who are you?

Just 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 is overflowing.

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There was a time in my life when I thought that one day in the future I should be able to  describe and define God.  It was an element of my faith walk which led me to believe spiritual maturity could be captured and confined in a treasure box of heavenly secrets and knowledge.  When I had attained certitude in all things which previously were questioning and unknowing, I would then be a wise and ‘saved’ man of God.

Didn’t work that way, folks.  Today I know less than I did yesterday and there are many more questions than answers.  But, there is also comfort in knowing that the unknown is an integral part of the mystery which we call God.  The ancient writings of Judaism recorded in the book of Exodus tell us that when Moses had a personal encounter with God emanating from a burning bush, Moses asked, “What shall I say is your name?” and the answer was, “I AM Who I AM.”  (Exodus 3:14)

In my mind, that answer always seemed to be such an evasive response to a man as myself who wanted a definitive description or a name to use.  Essentially God said to Moses and to me, “You don’t need to get so familiar with me as to think you have unraveled the mystery which I AM.”  God, in Exodus 3, is a reassuring presence, not an identifiable entity.

I need to be satisfied with that.  That reassuring presence is all I need to know.  Maybe Jesus understood that presence in his life’s journey on earth.  He referred to God as Father while living a life motivated  by spiritual nobility more than absolute knowledge. He shared the essence of his faith in sayings and parables often confusing listeners who were not attuned to God as a spiritually reassuring Presence.   If I were to ask, contrary to contemporary theology, what if Jesus was not on earth to establish a divinity demanding worship and adoration upon his death?   Rather, what if he lived to present to humanity nothing more than an example of life dedicated to service and humility?

Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily blog commented,

“No one owns him (Jesus), and no one ever will.” cac.org

As an American, as a white man, as a Christian I need to be extremely careful what image I impose upon Jesus.  I need to eat some humble pie when thinking that I know everything there is to know.  I will never fully know the beauty of Jesus or the identity of God because I am still a broken vessel struggling to fathom the depths of God’s presence and Jesus’ soul.  All I can do is aspire to a fuller acceptance of and surrender to the universal mystery known as God, my reassuring Presence.

Jesus is attributed with the words of Matthew 7:7 that we should keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking and we will receive what we are asking and find what we are seeking.  The doors in front of us will open.  Beyond those doors will be more asking, more seeking and more doors to open.  If I should think that I have arrived, that I have the answers, that all the doors have been opened, then I, in my errant theological certitude, shall have strayed from the purpose of my own spiritual quest. Matthew 7:7open door

Giovanni Bernardone

Just 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 is overflowing.

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You and I have read in the Gospels the verses where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor” (Matthew 19:21), “Consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow” (Luke 12:24,27), and “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

Challenging?  Absolutely.  Then, when I am convinced that these are unattainable directives, I remember that I am following a suggested program of spiritual recovery.  I can never do it perfectly in this lifetime.  On the practical side, Jesus in his life on earth probably never had material wealth with which to concern himself.  He did not share the wealth of the Romans or the Jewish religious hierarchy.

Jesus also said not to worry about tomorrow.  For us in today’s world of turmoil and tribulation this also is a difficult directive to follow.  Tell that to the federal employees who worked without a paycheck for 34 days, or the father of four who has been told his company is shutting down next week, or the single mother who is trying to provide for her family on a minimum wage job.  C’mon Jesus, this is 2019.  We have a lot more about which to worry.

And as for enemies, Jesus, even though you were crucified, you didn’t have nuclear weapons controlled by madmen poised to obliterate you, your city and your country.  I don’t mean to slight your perspective, but we live in different times.  There are people who seriously hate us because of who we are.  And you want us to love them?

Francesco faced the same issues in his home town.  Pietro Bernardone returned from a business trip to France to learn that in his absence his wife had birthed a son whom she baptized Giovanni honoring John the Baptist.  Pietro was furious.  He did not want a man of God – he wanted a man of business.  He renamed his son Francesco.

Francesco enjoyed a very happy, privileged childhood.  As he grew up, he became the leader of a crowd of young people who loved to party and carouse.  Thomas of Celano said of him, “In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice.”

But Francesco did not want to be a businessman like his father.  He wanted to be a fighter and got his chance to do so when his town declared war on the nearby town of Perugia.  Captured and thrown in prison, he was finally ransomed after a year and returned to his life partying with his friends.  But he still wanted to be a noble, a knight of distinction.

He got his opportunity when a call went out for knights to join the Fourth Crusade.  He was fitted with a suit of armor decorated with gold and a magnificent cloak, then rode off to join the Crusade.  But, only a day’s ride from his home town, Francesco had a dream in which God told him he was wrong and should return home.

At this point in the story, you and I should ask, “Why would a wealthy, worldly, privileged noble man accustomed to parties and fun-loving friends heed a God-dream and abandon his own personal dream of pursuing honor and fame?”

