SOBER TODAY – becoming unshackled

unshackled-2

There are times when a person reflects upon things he or she has written or said and with a querying mind asks, “How can I ever justify what I aspire to achieve spiritually when my thoughts, words, and actions are so undeniably human?”

Actually, that ‘querying’ mind is often self-condemning, is it not?  In these times of internal conflict we must remember that the spiritual progress promised in recovery programs, the Way of Jesus, and the Path of the Buddha are exactly what they claim to be, a course of progressive growth.  They are the trek each person must take to become vessels of wisdom and compassion within the power of the Divine Essence.  Undertaking this trek is not done with any expectation of perfection.  Progress is the goal.  Often the trail we walk slides off into a ravine of selfishness and unkind behavior, but pulling back onto the way forward is always awaiting.

The fellowships of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and CR (Celebrate Recovery) both recognize humanness and brokenness as elements of addictions.  Their step programs offer, not a miracle cure, but rather a way of living which enables members to rise above this inherent human condition of self-absorption.  Joining hands with like-minded men and women intent on becoming more than empty vessels tossed mercilessly on the seas of alcoholism, drug abuse, behavior addictions and emotional stress, these adventurers want not a perfect life, but a better life, a life of freedom from the prisons of self and ego.

Similarly, Jesus and the Buddha, holding all of creation in reverence, offered a lifestyle of service and compassion as the way to a personal heaven and a path to enlightenment.  Their disciples were ordinary examples of humanity who became extraordinary trekkers.  None of them were perfect.  Insecurity, anger, ego plagued their journeys through earthly temptations.  Yet, they understood that even though heaven or enlightenment was the desired outcome, a perfect life was not the path.  Humans must endure growth through the vagaries of humanness in order to become the spiritual beings which a Creator has intended.

Those who follow the life of Jesus Christ as their example must remember that, along with his obvious love and compassion for his Father’s creation, he also endured the human life fraught with temptation, desire, insecurity and anger.  According to the writings of the ancients, his public ministry lasted a scant 3 or 4 years before the crucifixion.  Where was he before the ministry, what was he doing?  Believing that Jesus traversed the same road of searching that every earthly human walks gives a great insight into the purpose of his life.  Those who portray Jesus as perfect at birth from a virgin’s womb seem to be missing the entire reason for his story.  Anybody can be perfect when born perfect.  Only a totally human experience of failure and disappointment combined with joy and ecstasy provides the sojourner with the necessary tools to crawl from the depths of hell to a life of peace and contentment.CANDLEcopyright 3

massive indifference

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”smiley 3

“To live a just life in this world is to identify with the longings and hungers of the poor, the meek, and those who weep. This identification and solidarity is in itself a profound form of social justice.”  cac.org

Who are the poor, the meek, and those who weep?  Who are the huddled masses, the vulnerable?  The homeless man standing outside Micky D’s waiting for a breakfast handout, the father working two minimum wage jobs with a wife and three school-aged children, the single mother with two children in elementary school trying to get her GED while working full-time for WalMart, the mentally challenged lady who is losing her group home setting due to government budget cuts, the retired man who tries to survive on his Social Security check and has to decide between medical care or food.

The Syrian refugee family living with relatives, the Muslim woman who is hassled daily on her way to school because of her head covering, the black man who has to take the midnight bus home from his job through a white neighborhood,  the woman who has suffered sexual abuse at work by her supervisor, the 13 year-old who is bullied mercilessly at school, the gay man who is threatened with death, the Mexican laborer facing deportation, the prisoner who is raped, the drug addict who lives on the streets, the jobless man facing eviction.

When I care enough to look, I see the vulnerable everywhere.  They are my brothers and sisters who have not had the opportunities to prosper in a country which boasts itself as “the land of opportunity.”  They are the misdirected who took destructive paths of addiction as young people.  They are the ones who followed the wrong crowd.  They are the product of tragedies beyond their control.

But they also are you and I.  Those of us who profess a lifestyle contrary to the norms of society, who renounce Christianity’s Gospel of prosperity, who question the traditions of our forefathers are also vulnerable to the condemnation and persecution of the status quo.  We seek justice – not merely for self gain but, for the welfare of everyone and every creature and every aspect of our Earth.

