SHEEP

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well.  They too listen to my voice.”  JOHN 10:16

“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”   GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Plays Pleasant, 1898

The one discipline which gives hope to my occasional hopelessness is acceptance that I do not see the entire picture.  My inner vision is limited by environment, by prejudices, by experiences.  Sometimes, in meditation, a window to  enlightened thinking is opened. Often, when reading the scriptures of wisdom, a metaphor pops off the page and it becomes a moment of eternal truth.

John 10:16 does that for me.  I love the perception which Jesus shared of his followers as sheep.  A protector, a guide, an admonisher who in all actions lovingly guides me through the perils of life.  It’s a comforting metaphor beautifully embodied in Psalm 23 which, assuredly, Jesus read as a young boy in the temple.

My ego wants me to think that I am special, that I am unique.  Multiply that egoistic need by millions of others who are seeking comfort and truth in a perilous world and the concept of exclusiveness becomes real.  “My belief, my religion, my theology is the only correct way to believe.  All you other sheep are misguided heathens. Baaaaaa.”

For me, this is the nugget of understanding which nails my ego to its cross.  I am not the only sheep that Jesus loves.  Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc., etc., are just a piece of the spiritual puzzle called  Christianity which is just a part of the message shared by all the great faith walks of the world.  Jesus leads my life personally, yes.  But, Jesus is also Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, Allah, and all the purveyors of the one message of truth.  That message is that I am a servant serving under a God of love and compassion.  That God is universal truth.

Labels are probably important for someone like me whose ego needs identity, but using that label to distinguish and separate me from all the other sheep is counterproductive to the messages of wisdom found in scriptures.

“My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you.  If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that.  I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.”  JOHN 14:2 The Voice

 

guess who’s coming to dinner?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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I’m having a dinner party next week to celebrate my 71st.  You are all invited.  The menu isn’t yet decided so if anybody has food allergies, restrictions, or dietary quirks, please let me know now.  I don’t expect a full table as several of my friends took issue with my political stance in 2016, a few of my church associates don’t agree with my views on theology, the next door neighbors aren’t speaking ever since I asked them to curb their dogs, and numerous family members have disowned me because of – well, let’s just say they don’t approve of my choice in life partners.  Other than those decliners, I’d say we’ll have a table to celebrate.

I wonder if Jesus would accept my invitation?  Would he come to my party and share a meal with me despite my, er….limitations?  I know he sat with his disciples for the Passover meal before he was crucified.  But, they were all of like minds.  They were his devoted followers.  Even a man as revered and popular as Jesus could only get a dozen people to his dinner.  Lord, maybe I should be content with three of four people.  Do you think Jesus would come to my birthday dinner?  Would you mind sharing a table with him?

Maybe he  had doubts, too, about his dinner plans.  The laws in the Book of Leviticus defined right from wrong in Jewish culture.  The Scriptures tell me that Jesus suffered severe rebukes from the Jewish hierarchy for his departures from those laws.  The dietary and social customs were very strict and he broke most of them.

“Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?'”  MATTHEW 9: 10-11  The Message

It seems that those Pharisees were not easy men to please.  Jesus said:

“For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, he hath a demon.  The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”  LUKE 7:33-34 ASV

He shared dinner with a Pharisee, named Simon, and when he had taken his place at the table

“…..a woman from the city – notorious as a woman of ill repute – follows him in.  She has heard that Jesus will be at the Pharisee’s home, so she comes in and approaches Him, carrying an alabaster flask of perfumed oil.  Then she begins to cry, she kneels down so her tears fall on Jesus’ feet, and she starts wiping his feet with her own hair.  Then she actually kisses his feet, and she pours the perfumed oil on them.” LUKE 7:36-38 the Voice

Simon was shocked and questioned whether Jesus was truly a Prophet because he thought a prophet would not associate with a harlot.  Not only did Jesus share meals with those whom the traditions of Judaism considered unworthy, he stayed overnight in their houses.

“……he looked up, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they (Pharisees) saw it, they all murmured, saying, he is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.'”  LUKE 19:5-7 ASV

The Judaic laws presented in Leviticus chapters 17-24, the laws which excluded multitudes of people from the “table” were not Jesus’ idea of God.  He met and knew a different God – one who was all about mercy and compassion.

Jesus is definitely coming to my birthday dinner.  Don’t any of you worry about putting on your best clothes or sprucing up your manners. He doesn’t care about that.  All he wants is your heart and your soul.  Hmmmm, what does one cook for Jesus?  Should we have a birthday cake?  I guess pork is not a good idea.

 

just knock

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”
Rumi 1207-1273

It’s all about surrender, is it not?  For me, surrender is one of the most difficult things to accept and yet I know it can be miraculously transforming.  When I give up my will, when I beg for guidance, when the great “I” becomes nothing, it is there that the nothingness of my life becomes the greatest something ever experienced.  It is then that my life becomes a useful tool.

