had followed the wrong trail in life, had to do after realizing my life needed to change.  My relationship with the ever-present Higher Power needed to be reclaimed.  An admission of the failure of my self-directed life was a starting point, I claimed rebirth, but that certainly could not be the end of the story.

My story is not appreciated by many Christians.  My story shakes their preconceived, theology-controlled concepts of the meaning of the Gospel and salvation.  Yet, upon study and research my story walks along the paths of Jesus and the Buddha.  Jesus and “the Way”, Buddha and “the Path” give me indisputable guidance in negotiating the Christian volumes of “thou shalt and thou shalt not” which have evolved from a very simple message which taught, not preached, how to become a part of Creation, not apart from Creation.”  Jack Wintz, Will I See My Dog in Heaven? (Paraclete Press: 2009), 29.

CANDLE

 

soul food

smiley-face-2Just 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.

 

The term “soul” is thrown around quite often in today’s society.  Soul food, soul music, eternal soul are just a few.  It always brings to mind that internal essence which many people consider the truth residing within each of us.  Fr. Richard Rohr, cac.org , defines soul as “……anything’s ultimate meaning which is held within. Soul is the blueprint inside of every living thing that tells it what it is and what it can become. When we meet anything at that level, we will respect, protect, and love it.”

Notice that this advocate of the mystic nature of Christ does not describe my soul as an entity separate from anything else, as a part of my being which will move on to heaven after my physical death, nor a hard-to-understand tenet of any religion’s theology.  Soul simply is.  It tells me that I am what I am and it leads me to what I can become.  It is the blueprint, the divine spark of DNA, present in every living organism.  Every living creature has soul.

Francis of Assisi understood this and is well known for spending many hours walking the roads of Umbria learning from nature the meaning of soul.  He called all of creation his brothers and sisters.  Think about it.  Every creature of nature is born, matures and reaches its destiny, when unimpeded, without a thought as to what it should be or how it should develop. A lion becomes the king of the jungle, a daffodil becomes a springtime beauty, a butterfly flits about searching for nectar.  Only man disputes and denies his inherent divine spark of DNA.  Man was created in the image of God and man’s destiny is to become a son of God, a recreation of that eternal Force which gave him life.

My religious tradition confused and often denied the teaching of St. Francis.  It told me I had to conform to its theology and ritual in order to access the sacredness of soul.  It led me to a narcissistic approach to God which proclaimed me as very unique and special while simultaneously damning me to hell if I did not conform through its creeds and prayers.

According to scriptures, John the Baptist eschewed the trappings of the temple and its purity laws calling people to repentance in the waters of nature.  Jesus was baptized in those waters and subsequently spent 40 days and nights communing with nature in the wilderness.

Fr. Richard goes on to observe the mark missed by contemporary Christianity:  “We would have done much better to help other Christians discover their souls instead of “save” them. My sense, after being a priest for almost 50 years, is that most Christians are trying to save something they have not even found.” cac.org

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mercy

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

A key element in sobriety is forgiveness.  Bill W. comments that until I have completed a 4th step inventory and then gone on to a place of showing and accepting mercy, aka forgiveness, I will not understand or achieve sober-living.

The power in this act is that it is a mutual undertaking, it’s a two-way street.  I ask my Higher Power to forgive me, I ask those whom I have offended to forgive me through amends-making, but I also must forgive those who have injured me in any way by word or deed.

This is a facet of the powerlessness necessary to overcome self.  When I am able to accept the forgiveness of God and of other people, I am giving up that sense of pride which has been telling me that I’m better than mercy, I’m going to accept forgiveness on my terms.  “Self-will run riot” is quick to return to me unless I am vigilant.  God uses me best when I am fully powerless, when I am humble.  Humility is defined in the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”, pg 58, as “….a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be.”  Step 5’s admission of my defects to another human is a step toward humility.

“Withholding forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control, and diminish another.” cac.org

That’s a convicting indictment of my unwillingness to forgive.  My Higher Power does not play that game and neither should I.  In retrospect, owning up to the control freak that I can be, I should not be surprised that accepting forgiveness from God or from others has been difficult.  I did not want to become powerless.  Grudges are a result of this unforgiveness.  Grudges justify my resentments, my need to be right, and my anger.  And, yes, I have held grudges, resentment, and anger toward God.  It’s part of my alcoholic personality.  It’s part of that old personality which refuses to accept responsibility for myself and my actions.

“But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of harboring resentment is infinitely grave.  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT , pg.5

Forgiveness is the gift of mercy in action.  I desire mercy but, I also need to extend it.  In the Beatitudes, the message of Jesus compacted into the book of Matthew 5: 3-11, the author says:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”