Dr. Cornell West states in one of his lectures:

“America is suffering massive indifference to its vulnerable people.”  Cornel West

Dr. West’s focus is on the plight of African-Americans, but, his words are apropos concerning the “spiritual blackout” he sees occurring in a land which historically has welcomed the huddled masses, the poor, the meek, the weeping, the vulnerable onto its shores.  He attributes much of this to corporate greed, to short-sighted politicians, and to a population which has relinquished its spiritual backbone.

Jesus spoke of justice in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11) :

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they will have their fill.” 

Social justice is not the responsibility of our governments or our court systems.  That endeavor and responsibility belongs to us .  Working together in solidarity as people who hunger and thirst will fill our hearts with blessing.

rainbow-solidarity

 

 

 

 

 

 

remembering 1960

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

On February 1, 1960, Joseph, Franklin, Ezell, and David walked into the F.W.Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina after leaving their college campus.  They proceeded to the “whites only” lunch counter, sat down and ordered coffee.  The young men were not served, and were asked to leave.  They, however, sat quietly at the counter until the store closed.  In that moment of disobedience, four young African-Americans initiated the sit-in movement which spread across the nation eventually resulting in federal civil rights legislation and an end to segregation.

I was 13 years old in 1960, and, having lived in Yankee isolation from the horrors of segregation and racism, I knew nothing about the plight of southern blacks.  My life centered around the bullying I encountered in school, the hardships of farm life, and the urgency of fitting into the “cool” crowd.   As a member of a closely knit Germanic community, my school text books did not mention the recent Holocaust or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In my school of about 760 students there were 5 Catholic, no Jewish and no African-American kids.   Everybody else was Aryan white.   In many ways my agrarian, Pennsylvania Dutch enclave lived as if a nation unto itself.  We were not challenged to consider the intolerance, racism, and xenophobia which existed in America.  That’s who I was in 1960.

A stint in the military changed all that.  Fortunately I had no preconceived prejudices when I entered the Navy.  If anything, it could be said that I was indifferent.  I had always been taught to mind my own business, keep my nose clean, don’t get involved in the problems of others.  My folks always told me, “They will take care of their own.”

Today I have a better understanding of the motivators in my parents’ lives.   They were poor, they were ridiculed for their German dialect, they were seen as 2nd class by the more affluent neighbors living in towns across the mountains.  My grandparents did not learn English until they attended school.  All of us in the household were bi-lingual.  But, my generation was teased for speaking “dutchified” English.  We were not part of the American tribe.  Life was immeasurably easier when we passed through life unseen and unheard.

I can’t do that today.  Other people’s’ lives are my business, their problems are mine; life tells me that together we must care for one another.  Was there some miraculous transformation?  Yes, of course.  I found sobriety and I discovered that Larry was not the center of the Universe.  For the first time in my life I saw my own brokenness.  I cried out for fixing and for healing.  The Higher Power of my recovery program put me on a path of renewal and reintegration into society.  Just as importantly, it gave me a willingness to live compassionately shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow-man.

Accordingly, the scales were lifted off my eyes and I was able to see the devastating brokenness of the world.  I saw hatred, racism, intolerance, and injustice infecting all creeds, all nationalities, all races with a soul sickness that can only be healed by a power beyond human capacities.  Name that Power however I want, place it wherever I like, worship it as I desire;  it is the center of my universe, the reason for living, the essence of life, and the voice in my heart which says come to me, learn from me for I will give you peace that surpasses all human understanding.

“The Lord …..gathers the outcasts……heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.”  Psalm 147: 2-3

I am the outcast; I am the brokenhearted; I am the wounded.  So are you.  When any among us are targeted and persecuted, when any are denied God-given rights, and when any are physically threatened, I must stand together with you against the tyranny and injustice which threatens human enlightenment.  As the four young men in Greensboro did when sitting at that “whites only” lunch counter, I also need to approach my decisive moments in history with courage and determination.  What would I have done if I, a white man, walked into F.W. Woolworth store on February 1, 1960 to witness four black men being threatened, being verbally abused, being spat upon?  How about you?

