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

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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soul’s foundation

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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  • A trust in inner coherence itself.  “It all means something.” (Faith)
  • A trust that this coherence is positive and going somewhere good. (Hope)
  • A trust that this coherence includes me and even defines me.  (Love)

Fr. Richard Rohr at cac.org names faith, hope, and love as the soul’s foundation.  The author of 1 Corinthians 13:13 agrees.

“Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”  NLT

Think about it.  Every human being who ever has been, is now, or ever will be, receives equal and inherent dignity as children of God.  We, all of us, have been created in the image of God.  Jew, Gentile, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, believer and non-believer, white, black, brown, purple, straight, gay, male and female, none of the above, etcetera, the ancient wisdom of Jewish scripture (Genesis 1:26-27) tells us this is truth. That is our starting point, but, unfortunately, the human condition questions, disputes, and regresses to a state of prejudice in which the powerless and disadvantaged lose out.  Even the forefathers, hallowed for the United States Declaration of Independence, when they famously declared “all men are created equal”, they actually meant all who are white, property-owning males.

Not much inherent dignity there, but at least it was a new direction in governing.  It became ‘WE, THE PEOPLE’.  That’s what Jesus’ ministry to the downtrodden, oppressed Jewish nation was all about.  Do you really think he was planning to start a brand new religion or that, as many Jews were hoping, he was planning to usurp power from the Roman governors?  No, Jesus understood that he too had inherent dignity as a child of God and that his purpose on earth was to lead others to also believe.  He and his disciples, calling themselves ‘the Way’, ministered to the poor, the sick, the dying, the oppressed with a message that they too were worthy of a seat at the table.  They too were children of God blessed with dignity and worth.

Although the religion which names itself after Christ has missed the mark of the message of Jesus in so many ways throughout history, it does acknowledge that faith, hope, and love (sometimes called charity) are mainstays of a Christ-centered faith.  In the times of today, when not much of anything makes sense and I know the world is irrational, the rock of my spiritual foundation needs to be solid and unwavering.  It cannot be built on man-created theology or a litany of ‘thou shalt and thou shalt not’.  It must be an indwelling sense that has deep personal meaning, that gives me a positive path to follow, that tells me I am worthy of His love.  Jesus is my rock, can be yours too.  Has nothing to do with religion or church or theological correctness.  It’s all about my soul and yours, nurturing that inner sanctum, and claiming our rightful heritage as children of a merciful, loving God.  AMEN?

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  Psalm 18:2

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just as I am

 

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A beggar and wanderer in life’s trek reaching beyond the horizon’s mysteries.  Take me, consume me, I no longer fear your infinite wisdom.

As a young man I was indoctrinated into the belief that Christianity alone held the answers to the mysteries of life and the hereafter.  I did not see it as a nefarious attempt to control my thinking nor kidnap my soul.  It was merely the traditional theology handed down generation after generation from father to son, mother to daughter because they truly believed this was the only path to goodness and eternal life.  My first taste of religious intolerance occurred within my closely knit community, when an upstanding Catholic parent thought he was worthy of a seat on the school board, but was met with vehement opposition from the “true” Christian community fathers.  I became familiar with the words, “We love you as Christians, but you don’t qualify”.

That screaming “but you don’t qualify” became the signature arguing point in my withdrawal and subsequent denial of anything religious.  Unfortunately, it also enabled the demon of alcoholism to replace all that had been taught to me as a young lad.  I recognize today, as a sober man, that not everything of those early learning years was errant and repressive.  When reading familiar scriptures, I can now agree and reflect on the truth contained in many of those verses.  But I also recognize that the tradition of my Christ-centered faith is not exclusive.  It is not the only way.  AA’s concept of a “God of my understanding” led me to find sober salvation along with millions of others who could not swallow a narrow, wrathful and vengeful entity sitting upon his throne breathing fire and damnation.

Today I hold to the thought that a truly loving and compassionate God does not have the capacity to hate or deny God’s love based on man’s theological interpretation.  Period.  God is love, love is God.  It is impossible for God to not love. That is cemented by none other than Jesus, the Christ.

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

Believing in Jesus, not as the man nor as the divinity, but as the way to a lifestyle free of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”, as a path to unconditional acceptance and compassion for all of God’s humanity regardless of race, creed, sexuality or ethnicity – that is the freedom expressed by every one of the world’s major religions and especially in John 8:36.  I can realize a life which is  no longer bound by the shackles of judgement or hatred or intolerance.  Free indeed!

Bottom line for me is that this freedom is a choice I make every day.  Do I bow to the God of my understanding or do I submit unquestioningly to the God of my tradition?  Ironically, they are the same God, but do I follow the narrow interpretations of theologians or do I live my life according to a God understood by me?  Today I know that God is God is God, the One and the same universal entity referenced by Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity, but never intending to be exclusive to any one faith walk.  Man has encouraged that exclusivity.  Man has kidnapped, pigeon-holed, and taught lies about God which are contrary to the core tenet of each of the 5 great traditions.

In Exodus 3:14, the writer reports that when Moses asked, “Whom shall I tell the people you are,” the vision he was seeing replied, “I am that I AM.”

