Beggar in the presence of a king

If your life is perfect, if you have no problems, if your faith is strong as an ox, then this post is probably not for you.  On the other hand, if you are like me, a man who questions everything, doubts everything as the disciple Thomas did, reels between ecstasy and bewilderment when considering the things of faith, then we can appreciate the title of Matthew West’s song, BROKEN THINGS.

“If it’s true you use broken things – then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”

People don’t like broken things – they throw away cracked dishes, broken vacuum cleaners, flickering lamps, worn clothing.  I remember my grandfather who took his shoes to a cobbler to be re-soled rather than buy new shoes.  Thinking he could not afford new shoes, I bought him a pair for Christmas.  Graciously he thanked me but continued wearing those old shoes.  That new pair was still in its box when Grandpa died.

Rather than repairing broken relationships, husbands and wives will find good divorce lawyers.  Fathers and sons remain estranged for many years after a disagreement, not remembering what the argument was about, but too stubborn to reconcile.  For many of us, broken relationships are not worth repairing.

I was the last to admit that I was broken.  My life had spiraled head first into a vast darkness which applauded my efforts to be strong, to be better than others, to stand out from the crowd, to chart my own destiny no matter what the cost.  I swam in that sea of darkness believing it was my strength of character and independence that kept me afloat.  I did it entirely on my own personal will power.  I drove myself to be a self-made man, independent of anyone – especially God.

Some of us are sicker than others.  Thankfully, God knows this; he has a special room in His heart for the sickest of the sick.  Patiently, steadfastly, lovingly He guided me to a place where I could take an honest assessment of me – on my knees.  We talked, we cried, we screamed out in pain and then we entered the wide gate into the Kingdom of grace.

I am still a broken vessel today.  I like it that way because my Lord can use broken things to fix the brokenness which He sees in his human family.  Patch me, glue me, bind me together.  Like that pair of Grandpa’s worn-out shoes, I can always be re-souled.  “I am just a beggar in the presence of a King.”

“Grace is a Kingdom with gates open wide.”

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Turn your eyes

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.   HELEN H. LEMMEL 1922

Follow the link above for the full lyrics.  Tonight ends one of the days when I am tired, I should go to bed and call it a “done” day, but I am resisting because I need reassurance that the sadness which I feel, the disappointment which envelopes me, the fears which intimidate me are not the last thoughts that I will have should tonight bring my final breath in this life.  We septuagenarians consider these things, we don’t take another tomorrow for granted.  Just as my financial affairs are in order, my final life directives are written and my best friends know I love them, it is also important that spiritual concerns are addressed – every night.

Remember our bedtime prayer when we were kids:

Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The day went well; it was productive.  I kept an appointment, exercised, read a few chapters, did the daily chores consisting of sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, and cleaning out the litter boxes.  Nothing of a negative nature happened.  But, tonight I enter the late hours of the day feeling detached and subdued, lonely and unimportant.

“The things of earth” annoy me, challenge me, make me angry.  My primary response is to cocoon into a safer, more comfortable world.  I’m tired.  I want to take my old-fashioned ideals and my sense of decency far away into a land where butterflies flit and hummingbirds hum in carefree abandon, a land where the only chore for the day is sniffing the roses in the garden.  I’m tired.

 

Who’s your Daddy?

 

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“Turn Your ear to me, rescue me quickly.  Be a rock of refuge for me, a stronghold for my deliverance.” PSALM 31:3 TL

Where do you go when your world is being challenged from all sides?  I know you have been there because you and I are not uniquely different and, trust me, I have spent a lot of time begging the above verse penned by the authors of Psalms.  It is my signature plea to a timeless, Universal entity whom I name God.  You may name yours by another name, but when we cast aside man’s theological philosophies there is just one who is the I AM.

I like the word phrasing, “rock of refuge.”  It inspires in my mind a place, or state of consciousness, which is protected from the ravages of an insane world, a place where the intents of vile men cannot reach me, a sanctuary which can conceal me even from the evil which exists within.  The rock is strong, impenetrable and secure.  Amazingly, it does not erode with the forces of nature or the passage of time.  On the contrary, it grows and becomes stronger.

And, it is a “stronghold for my deliverance.”  As much as I would like to attribute all my factory defects to environment and circumstance, when I find that inner  place of honesty and transparency, I realize that I need desperately to be delivered from myself and the character traits which make my personal world insane and unmanageable.  “Turn you ear to me, rescue me quickly” from that which seeks to destroy me – anger, envy, greed, gluttony, pride, sloth, and lust.