It’s about willingness.  It’s a desire to knock on the door and seek entry into the universe of compassionate co-existence with humanity and all of creation.  The infinite wisdom of a greater power gave me the choice to decide which door I will take.  Often in my life I have not taken that door choosing my way instead.  That decision thrilled the needs of ego, but led to devastating consequences.  In retrospect, those self-directed decisions were necessary for the growth of my faith walk.

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“Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find.  Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you.  All who ask receive.  Those who seek, find what they seek.  And he who knocks, will have the door opened.  MATTHEW 7:7-8  the Voice

These verses from the Book of Matthew are words of Jesus telling me that the actions of asking, seeking, and knocking are not a once and done deal.  It is an ongoing process which leads to a continuing regeneration and renewal.  I must apply the surrender and willingness (the seeking) to everyday life expecting always to have doors opened and answers received.

FREEDOM

larry6

 

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

I was not a Bible fan when my first days of recovery rocked my world.  If anything, I was quite the opposite, arguing and ridiculing Bible promoters.  I soon learned that it was not the message which I disliked, but the messengers who misconstrued, misinterpreted, and outright lied about the message.

My recovery fellowship shed light on the misconceptions which I had developed over the years of pain and brokenness.  Slowly, I adjusted my attitude to a more tolerant view of Scriptures and began listening to other voices which were proclaiming the greatness of a Higher Power.  Surprisingly, that Higher Power was not the same God of my childhood.  My earlier concept had maligned and obstructed any reasonable desire on my part to surrender my will to God.  Not until I was able to wrap my mind around a universal Essence, which they called Higher Power, was I empowered and freed by writings of Scriptures.

Many years into my sobriety sojourn I enjoyed a job on the grave-yard shift which allowed enough self direction to listen to the radio.  A favorite must-hear program was UNSHACKLED from Pacific Garden Mission out of Chicago.  It’s theme verse was John 8:36.  There is so much hope packed into those few words of encouragement that I made it my lifetime favorite. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” 

Initially, I associated this verse only with the power of alcoholism and drug addiction.  Yes indeed, faith in the Son and living by principles of a sober fellowship had freed me from the hell of substance abuse.  Over time it finally occurred to me that this very same Son had the power to also free me from the concerns of life, from behavior abuses, and ultimately from devotion to the great “me.”  It was a simple but astounding revelation.

Each of us has the capacity to interpret “the Son” as directed by our conscience and our spirit. We don’t need religion nor men/women with a divinity degree behind their names to define “the Son.”  But for me, a personality and human form as presented in Scriptures and clarified by ancient mystics defines with simplicity the life necessary to make me free.  It tells me what I must do to be aware of dirty politics and societal injustice, to struggle with the downtrodden and oppressed, to uphold the homeless and poor, but not be burdened or controlled by those same issues.  Jesus can do that.  ISAIAH 61:1 defined the mission of Jesus when Isaiah wrote:

The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
    The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
    “Be free from your imprisonment!”

The Voice (VOICE)The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

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the marginalized

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“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims—laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children.” —Isaiah 10:1-2, The Message

This passage quoted by Fr. Richard Rohr is attributed to the writings of Isaiah, one of the most prolific prophets of Judaism who probably wrote all 68 chapters of the Book Isaiah sometime during the years between 740 BCE and 686 BCE.  Believing in prophecy, or not, is irrelevant to the significance of this message to us living during these tumultuous times in contemporary society because it describes the trials and perils we, the marginalized, face today.  I do not need to be a believer or follower of Jesus (which I am) to recognize the remarkable parallels.

“When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.”

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), dedication page

Has the world forgotten what politics should be?  Today’s  world of politics has become so overshadowed by greed and self-interest that it is very difficult to view it as a conduit for the welfare of all earth’s humanity including the poor, the homeless, the children, the elderly, and the mentally ill.  The most fitting adjective we can use for that segment of society is marginalized and oppressed.  It need not be that way given the enormous wealth in the hands of a small percentage of the population.

Politics is derived from the Greek word “politikos”meaning “of, for, or relating to the citizens” and “civil, civic, belonging to the state.”

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

[As Christians,] it is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. . . . ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35). [3]

Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis, http://reclaimingjesus.org/.

The core belief of the traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is committed to compassion and hospitality.  Adherents are known by their actions and works.  If professing anything other than love and tolerance as depicted in their Scriptures, then they are not true followers of their faith.  It’s a simple assessment based on the writings of the ancients.

Principalities and powers pass away, but the inner power of the Spirit as represented by the Hebrew prophets, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed is infinite and eternal.

12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  EPHESIANS 6:12

PSALM 23 – the VOICE

CANDLE

A very familiar passage of Scripture can reach out to us with profound insight and understanding when seen in the light of varied versions of the Bible.  Psalm 23 from the VOICE does that for me.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

You spread out a table before me,
    provisions in the midst of attack from my enemies;
You care for all my needs, anointing my head with soothing, fragrant oil,
    filling my cup again and again with Your grace.
Certainly Your faithful protection and loving provision will pursue me
    where I go, always, everywhere.
I will always be with the Eternal,
    in Your house forever.

The Voice (VOICE)The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

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