I AM is the same supernatural power which mankind from the beginning of time has searched within himself for the answers to these questions: 1)who am I?  2)why am I here?  3)what am I supposed to do here?  The cave man in his natural questioning painted pictures on the cave walls to express his connection to nature, the world’s first mystics knew they were one with the universal power to which they chanted, the shepherd boys in the hills marveled at the star-lit night ushering  the arrival of a new messenger to show THE WAY to a lost tribe.   I AM has always been with us and in us throughout eternity.  I AM does not belong to any man’s theology or doctrine.  I AM cannot be humanly defined, cannot be humanly described.  I AM simply is.

“Just as the same lump of clay can take on infinite form and remain itself unchanged, so God takes on infinite form while never being other than God.” – Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent: Sacred Teachings—Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2013), 66.

divide & conquer

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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“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger.  The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us.  Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but for us alcoholics it is poison.”  Bill Wilson, AS BILL SEES IT

When was the last time you screamed at or threw a middle finger to your TV screen?  Last week, yesterday, maybe a few minutes ago?  And did it accomplish anything? Probably not.

Today I understand how fragile my inner ecosystem can be.  My emotions are not like those of normal men and women who view or hear an outrageous story deserving of anger.  They process the news, digest it, and respond in a constructive manner.  I do not, although, I am infinitely better than I once was.  No, I can still be the guy standing in front of his TV screen flailing arms and fingers, hurling profanities at the image which has provoked me.  Do I believe that person heard or saw me?  No, of course not.  But I sure told him a thing or two, did I not?

Anger destroys every inch of peace and contentment that dwells within.  It alters the thought processes which lead to a God-honoring state of mind.  One minute of outrage can develop into 24 hours, or longer, of festering resentment.  Just one moment of anger can do that.  Am I willing, today as a sober man, to sacrifice my serenity for anger?

It’s one of the seven deadly sins according to numerous faith walks.  Let’s call it a character defect.  My inner demons use anger very effectively to divide and conquer.  When my mind is consumed with discord it cannot process the love that awaits in communion with a higher power.  All things spiritual are ushered to a back burner while the negatives boil away at a furious burn. Division conquers.  Calling 911 to God’s help line is the only solution.  Pray, pray, pray.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I certainly cannot change the doofus on TV who has taken control of my emotional state of mind.  Lord, why would I willingly give a conduit of hatred and division such a presence in my world?  Divide and conquer is not only an inner manifestation that destroys my serenity.  It also works for political figures and world leaders intent on personal power and prestige.  Divide the people, then go in for the kill.

I don’t have to play the game.  Sobriety has opened a world of possibilities for a life apart from the games politicians play.  Religious leaders also sometimes deserve that middle finger of dissent.  Divide and conquer.  “My God is better than yours.  I’m going to heaven, you’re going to hell.  I am unique and special.”

Does that kind of rhetoric meet the standard set by Jesus or any of the messengers of truth which have been shared with us?  Many years ago, a wise old man advised me, a newly sober man searching for a better way, “If your religious affiliation doesn’t teach love and compassion for your fellow-man, then it is not of God.”

Take that advice with a grain of salt – or adhere to it like I did.  It has made the search for truth in theological philosophy mind-blowing and simultaneously comforting.  Consider these words from my foremost first read every morning:

“Buddhism affirms that there is only one of us, and therefore we are each responsible for every link in the web of being. Christianity offers us the unconditional mercy of an incarnational God who permeates the whole of creation with love. Judaism urges us to demonstrate our love for God in the way we treat each other and care for creation. Hinduism kindles the fire of devotion for reunification with the Beloved who is no other than our own true Self. Islam shares the peace that comes with complete submission to the One.”

FATHER RICHARD ROHR   Mirabai Starr in The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, Rami Shapiro, ed. (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2017), vii-viii.

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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

social justice 101

“………use their political power to murder…….mistreat their elders, disrespect their parents, take advantage of foreigners passing through, and treat orphans and widows with contempt……citizens lie and give false testimonies at capital trials…… murder is for hire, exorbitant interests and profits are taken from the poor, neighbors are oppressed for personal gain…..officials are like a pack of wolves tearing apart their prey. They kill innocent people and ruin lives just to get what they want! ……..people are full of wickedness: they are bullies and thieves; they have abused the poor and helpless; they have taken advantage of foreigners and perverted justice. 

What society might the above paragraph be addressing?  It certainly sounds like probably a third world country with rampant poverty and a despotic government.  It could be any one of a number of dictatorial powers in our world today, could it not?  In many ways those words describe what is happening in America. Here is the final sentence of this reading:

I will give them what they deserve.  So said the Eternal Lord.  Ezekiel 22

What appears to be a contemporary commentary of our society today is actually attributed to the words of the prophet Ezekiel in the Judaic writings dating to a time period 2600 years ago.  Whatever credibility we assign to these writings, one point is clear.  Mankind has not truly evolved much since 600 BCE during the times of Ezekiel.  Technologically, our progress has been astounding; however, spiritually we seem to be at a standstill or possibly in a regressive mode.

Social justice, historically, has been a matter of arbitrary convenience for the controlling powers.  Great advocates of justice for the world’s poor and oppressed have been ostracized, assassinated and murdered.  Jesus the Christ was crucified.  It’s what we have been as a species.  Peace and enlightenment will grace our souls when we all strive to achieve social justice and equality for the totality of mankind.

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