Social injustice, poverty, oppression, national politics are also issues that can cause severe conflict if I don’t have a rock to sort everything and place priorities on those issues.  Approaching wickedness and uncivility with a peaceable intervention does not imply a lack of conviction.  I do not need to scream and rant to show the outside world that I am incensed by a corrupt political system.  Jesus overturned the tax collectors’ tables efficiently and forcefully, but I don’t see in the Bible any accounts of screaming, violence, and profanity.  Jesus also had that rock as his fortress and refuge.  He had his personal inner conviction guiding his actions, but he relied on the strength of the rock whom he called Father.

Many people want to contradict the existence of a rock, they vehemently deny with substantial energy that God is not.  That’s OK, I at one time was one of them.  Stridently ridiculing those of faith and defying them to prove their faith was a hallmark of my youth.  I was the intelligent one, they were the dupes.

Only when alcoholism forced me to my knees, did I decide to stay on my knees for a few moments longer and say a prayer, plead to the unfamiliar rock and fortress which I had ridiculed and discredited for many years.  With no more arguments, nothing to lose,  I was in desperate need of relief from myself and my atheism.

My church foundation as a young boy was based on old time preaching and music.  We sang “ROCK OF AGES” probably every Sunday.  “Rock of ages cleft for me.”  It’s a stunning visual for lost souls –  a fissure in a solid rock wall split to provide protection and comfort from the elements of our personal storms.  Why would anyone not want to believe?

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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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psalm 31

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“Turn Your ear to me, rescue me quickly.  Be a rock of refuge for me, a stronghold for my deliverance.” PSALM 31:3 TLV

 

These are days when I feel the center of my soul is suffering a major earthquake.  Dishes fall off the shelves, bottles rattle, the floor trembles.  My faith is shaken by worldly events which depict savagery, oppression, hatred, injustice.  Run!  Run!  Run!  Run for cover.  And there is but one place to run – deeper into He who sustains and protects.

Further into the arms which wrap in comfort and protection.  “Take this world and give me Jesus; this is not where I belong.”

“So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.
When the earth shakes
I wanna be found in you
When the lights fade
I wanna be found in you.”
BUILDING 429 “WHERE I BELONG”

 

 

 

 

a mustard seed

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”  JIMI HENDRIX

It starts with me, it starts with you, does it not?  Christian writings tell us that a tiny mustard seed of faith, MATTHEW 13:31-32, can move mountains of self-doubt, fear, and uncertainty bringing the faithful to an absolute trust in a power greater than ourselves.  We know that spark of faith which ignited early in sobriety pulled us deeper and deeper into a fellowship that became our lifeline to sanity and understanding.  Some labeled it Higher Power, some called it Allah, some chose to name it Jesus, the Christ.

Just as a spark of faith tiny as a mustard seed can restore man to his heritage with the God of his understanding, a seed of love can lead to a national movement of equality and justice.  The young people of Parkland initiated MARCH FOR OUR LIVES, Bishop Curry leads the JESUS MOVEMENT, William Barber organizes the POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN, Tarana Burke used the phrase ME TOO in 2006 leading to recognition of the rampant sexual harassment and assault in the world.  That seed, that spark of love is the universal One we call upon as a  power greater than ourselves.   That tiny mustard seed matures into a powerful force which restores broken lives and fills hearts with peace and understanding.

Those of us in recovery endured our own personal hells in our addictions.  Our hell was filled with delusions of abandonment and desolation.  It was a devastating isolation from family and community.  It’s intention was to lead us to insanity and death.  Many times hell was successful in its conquest.

Today we know that we are never alone in our battles and our victories.  We are now part of a much larger fellowship of brothers and sisters who suffer that same abandonment and isolation which afflicted us in our addictions.  They are victims of abuse, assault, bigotry, and intolerance.  Just as our demons in substance abuse controlled us, the lives of millions are controlled by earthly powers intent upon destroying the dignity and self-worth of the marginalized among us.

Those powers gain control by the use of derogatory names and labels which diminish and categorize according to race, gender, sexual identity, creed and socio-economic status.  Humankind is a brotherhood/sisterhood of souls created in the image of a God whose name is love.  Love is blind.  Love cannot discriminate nor see distinctions.

We have choices today because we are sober.  It is our choice to be a voice of love or a force complicit with fear.  Which will it be?

“We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  ELIE WIESEL

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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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