my truth, your truth?

 

CANDLE

Composing thoughts and words into a train of rational ideas in a civil manner should not be difficult.  But it often is.  Blurting out insults and hurtful rhetoric seems to be the acceptable means of communication in society, especially American society.  Tweeting has usurped conversation as the American way of communicating.  Just as civility and decorum have been relegated to the days of Emily Post and her book of social etiquette,  ideals such as “compassion” and “compromise” are unfashionable.

Public conversations that would have shamed and assaulted our grandparents’ sense of  decency now are the norm.  So much disturbing visual and auditory material presenting itself as entertainment has been televised and telecast that it no longer is shocking or disgusting.  The evolution of humanity’s civilities, which had spanned a millennia of generations to a heightened awareness of solidarity, appears to have hit full speed reverse returning us to times of insensitive brutality and barbarism.

In these times a reliance on inner truth is essential to peaceful coexistence within the brotherhood of mankind.  Humanity is blessed with a code of moral and civil conduct which is universal.  It is not dependent on any particular religion or philosophy because it is an inherent part of each person’s DNA.  Call it conscience if you like or name it the spark of divinity within.  The faith of Judaism defines this code perfectly with its Decalogue, the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus.

In today’s society we are pummeled with “alternate facts”, a difficult concept to comprehend.  Does this mean that there is alternate truth?  Does this mean a man is able to support any action, any behavior, any speech because he supports an alternate truth?  What a revelation!  I can now be as despicable and perverse as my nature dictates because I follow an alternative truth.

Hitler, Vlad the Impaler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, Manson, the Marquis de Sade would be poster boys for alternate truth.  Some politicians of today would be examples.  No!  There is no alternative truth.  Truth is truth and it is recognized by the edicts of conscience.  Some of today’s world powers, many of whom control finances and government, have apparently blinded their collective conscience in pursuit of dominance and control.  In the end they will be known (proven) by their fruits.

An interesting verse of Christian literature, Matthew 7:6, states that followers should not ‘cast their pearls before the swine.’  The pearls are the truth which Christians name as the Gospel, an ethic which messengers of all relevant faith walks have presented to humanity.  It is freely available, but it requires an inward journey and an outward expression of compassion to peacefully co-exist with a world run amok.  Matthew 7:6 seems to contradict the evangelical command to preach to all the world the Good News, but when the Christian Gospel is seen as Christ within, then it is sensible teaching.  That which will not be understood by those who prefer not to understand should not be held open to the unbelievers’ scorn, ridicule, and attack.  That which is cherished within should be protected.  The life I lead, the demeanor which I present to the world will reflect my inner truth, but, ultimately it is personal, it is private, and it is transforming.  When the powers of worldly institutions refuse to understand and incorporate universal truths, then, as Matthew 10:14 advises, “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet…..”

speaking truth

 

 

truth

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

truth

Do we know what truth is?  In today’s worldly rhetoric, truth has become a relative concept.  Truth depends on circumstances, truth is shaped by one’s environment, truth  can be bent to fit one’s personal ambitions.  We are told that trusted news sources are untruthful and mankind is not inherently honest.  Political views are castigated by those professing a different truth, spiritual bearing is challenged by sects who claim theirs is the only truth.  So, the question is, “How do we know truth?”

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”  Buddha

Must we search?  Should we read scriptures?  Do we need to find a spiritual guru?  The Buddha says the sun and the moon cannot be hidden for long.  We know this to be truth because, when we look at the heavens, there we see the sun and the moon.  That fact is evident, it is obvious.  The  Buddha also says truth cannot be hidden.  It is as evident and as visual as the sun and the moon.

In the tradition of Buddhism, a path is offered.  It is called MAGGA, the eight-fold pathway to enlightenment:

  1. right understanding
  2. right thoughts
  3. right speech
  4. right action – nonviolence
  5. right livelihood – nonviolent
  6. right effort
  7. right mindfulness
  8. right concentration – meditation

We should note that none of the eight-fold path involves deeply secretive, spiritual practices to finding enlightenment or truth.  It is totally a manner of lifestyle which we undertake to the best of our abilities.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:31-32

This directive set forth by Jesus of Nazareth is clearly specific.  Know the teachings and lifestyle of the human manifestation of Christianity’s God, follow that example known as “the Way” as best as humanly possible, and we shall know the truth.  Hallelujah!  Truth is not relative to circumstances or environment.  It cannot be manipulated or bent to one’s personal needs and desires.  Truth is attainable by adherence to a lifestyle of love and compassion directed toward others, to ourselves, and to the Earth itself.  It will be as evident as the sun and the moon in our skies.