Two thousand years ago they did the same to a man named Jesus.  He also was advocating for the rights of his people to be treated with respect, tolerance, and kindness.  They beat him, ridiculed him, placed a crown of thorns upon his head, and spat upon him.  They hauled him up on his cross for all the people to see.  His advocacy  for justice, equality, and compassion covering all of mankind sentenced him to an excruciating death by crucifixion.  And then he said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

They knew not what they were doing because they had scales covering their eyes and self-importance infecting their hearts.  I can be like that too.  All I can do is pray that God’s grace will fix me and lead me out of myself and into the brotherhood of suffering masses where truth and compassion rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the failing of Christianity

“Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.”  G.K. Chesterton.

I find tremendous hope in this quote from the British writer.  By reading and reflecting on these words I am able to redirect my assessment of my faith walk in the realms of “Christianity” as not so much a failure on my part but a misdirection on the part of the institution of Christianity.  The tenets of this religion founded in the 4th century C.E. on teachings attributed to  Jesus of Nazareth seem to miss the mark by a wide margin in its position of power in today’s world.

I cannot comprehend a Jesus dying on his cross so that I could rest comfortably in my recliner flipping channels between the football games on TV all day Sunday.  I do not understand a Savior who would tell me that I am closer to God than my Muslim neighbor just because their prophet, Muhammad, appeared on the world scene 500 years after he did.  I don’t believe Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,”  but then 2000 years later, “if thy neighbor is black, gay, Syrian, or Muslim, disregard what I said.”

Can it be that Jesus, the professed centerpiece of Christianity, would want to be simply defined as a radical love leading to personal transformation and renewal transcending to a mindset of inclusion and compassion for all of humanity and all of Creation?  Jesus did not exclude anyone in his ministry on earth, not the Samaritan woman at the well, not the hated tax collector, not the prostitute, not the adulteress about to be stoned.  He does not today exclude anyone.  If he is today what he was then, how could he?

I am not excluded because of who I am.  I fall far short of the enlightenment I am destined to behold, yet I know that though my neighbor may feel empowered to cast the first stone condemning me, Jesus does not.

That is powerful stuff.  If the Christian world truly followed its Messiah, its Savior, mankind would be witnessing a peace beyond comprehension, a brotherhood which encompasses all religion, race, creed, and sexuality under the widespread arms of a righteous, loving God.

My living faith cannot function on a religion based on a  a statue or picture hanging on the church wall merely to be worshipped and adored.  The historical Jesus did not die on the cross only to fulfill Old Testament prophecy and bring a future salvific eternity to man.  His death and resurrection are significant events to the Christian faith, but his life is the body and blood we celebrate as Christians when we receive the bread and wine. Living our lives as nearly to the life which Jesus lived is supposed to be the cornerstone of Christianity. Jesus was a zealot and a radical human who challenged the authorities of that time with a revolutionary view of man’s purpose on earth.  And he was crucified for his teachings.  What is more profound was the courage needed to live out his humanness and to go against the hypocritical hierarchy of his tradition, Judaism, suffering labels of heretic and blasphemer when he knew within his God relationship that he was right.

Yes, of course, there were many others who garnered the hatred of the Jewish and Roman authorities.  Many others were also crucified.  But Christianity is self-defined as the theology centered on one man. It named that man the Christ.  It is supposed to adhere to the teachings attributed to Christ. History tells us that the institution has failed miserably with this directive.  Sadly, I can’t change the 1600 year history of Christianity.  But, how am I doing personally as a professing  follower of Jesus, the one named Christ?  Am I radical enough to claim the following words?

“Well done good and faithful servant.”  Matthew 25:23

If so , then my life has been successful.  I am not here to build an empire, to claim riches, to embrace power, or to follow other ego-driven idols.  I am here to be a good and faithful servant to humanity.  I fall short constantly but I will keep on trying.

 

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

the Critic

I watched several messages on You Tube by a popular pastor, Marcus Mecum , at 7 Hills Church located in Florence, Kentucky.  The man delivers inspiring teaching to his non-orange treedenominational followers and his “church” is not adorned with all the usual accoutrement one expects in a Christian church.  The pulpit is more akin to a stage setting with a background of contemporary light displays.  There is a lot of shouting from the audience, I mean congregation, and lifting of arms and hands towards the heavens.  Although many verses from Old and New Testament scriptures are referenced, one has no doubt that Jesus Christ is the mainstay of this church.

