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

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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

 

 

 

 

soul food

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.

 

The term “soul” is thrown around quite often in today’s society.  Soul food, soul music, eternal soul are just a few.  It always brings to mind that internal essence which many people consider the truth residing within each of us.  Fr. Richard Rohr, cac.org , defines soul as “……anything’s ultimate meaning which is held within. Soul is the blueprint inside of every living thing that tells it what it is and what it can become. When we meet anything at that level, we will respect, protect, and love it.”

Notice that this advocate of the mystic nature of Christ does not describe my soul as an entity separate from anything else, as a part of my being which will move on to heaven after my physical death, nor a hard-to-understand tenet of any religion’s theology.  Soul simply is.  It tells me that I am what I am and it leads me to what I can become.  It is the blueprint, the divine spark of DNA, present in every living organism.  Every living creature has soul.

Francis of Assisi understood this and is well known for spending many hours walking the roads of Umbria learning from nature the meaning of soul.  He called all of creation his brothers and sisters.  Think about it.  Every creature of nature is born, matures and reaches its destiny, when unimpeded, without a thought as to what it should be or how it should develop. A lion becomes the king of the jungle, a daffodil becomes a springtime beauty, a butterfly flits about searching for nectar.  Only man disputes and denies his inherent divine spark of DNA.  Man was created in the image of God and man’s destiny is to become a son of God, a recreation of that eternal Force which gave him life.

My religious tradition confused and often denied the teaching of St. Francis.  It told me I had to conform to its theology and ritual in order to access the sacredness of soul.  It led me to a narcissistic approach to God which proclaimed me as very unique and special while simultaneously damning me to hell if I did not conform through its creeds and prayers.

According to scriptures, John the Baptist eschewed the trappings of the temple and its purity laws calling people to repentance in the waters of nature.  Jesus was baptized in those waters and subsequently spent 40 days and nights communing with nature in the wilderness.

Fr. Richard goes on to observe the mark missed by contemporary Christianity:  “We would have done much better to help other Christians discover their souls instead of “save” them. My sense, after being a priest for almost 50 years, is that most Christians are trying to save something they have not even found.” cac.org

Picture43

 

 

Golden Years

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.

 

Living in the “golden years”  is not what the 30 year-old version of me envisioned in 1977.  I blame no one other than me for the money I blew on shiny new cars, the time I wasted sitting on a bar stool, and the relationships I trashed in pursuit of good times.  Forty years ago I had the rest of my life to create a retirement stash, to find that perfect profession, and to settle down with a compatible mate.  So much for dreaming the dream because that’s all it was.  Just a pipe dream with no foundation.

Through the grace of sustained sobriety I have reconciled all of that and no longer beat myself up over missed opportunities.  Hopefully, I have gained a wealth of wisdom and acceptance in building a foundation.  But, the fact remains that these “golden years” are a day-to-day struggle and a challenge to survive on minimal financial resources.

Thank God the spiritual resources have kicked in to give me unbounding faith in God’s goodness and provision.  In retrospect I know for a fact that every one of my needs has always been fulfilled and most of my wants have also.  But, this old man standing by the sea of life watching the trappings of affluence and properity pass by is a daily reminder that somehow I have missed the worldly boat.  That gives me a choice: 1) I can stand on the dock patiently waiting for my ship to come in or, 2) I can grab the oars and start rowing my own boat.  Very simple solution, don’t you think?

And I don’t have to do this by myself.  Spiritual blessings are built on a recovery fellowship, on the concept of giving and receiving, and on the readings of ancient scriptures.  In the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching:

“The Tao is like a well:  used but never used up……empty yet infinitely capable.  The more you use it, the more it produces.”

In Christian scripture Jesus said in Matthew 6:

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them……take no thought saying, What shall we eat?  or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed?…For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things….

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  

The earthly paths of Jesus and the Buddha exemplify the kingdom and teach me the righteousness to seek.  That righteousness is not a moral discipline; rather, it is a way of living which honors and upholds the rights of all  creation.  Both the “Path” of the Buddha and the “Way” of Jesus trust in the mercy and goodness of humanity to meet the physical needs of their temples.  They depended on the promises of a Sovereign Being to feed them spiritually and lead them to a resurrected life in the realm of the Spirit.  They taught me that when the demands of self-awareness are subjugated to the promises of a higher power, the needs of this world become faint in comparison to the provisions afforded by faith and trust in the surrounding and indwelling Light.  I am, after all, a spirit housed in a temporal body.  This flesh which I carry is but a fleeting moment in the universal consciousness of eternal spirit.  I no longer chase after the lies of the “golden years” but, instead seek the golden nuggets of ancient wisdom and truth.

just as I am

Are you an evangelist?  The dictionary definition says  (1) one who preaches the gospel (2) one who brings converts to Christianity.  Nope, I’m not an evangelist.  Before she retired, my aunt was a missionary and an evangelist.  I admired her.  Her family of nieces and nephews idolized her.  She was a great worker for Jesus.  Maybe I should be more like her.