“Watch out for false prophets.  They will come to you in sheep’s clothing , but inwardly they are as ferocious wolves.”Matthew 7:15

It is our mission to share our truth.  When attuned to the spiritual presence which defines each of us, we are able to share and communicate in a kindly manner the truth which has set us free.  Jesus and the Buddha in us will always portray as  non-violence in thought, word, and deed.

 

 

CANDLE

 

 

 

 

 

flowers

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

Like a beautiful flower, full of color, but without scent,
are the fine but fruitless words
of those who do not act accordingly.
But like a beautiful flower, full of color and full of scent,
are the fine and fruitful words
of those who do act accordingly.

from FLOWERS,  the Buddha

cropped-p1010014.jpg

We are encouraged in our faith walks and recovery programs to “walk the talk”.  Scriptures and rhetoric flow easily off the tongues of many religious and political leaders only to be sadly contradicted by actions which betray their words.  From the pulpits and the podiums flow endless streams of righteousness and exhortation but their eloquence produces no discernible spiritual fruit.

In these tumultuous times of hatred and vitriol spewing forth from politicians, clergy, and fellow citizens, many of us find our spiritual foundations rocked with a gut-wrenching desire to join in the melee of harshness and discord.  In a heartbeat, in a moment of anger, I can become as evil and slanderous as the worst of the worst seen in the newspapers or on the viewing screens.  In a fit of righteousness I can charge, judge, and condemn the most vocal offenders of my life’s philosophy.  I deem myself omnipotent. It is then that I immediately become a part of the problem and not a promoter of the solution.

Talk is cheap.  However, walking the talk is a never-ending endeavor which separates men from boys, wise from foolish, sheep from goats.  The Buddha attained nirvana following a path of selflessness and principled living.  Jesus and his disciples established a kingdom on earth led by the principles of “the Way.”  Gandhi won liberation for his people through non-violent dissent.  Martin Luther King, Jr. promoted non-violent protest as the vehicle to attain civil rights for African-Americans.  They all walked their talk.  Each of them was a peacemaker.

That also is my challenge in this life.  I shall probably never attain greatness or recognition, but I can always strive to lace my thoughts, speech, and actions with mindfulness and compassion.  I want the flowers of my life to be sweetly scented and fruitful.  Engaging in and wallowing in hatefulness and vitriol is not an option.  Filling my head with the latest scandal from media talking heads does not encourage enlightenment.  Ancient wisdom teaches that what  blossoms in the mind is who we are as a humanity.  Fruit or thorns?  Peace or strife?  Compassion or oppression?  It truly begins within each of us.

NAMASTE

rainbow

 

in sickness and in health

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

orange tree

Everybody raise their hand who has been sick in 2018.  Yes, I’m talking about those days when the influenza in your home town finally catches up to you.   You have taken precautions, you have avoided crowded rooms, you meticulously wiped down your grocery cart’s handle with a sanitizing wipe, but one morning you wake up and there it is.

Feeling green, sniffling, headache, fever, running to the bathroom every 10 minutes.  It’s not something which I love enough to enjoy , but when I realize I will be sick for a few days, I relish the thoughts of having an excuse to be all about me, me, me.

“Oh, sweetheart, please fetch my slippers.  Can you bring the newspaper over to me?  I’m so cold, would you find my favorite blanket.”

I line up a full day of watching TV because I’m sick.  I hang out in my jammies all day because I’m sick.  I cancel all activity outside my own little crisis because I’m sick.  I become a grouch with the excuse that I’m sick.  I yell at the dog because I’m sick.  I’m sick, sick, sick, and the world needs to tend to my needs.

That’s me when I get sick.  I’m sure none of you are like that.  When I don’t feel well I sometimes forget that I’m a Jesus freak.  I forget that there are people in the world who are starving and homeless.  I forget there are some who are also sick with the latest round of influenza and have no bed in which to snuggle, no fuzzy blanket with which to cover themselves, no chicken broth to warm their insides.  For them being sick with flu is sometimes a matter of life and death and it intensifies the misery that normally fills their lives.