Upon returning home he was humiliated, laughed at, called a coward and raged at by his father who had funded the expensive suit of armor.

And thus begins the converted life of Francis of Assisi.  God called him and he could only answer, “Yes.”  Reading the passages about giving up all possessions, living for today, and loving his enemies, Francis decided to live as if Jesus really meant what he said in scriptures.  He turned his back on the materialism and militarism of the world and said, “Yes , Jesus.”

I believe that is what Jesus wants us to do.  He doesn’t want us to impoverish ourselves, to live irresponsible lives, or to throw ourselves down at the feet of our enemies.  He just wants us to say, “Yes.”

Francis of Assisihttp://www.cac.org

Giovanni Bernardone  – http://www.catholic.org

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red letter Christians

Just 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 is overflowing.

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One of my daily reads is RED LETTER CHRISTIANS. It is a ministry which I use to lead my desire for simplicity in my faith walk.  You may have a red letter KJV Bible as I do.  Mine was presented to me on the occasion of confirmation at age 13 into the Lutheran Church.  Over the years I felt a need to add a Scofield, a Comparative Study Bible which presents 4 translations side-by-side, and an American Standard Bible.  I also have a translation of the Torah and a Concordance.  Additionally, my book shelves overflow with commentaries and theological opinions.

I am not trying to impress you with my collection of books.  I am letting you know that I am the ultimate doubter.  I am the apostle Thomas in the Jesus story.  “Let me see your hands with the nail holes and the scars on your head from the crown of thorns.  Prove to me through the many books which I have read that you are real, that you are indeed a Lord and Master.”

And nothing happened.  I learned an abundance of information about Israel, about Jerusalem, about the apostles who followed Jesus, about life under the Jewish religious hierarchy, about the oppression of the common people.  But, I sadly realized that somehow I was not getting the message.  And why was that?

I began to understand through engaging with the community of ‘red letter Christians’, those followers who find their truth in the red letters of the Bible, the words which are attributed to Jesus, the Christ, the union of man and God. The words, the teachings, the parables, the healings popped off the printed page and became real when I saw them as a guide to living rather than a God 101 course.  When I read those red letters as a call to action rather than a statement of belief, my faith can be transactional rather than static.

I believe Jesus spoke those red letter words in his ministry, but it doesn’t matter if he did not.  I believe he walked the earth as a common peasant, that he had healing powers, that he performed miracles, that he died on a cross.  But it does not matter if he did not because I do not worship Jesus, I merely aspire in my everyday life to be more like the man portrayed in my Bible.  I accept those red letters presented to doubters like me as proof that you and I can hope to live life abundantly even when persecuted,  even when destitute, even when crucified for being who we are.

Many of you, like me, grew up in churches with spectacular stained glass windows, with a crucifix in the sanctuary and paintings depicting Biblical stories.  Some of us mistakenly were taught to worship those icons and images.  The heavens were filled with angels and a wrathful God holding lightning bolts in his hand.  We recited the Creeds as statements of belief.  But nowhere in those creeds does the humanity of Jesus take precedence.  The love, compassion, forgiveness are forgotten.  In the Apostles’ Creed Jesus is taken from “born of the Virgin Mary” to persecution under Pontius Pilate to crucifixion on the cross, to death.

Did Jesus not live a life in his 32-34 years walking the earth between “born of the Virgin Mary” to “died and was buried”?  That was the missing link in my years playing the role of doubting Thomas.  The red letters tell me about the man who ministered to the poor, healed the broken, forgave the sinner, and also lived his life abundantly.  He did not shy away from a wedding with flowing wine or a good time with friends or supper with society’s disenfranchised.

That’s the Jesus to whom I can relate, the one I want my life to emulate.

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be still my soul

 

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My Lord, you are my shepherd; I don’t have need for anything.  Even as the dark shadows surround me, I am not afraid because your word and presence give me comfort.  The enemies of my soul are lurking in wait for me to stumble and fall, but I will not falter.  Where You lead I will follow.  You are my shepherd.  You have set a table for me overflowing with abundance and hope.  Surely nothing can separate us for the rest of my days because your mercy and goodness are with me and I know that I am blessed.

“Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Hymn #651
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Psalm 46:10
Author: Catharine Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, 1752, cento
Translated by: Jane Borthwick, 1855
Titled: “Stille, mein Wille”
Composer: Jean Sibelius, b. 1865, arr.
Tune: “Finlandia”

butterfly

 

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  MAYA ANGELOU

Why is it that butterflies become beautiful in our sight only when they have survived the stages of development leading up to their appearance before us in our yards as flitting, soaring, gliding, sailing, dancing, fluttering marvels of nature?  We hardly appreciate them as eggs, larvae, and caterpillars.  Rarely do we say, “Oh look! A spectacular worm.”