“When you are a critic, you become a victim.”  Pastor Mecum struck a deep nerve with those words.  That describes me in many situations occurring in my life today.  It is especially apropos in the political climate of the past year.  Being a critic has become so easy when I am fed a steady diet of scandalous stories and personal slander on every news outlet and late night TV show.  My character defects thrive on the garbage which flows ceaselessly from the mouths of pundits and experts.  It all makes me feel so absolutely normal and well-adjusted.  I’m not like those imbiciles and morons who are being internationally scorned and ridiculed.  Yea for Larry !

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Oh, well that doesn’t apply in this scenario, does it?  Those fools deserve what is being unleashed on them.  They are idiots.  Their mouths are forever talking trash about the other guy and just look how they conduct themselves.  The carousing, the immoral behavior, the greed, the obscenity, the lasciviousness and crassness which I see paraded in front of me as newsworthy information.  Thank God I am not like them !

“Really?  You have no sin?  You are not just as broken as they are?  You got all your ducks in a row, right?”

“Well, not exactly, Lord.  I’ve got some minor problems, too.  Well, actually, my defects are pretty glaring.  You know all of them.”

“Yes, I do.”

Victimized.  I have been victimized by my own ego; my pride is telling me that I am a notch above all the shenanigans happening on the national scene. My sins are not as egregious as their sins.  My behavior is more civil, more godly.  I have the authority to be a critic because I am better.

And it’s not OK to spend so many hours of my day judging the actions of others rather than celebrating in meditation and prayer the  freedom bestowed on me by a gracious Savior who loved me enough to pull me out of those same slime pits.  I still belong there, I am still more comfortable there, and I shall return there if I continue to be a victim of my own judgmental nature.

Jesus told the men of the village when an adulteress had been apprehended,  “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

We know the rest of the story.  Not s single man had the moral authority to cast the first stone.  10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11She said, No man, LORD. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:10-11

Overlooking an opportunity to castigate and berate national figures, “neighbors”, is sometimes difficult, many times impossible.  For me, it takes a lot of prayer and practice.  It does not come naturally because in my natural state I am not a nice man.  But, Jesus has called me to be better than that.  He has called me to “go, and sin no more.”

I cannot be a winner when I am a victim of myself, my sinful nature and character defects.  For me, Jesus is the only “Way” to victory over myself.smiley 3

 

 

my cross

The oppressed and the hated members of civilization have always been around.  The oppressors and the haters have also been always a historical fact.  They could not exist without each other, could they?  A number of religions advocate violence to achieve the Kingdom, some followers are committed to conducting a murderous rampage on earth in attempts to eradicate evil.  But, this cannot be God’s plan for humanity.  God’s plan forCANDLE his children is to evolve to a state of enlightenment in which violence is non-existent, where brotherly love and compassion reign, where each man serves his neighbor but no man is a slave.

How dare I say this with authority?  Simple.  Our God does not contradict God.  I know without question that Jesus, the premier endorser of active non-violent protest against a corrupt world system, gathered his disciples, taught love and compassion, healed the sick, cleansed the demon-possessed, and then died on his cross because the message from God  to be shared and carried across earth said, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Jesus was crucified for loving his neighbors and teaching peaceful co-existence.  Likewise, we also are exhorted to crucify ourselves, carry our crosses for the benefit of mankind.

But, we also know that Jesus did not die.  Jesus, his life and the message, live on eternally because God will not contradict the love and compassion of God by allowing the message to die.  Jesus came to us, a desperate and broken humanity, as the example to follow to enlightenment, not just another divinity to be worshipped.  Christianity, in its historical commitment to worship and adoration, has sometimes missed the Jesus boat.  Jesus is an example for us to emulate, not just an image hanging on the wall to which we bow heads and recite fervent prayers.  Jesus on earth was a man of social action giving himself in namaste rainbowtotality to the needs of the less fortunate and teaching the established religious orders of his day the truth of a loving, compassionate God.  Jesus is no less than that today and we, as followers, must live by his Way or die by the ways of a world driven by corruption, oppression, and hatred.