I relate the times of physical sickness to the days of soul sickness, the days spent in the hell of alcoholism.  When my flu finally reaches its worst point and recovery appears on the horizon, I become ecstatic with the thought that there is nowhere to go but up.  It’s similar to the transformative realization that when I hit the bottom in my alcoholism, I was ready to be healed and get healthy.  Life was guaranteed to get better.  No, not easier or trouble-free, but better.

The book of Luke tells us about Jesus walking with his disciples to Jerusalem.  He knew he was about to be betrayed, tried, tortured, and crucified.  Undoubtedly Jesus was sad and conflicted about that which was about to happen.  I would be.  I would be mortified and screaming to God to find another course for me to follow.  The last thing on my mind would be the suffering of another person.  “Me, me, me.  All of you, pay attention to me, I’m about to be crucified in a few days.”

When they came to Jericho, a blind man named Bartimeus sat by the roadside begging.  He heard that Jesus was coming,

“…..he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.  And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.”  

Jesus heard Bartimeus and commanded him to come forward, “What wilt thou that I should do unto you?”

“…..Lord, that I might receive my sight.”

The last line, verse 52 of Mark 10 tells us that Bartimeus did indeed receive his sight and followed Jesus in THE WAY.

There are astonishing lessons for us in this account by the author of Mark.  1) Bartimeus had such great unconditional faith in the power of Jesus that, after his miraculous healing, he became a follower of the movement of Jesus and his disciples which was called THE WAY, 2) a fully human Jesus, undoubtedly overwhelmed with great despair over his approaching crucifixion, nevertheless overshadowed his own sorrow with compassion for a suffering blind man.

Could I do that?  Probably not.  I’d be in bed under my blankets whining for my jammies and hot chicken broth.

CANDLE

 

 

 

endurance

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.

 

I have great memories of the days not too long ago when my body allowed me to be a passionate jogger.  Most memorable was the Sunday that I was able to do a 5 mile run and then, with abundant energy and strength in reserve, a 15 mile hike through the countryside which I called home.  It was exhilarating to return to my house, enjoy a hot shower, and a hearty dinner.  I was a jogger for many years until the aging process caught up to me and sidelined my ambitious running routine to a vigorous walk.

The key element to a successful run was endurance.  I did not always have a desire to run 5 miles, I did not always feel that I could complete the challenge.  Sometimes it was simply putting one foot in front of the other, focusing on a roadside tree 100 yards ahead, and then upon arriving at that tree finding another goal 100 yards further ahead.  But, the carrot on the stick was that runner’s high which told me that my world was as close to perfect as it would ever be.  It was the reward for steadfast, sometimes painful, endurance.

That same ethic of endurance is what keeps me going as a Jesus freak.  The world around me which cascades across my viewing screens and in the newspaper does its utmost to take me out of the race, to bring to me knees and cry out, “Where is the justice, where are you God when so much oppression and violence is happening?  Don’t you see that I am hurting?”  And it is there on my knees that my questioning plea is answered.

“I am that I am.  I am love, compassion, justice, wisdom, and mercy.  I am the One worthy of trust,  deserving of reverence, entitled to worship.  I am your hope.  I am your trek’s destination.  I will always be your endurance through the world’s pain.”

My run through this lifetime will always encounter hazards, slowdowns, and detours.  It has been ordained to be that way because running for Jesus is not for wimps.  We were told nearly 2000 years ago that the world would ridicule, despise, and persecute us for our devotion.  Those who embrace the lies of this world fail to understand the simplicity of a message which was delivered to all mankind.

“I am the way, the truth and the life,” John 14:6, does not refer to a picture hanging on a church wall or a molded likeness of Christ hanging on a cross waiting for our adoration and worship.  No, it says that we have an example to follow, the Way, which will lead us to communion with God.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever….for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things….whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.”  Psalms 107

Endurance – it’s a two way street.  God’s love for me endures forever.  My devotion needs to also be enduring.  It will never be as perfect but it can be steadfast.

CANDLE

 

 

 

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

 

poverty

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.