Members of the Kingdom animalia, Phylum Euarthropoda, Class insecta, Order lepidoptera are a species dating to the Paleocene Era about 56 million years ago.  The eastern North American population of monarchs can travel thousands of miles to over-wintering sites in Mexico and reverse the migration in the spring.  The British painted lady undertakes a 9000 mile round trip in a series of steps by up to six generations from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle. WIKIPEDIA

Yes, I am about to compare us, humans, to butterflies.  Don’t you see the similarity?  Or, if you would rather, I could liken us to mosquitoes or house flies?  (Yes, I have been called maggot on occasion.)  We do, after all, share some pesky traits with those insects also.  OK, then.  Now that we see eye to eye,  I am going to call you and me beautiful butterflies.  As you perused the opening photographs, which one is most splendid to you?  Did you choose one that is brightly colored? or one that is intricately patterned? or one that is a stately monochrome?

The extravagant beauty of a butterfly is self-evident.  We see it, we marvel, and we say, “Oh, what a lovely creature that is!”  Not so much with us humans.  We are short, tall, obese and slender.  We are black, brown, red, yellow, white and many shades in between.  We have black hair, brown hair, red hair, blonde hair, straight hair, curly hair and like those of us who have raised too many children or seen too many years, we have white hair or no hair.  Not all of us are at our beautiful butterfly stage.  Some of us are in the not-so-pretty stages of eggs, larvae and caterpillars.  Men especially can relate to being called a “worm” by a disgruntled spouse.

But, as Maya Angelou so profoundly says it, our transformational beauty has to endure the sometimes ugly stages before we are recognized by the world as the gorgeous humans which we are.  Whatever size, shape, shade, or sex we grow up to be, we are beautiful when allowed and encouraged to mature into a sailing, soaring, fluttering, floating masterpiece of the Lord’s handiwork.

Just like the butterfly, each one of us is a miraculous creation in his/her own right.  The Book of Genesis tells us that God created each of us in the image of God. GENESIS 1:27  Male and female He made them in his image.  The wisdom of the ancients tells us that we are God-like.  So how can we be anything less than beautiful, compassionate, loving, replicas of our Creator?

Of course, you can be a pesky mosquito or house fly.  They also have purpose and reason in God’s universe.  It’s your choice.  But, I’m going to be a swallowtail when I grow up.

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Psalm 23

Just 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.

“It’s January.  Outside the weather is cold and dreary.   Melancholy is knocking on the front door.  I’m looking for warmth and comfort within.  Join me?

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

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don’t forget to K.I.S.S.

Just 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.

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There currently is a television commercial depicting a hiker walking on a beautiful, unfamiliar wooded trail using GPS as a guide.  In an instant he drops his backpack, runs ahead on the trail.  The last scene is disconcerting to me, even though I have seen it many times.  Running at full speed, he jumps off a cliff several 100 feet high into a beautiful shimmering lake awaiting below.

Would you trust your GPS that implicitly?  Could I?  Trust it enough to jump off a cliff to certain death if the data is not correct?  What if there is no deep water at the end of my jump to cushion my fall?

We are asked to do the same with our faith.  Nobody has returned from death to tell us about the glories of heaven or the depths of hell.  Nobody has seen Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. NOBODY!  So why should we believe?  I am a rational, reasonable human being who has spent numerous decades trying to determine what life is about and I have as much certitude now as I did when I came into this world.

BINGO!  Faith is not about certitude.  Faith is trust in the mystery which tells us that light will overcome the darkness, that love will prevail, that peace on earth will occur when mankind becomes peaceful in all his affairs.  Faith is not at the end of the trail,  a destiny to be attained.  Rather, it is the trail itself.

We read scriptures for many reasons.  The history of the Jews is an interesting lesson in the human condition.  All the trials, the greed, the intolerance, the violence are balanced by victory over ego, insights about communal living, stories that reflect man’s search for God.

The writings by the contemporaries of Jesus relate His message that relieves followers from the 613 Laws of the Old Covenant observed by ancient Jewish culture.  Some Christian leaders today carry across the B.C / A.D line those Old Covenant laws attempting to override the simple message of Christianity regarding laws (commandments).

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength.  The second is this:  love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”  Mark: 12:30-31

Pretty simple, straight-forward theology, is it not?  We don’t need anything more to trust that our faith is heading in the right direction.  Forget all the ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt not’ from the ponderous teachings and preachings of modern Christianity which have done more to oppress than enlighten.  That is what John said:

“If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”  John 8:36

He’s talking about freedom from the oppression of ancient theology and theological laws.  We can trust a simple faith which places God and love for fellow-man at the center of our beliefs.  Nothing more is needed.

How we live our faith is a choice we make every day.  The rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous urge us onward with this daily choice by slogans on the wall.  K.I.S.S. – Keep ISimple Stupid – is one of them which embodies a way of living, a faith walk if you will, that frees us from concerns about religious correctness.  The fellowship which occurs in those rooms attests to the success of making sober-living people out of drunkards through a simple spiritual program.  Have you KISSED today?

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