My preacher at church urges us to go out into the community and spread the good news.  I think she means that we should take Jesus with us when we interact with our neighbors, our co-workers, the cashier at the grocery store, maybe the homeless guy on the corner.  I don’t carry a Bible with me when I go somewhere.  Do you think I should?

Years ago the fellowship I worshipped with assigned us in twos to go door-to-door to share the gospel.  Talk about rejection!  Slammed doors, cussing, ridicule and only a few welcomes.  No, I’m not a door-to-door kind of guy.  Hey, I’m not knocking it.  God needs workers of all walks.  The preacher, the teacher, the organizer, the evangelist, the handyman, the errand boy, the writer, the cleaning crew, the PR man, the musician…..and me.

So, what am I?  Where do I fit in God’s scheme?  I know what my gifts are and I share them.  No, I’m not a talker.  I’m that quiet guy who sits in the 3rd to last pew at church service.  I sing but the choir doesn’t need my crow-like caws annoying the folks in the front row and the preacher.  I don’t play the organ or piano.  I’m not especially talented at organizing group functions.  So, what can I do?

I can listen to you talk about your pain and grief.  I can hold your hand when you’re sad.  I can share my strength when yours is running low.  I can tell you what Jesus did for me when I was in pain, when I was grieving, when I was sad, when I was weak.  I can come beside you and walk with you through the dark times, through the trials, through the loneliness.

Don’t you see?  I know the greatest teacher ever.  His teachings are eternal wisdom.  His love is everlasting.  His patience is bottomless.  And Jesus wants me to be the best me I can be.  He doesn’t need another front man for the missionary work, a speaker who can move crowds to ecstasy, a motivator, a leader, or a teacher.  No, he wants me doing what I do best…….just as I am.  The invitation is open, you can come too, just as you are.

I come broken to be mended
I come wounded to be healed
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled
I come guilty to be pardoned
By the blood of Christ the Lamb
And I’m welcomed with open arms
Praise God, just as I am

Songwriters: SUE C. SMITH, TRAVIS COTTRELL, DAVID E. MOFFITT
© Universal Music Publishing Group, CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

CANDLE

 

poor in spirit

If you, like I, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, you probably memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, and maybe the Beatitudes.  The eight short sayings of the Beatitudes give the core teachings of Jesus in a concentrated format.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 5:3

Oh, how I struggled with this one.  This proud country boy did not want to be “poor” in any way, shape or form when he grew up.  Although my family, as farmers, provided adequately for our needs, we could not afford the vacations other people took each summer nor the fancy new car every 2 years.  Fortunately, designer jeans were not a necessary fashion statement in high school in 1961 and most often I started the new school year with last year’s clothes augmented by new shoes or a new shirt.  Life was pretty good but, when I considered the first of the Beatitudes, this 13 year-old farm boy raised up a few secretive, quiet prayers, “Lord, anything but poor.  I don’t want to be poor.”

I believed for many years that when the pastor recited the first Beatitude, he forgot the last two words, “in spirit.”  A more likely scenario is that  I did not hear them because I was too enamored by the cute neighbor girl sitting beside me on the pew. I think that maybe I missed a lot of the things I needed to hear in church because I was distracted.  Whenever I heard “blessed are the poor,”  my mind pictured a crowd of people saved by grace mulling around heaven in tatters and rags.  What is so blessed about that?

I’m sure my boyhood pastor recited the Beatitude in full.  I simply was not ready to hear it in full just like so many other lessons and teachings from Jesus.  That could explain why for many years I stumbled through life filling my God hole with everything but God.  Ranging from alcohol to sex to pot to pornography to numerous other idolatries, I did not become ready to listen to all the words from Jesus until I was utterly defeated by my own life.  No enemy could have defeated me as soundly as I defeated myself.  Finally the sweet words of surrender filled my heart when I put some verses into that God hole.

“Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted….”  Psalm 46:10

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

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

Those were the first verses I memorized.  And yes, I finally heard the full verse of Matthew 5:3.  It happened only when my mind understood “poor in spirit” to mean that I need to be fully open and receptive to Jesus, I need to find a state of nothingness  and then let Jesus fill the void.  I need to go to that space where there is only God.  When there I am as a beggar on the street seeking alms, begging for the bread of Life which feeds, the living waters which quench.  I have then been impoverished, made poor in spirit, and Jesus will relieve my poverty.

Sure, my mind still shuts down God’s space sometimes, fills it with junk.  My thinking says that I should pursue a spirituality based on knowledge, surety, certitude.  My ego begins reviewing the spiritual advancement, the learned theology, the numerous books, the good works.  I can very quickly become haughty and self-assured within my own religious arrogance.  But then, when I have suffered enough from running my own show, Jesus says, “Come back, you will find assurance in me.” cac.org

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” 

Frances J. Crosby 

CANDLE

 

 

….and my neighbor is ?

Refer to the good Samaritan parable from the book of Luke 10:25-37namaste rainbow

“25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He (Jesus) said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?                                

2And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he (Jesus) said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

King James Version (KJV)Public Domain

“Go, and do thou likewise.”

From the first time I heard this story in Sunday School and VBS about the good Samaritan, I have been intrigued by the characters and the roles they played in Jesus’ lesson on Christian behavior.  In it Jesus defines the meaning of “neighbor”.  Obviously it is not limited to what we in contemporary society would consider a neighbor, i.e., the couple next door or the man down the street.

In Biblical Jewish culture, the Samaritans were a race to be ostracized and avoided at all costs.  At the well, the Samaritan woman drawing water was shocked and probably miffed that a Jewish teacher (Jesus) would ask her to draw water for him. John 4:7-26 In all probability, the Samaritans hated the Jews just as much as the Jews despised them.

So when Jesus uses a Samaritan traveler as the pivotal character in his parable, those hearing his message were undoubtedly shocked.  And when Jesus takes this heresy further to cast a favorable light upon the Samaritan, we should not be surprised that the ruling hierarchy of Pharisees desired to be rid of him and his teachings.  Their hatred and intolerance was justified by centuries-old racism supported by an archaic system of religious righteousness.

Jesus reckons with this racism by first stating that a priest and then a Levite came upon the traveler (we are not told anything about his background) and kept to the side of the road in order to avoid contact with him.  Perhaps they feared for their own safety should the robbers still be nearby.  Or perhaps they did not want to contaminate themselves by touching a corpse.  The priest and the Levite, although holy men of the Jewish faith, lacked the compassion to lend assistance to the dying traveler.  The Samaritan, however, even though a despised citizen of a neighboring country, felt compassion for the wounded man and gave immediate assistance to the point of ensuring his safe passage to care and recovery at a nearby inn.

“And who is my neighbor,” asked the lawyer of Jesus in the scripture, verse 29?

Jesus tells his story and then the lawyer in verse 37 answers his own question, “He that shewed mercy.”

Which character of this parable do I play?  Am I the priest or Levite, men unwilling to be involved in saving another’s life?  Am I the good Samaritan who cares enough to risk his own life for that of a stranger?  Or perhaps I am the traveler, wounded and left to die on the highway of life, saved only by the grace of a compassionate savior.

Who is my neighbor?  Certainly John next door, my tax accountant at the mall, the restaurant owner at my favorite Italian place, even the Muslim couple who smile to me whenever they walk by my house.  I consider my pastor my neighbor, my car salesman, my insurance agent, and my local sheriff.

OK.  What about the strident atheist at school, the repugnant Republican congressman, the white supremacist in Georgia, the drug dealer in the city, and the redneck who flies a Confederate flag on his pickup truck?  Are they my neighbors?

Jesus was not categorizing anyone when instructing us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus does not see anything but a person’s heart and the innate love and compassion within that heart.  Jesus wants us to do the same.

Who, then, is my neighbor?  The Nazi who would kill a gay man?  The racist who would lynch a black man?  The Jew who would harm a Palestinian?

If I were to come upon an injured man on the highway and that man was Trump, would I stop to assist or pass by on the other side of the road?  Yeah, it gets really funky now, doesn’t it?

I am supposed to love my neighbor.  Love is not always a warm, fuzzy feeling that tingles all over.  It is also a willingness to be actively compassionate toward every creature of God’s creation.

“Go, and do thou likewise.”  I know that if I just carry the willingness, God will honor my efforts.smiley 3