 

My friends, I am a statistic.  I never truly wanted to be one, nor do I feel special because I am one.  But, my government has included me as one of those living in America as poor.  That word brings unsettling thoughts to mind.  As a young boy I remember my family driving to town for a movie and we passed by a large, rambling brick building which resembled a military barracks.  It was the “poor house”.  In that building lived people just like you and I who went into debt, could not pay their bills and subsequently were confined by court order in the poor house.  To some it was a justified end result for failing to survive within the community.  To others it was an undignified response to a financial difficulty.  To me it was a personal commitment to never be poor.

I pursued that idealistic commitment throughout my teen years.  I was earning an income from age 12, I had saved enough money to buy my first car at 16, and I was well on the way to a funded college education.  But then, addiction stepped into my life.  Not only did it step in, it overtook every dream, every plan, every moment of my life.  I was 18 years old.  Wrecked my car, lost my zeal for college, and took a job pumping gas at a Gulf station.  The final nail in my dream’s coffin was a failed endeavor in the military.

I was devastated when my shrink told me I had a problem with alcohol.  “No, no, no”, I silently screamed, “alcohol is my friend, it makes me the kind of man I could never be before.  It allows me to be the life of the party.  It makes me fearless.  It comforts me in my desperate attempts to fight depression.  I love my friend alcohol.”

That love affair ended but the disease of alcoholism continued to direct my life for another 14 years.  My recovery story is one of millions worldwide who have claimed victory over alcohol through the grace of a Higher Power, a salvific force which I name God today.  But the effects and damage to my emotional self have been lasting and slow to correct.  Many years into sobriety were necessary to regain self-esteem, love for myself, and love for others.  Many fellowship meetings were necessary to truly realize what I had surrendered to alcoholism.  Recovery of the lost opportunities often did not materialize.

My life today is just another miracle story in the annals of recovery miracles.  I am one of millions who have found riches and blessings through sober-living.  I know without reservation that my needs as well as many of my wants are always met.  God works grace as only God can through the people in my life today.  Yes, according to society I am a poor man, but in my eyes I am the richest, most blessed man on earth.

I live in one of the most beautiful spots on earth next to the headwaters of a wide, slow-flowing river.  It is a tropical paradise complete with manatees, alligators, orchids, butterflies, and world-renown fishing opportunities.  My friend accepts rent from me when I have it, but doesn’t concern himself when I’m cash stressed.  Another friend, a wealthy lady, seems to intuitively know when our freezer is nearly empty and energizer bunnyvolunteers her reserve of frozen meats which she claims are overloading her freezer.  My 21 year-old pickup truck is like the Energizer bunny, keeps on going and going and going.

Most appreciated are the handful of friends who have blessed my life.  If my housing situation changes, one has offered to help me reestablish in Miami and another has offered his spare bedroom.  Our community has a multitude of food pantries and health care services.  Several agencies offer a variety of assistance for the “less fortunate”.  They probably do not need to know that, contrary to being less fortunate, I am one of the most fortunate souls in Florida. I just happen to be fiscally challenged.

Being a poverty statistic is no longer a sentence to the “poor house” as it was in the days of my youth.  In many ways it is a freeing experience, an opportunity to address false pride and accept the graciousness of others.  Janis Joplin, a musical genius of my youth, sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”

Scriptures repeatedly admonish those who truly seek the Kingdom to abandon their worldly wealth and seek the life exemplified by Jesus and the Buddha.  To voluntarily strip of material prosperity and affluence would be extremely difficult.  Ha!  Another reason I am indescribably fortunate.  Assuming the life of poverty is not a decision I need to make for it has been made for me.

In the book of Matthew, just before his crucifixion, Jesus received from Mary of Bethany expensive perfume which she poured upon his head much to the consternation of his disciples who admonished her for wasting a perfume which could have been sold for much money to give to the poor.

“Why trouble ye this woman?  for she hath wrought a good work upon me.  For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.”  Matthew 26: 10-11 

The author of Deuteronomy in verse 11 of chapter 15 attributes this directive to his Lord:

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to the needy, in thy land.”

The poor shall never cease and will always be with us.  It’s a blessing which empowers those who fall into poverty to overcome the idol of materialism and seek solace in relinquishing an attitude of self-reliance.  It is also a blessing to the one who has financial resources and is able to discover the  selflessness within which is necessary to open  wide his hand to the brother, the poor, the needy.

Indeed, I am richly, undeservedly blessed.

CANDLE