Oscar Romero

Today the Archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated in 1980 by a hit squad of the El Salvadoran government, a government supported, sanctioned, and financed by the USA, will be sainted by the Catholic Church.  He was a strong  public voice for the voiceless and anonymous poor of El Salvador and Latin America.  A few weeks before his murder, Father Romero said:

“I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility. . . . A bishop will die, but God’s church, which is the people, will never perish.” 

From a telephone interview with newspaper correspondent José Calderón Salazar. See James R. Brockman, Romero: A Life (Orbis Books: 2005), 247-248. cac.org

In my quiet time today I want to consider Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr, the countless men and women of faith who would not deny the calling which had been put upon them by an unseen, indescribable, and undefinable Power, a greater Power.  They did not follow the mandate to minister to the marginalized and oppressed because they wanted to be historical martyrs.  No, they did so because their interpretation of the Scriptures said it was the right path to follow.  They read the holy writings from the viewpoint of the humble, meek, sacrificial servant called Jesus Christ.   Not the Church nor the authorities of the Church nor the powers of government deterred them from the mission of their lives.

Am I living my life as they did?  Lord knows I want to, but I stumble in weakness and doubt so many times.  Who am I to think I can make a difference, as these great warriors did,  for the poor and persecuted?  What can my ministry be at my age, the sunset of this life?  When I arrive at that final destination will someone say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. . . .  And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” —Matthew 5:10,12, The Message

Lord, I beg to be blessed.

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just breathe

“be, just be”

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“Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11: 28-30

If I can’t find comfort in the lyrics to the Jonny Diaz song and the Matthew verse attributed to Jesus, then I am probably too busy with the insanity of this world.  One does not have to profess Christianity in order to appreciate a place where life is good and chaos is non-existent.  For me, that place is at the feet of Jesus soaking in the peace available through His words and love.  It is a peace and love given freely to all who seek.  It is undeserved and unmerited grace from the center of a universal force which has been named with various names, but remains undefinable and indescribable.  Breathe, just breathe, and sit with me at His feet.

No demands, no expectations, no rules.  Life changes dramatically when we put on the yoke of Jesus because that yoke is light and easy.  Our efforts to be more righteous are futile because all the righteousness we can muster is as dung to the One who knows and sees everything.  Our good works keep our idle minds busy and temptation resistant, but we are loved regardless.  It’s mind-boggling.  No strings attached; be, just be.

But, when the freedom of this yoke which we assume is manifested in our lives, we will want to change, to be different from the rest of the world which mindlessly zooms past us every day.  We want to be centered in a faith that matters.  We want to see in others the same Jesus that has freed us from the burdens of this world and we want to share that Jesus in all that we say and do.  We become a spark of divinity that can’t be extinguished by chaos and frenzy.

“Breathe, just breathe.  Come and rest at his feet. Lay down what’s good and find what’s best.”

 

 

 

 

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”