the political believer, it’s in the works

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

In his daily writing for July 8th Father Richard Rohr , a proponent of social justice, states that most of the negative feedback he receives advises him to not get too political.  He responds,

“Yet how can I read the Bible and stay out of politics? Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. The Gospel is rather “socialist” in its emphasis on sharing resources and caring for those in need.”

Well said.  If I read in Scriptures about the life and works of Jesus, the Christ, if I profess this same Jesus as my Lord, if I receive Jesus within my heart and pattern my life according to His, then how can I not be political?  Jesus was the ultimate petitioner for the poor and needy.  He opposed the wealth of the greedy, the corruption of Judaism, and the oppression of Rome in his ministry to the downtrodden of Israel.  He did so knowing that his would not be a pleasant trip through an earthly life and that a violent death awaited him on the cross.  Yet, in human form he persisted because that is what humanity is supposed to do.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick regardless of the consequences.

“The primary role of religion and spirituality is to reconnect, the very meaning of the Latin word “religio”. The Greek word “polis”—which led to the word politics—simply means city or public forum, where people come together. Why have religion and politics become so antagonistic when they have similar goals?”  Richard Rohr

America boasts its Christian roots.  History tells us that Christians were at the forefront of social movements to end slavery, support women’s rights, encourage laws providing civil rights, Mediare, Social Security, and Medicaid.  Most famously America has welcomed the downtrodden and oppressed from other nations regardless of creed or race.  We are a beacon of hope to the hopeless, a land of opportunity for everyone.

The Gospel is often called the Good News because it carries a message of not only redemption, but also hope for those who have no hope.  The refugee, the widow, the orphan, the persecuted, the outcasts of society are the target of Jesus’ ministry today just as back in 1st century Israel.  The oppressed are empowered by words which tell them that God loves them equally regardless of social status, wealth or faith profession.  Because of that Good News we know that all mankind dwells within the family of a mighty and just God.

14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. JAMES 2:14-17 CEB

The above verse from the Book of James is well-known in recovery programs.  It reminds me that my success in defeating alcohol has been a miracle, a gift from the Higher Power of my understanding.  But, it is not free.  A continued and contented sobriety requires payments.  Service to others is written on my IOU to God.  “Faith without works is dead.”

“Today I am encouraged to see many of my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist brothers and sisters actively engaged with the political realm, speaking truth to power, and holding our political leaders accountable. Being political is a basic civic, human, and spiritual duty!” Richard Rohr

CANDLE

copyright 3

 

 

 

 

FOREIGNERS

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

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

This well-known quote attributed to Gandhi was a bumper sticker on the aged and worn automobile of one of my heroes whom I was privileged to know during the 1980s.  Father Bond was the priest at the Episcopal Church which hosted 20 AA and NA meetings weekly.  While that church social hall witnessed innumerable miracles of recovery, the sanctuary hosted a number of sober marriages.  Father Bond ministered faithfully to his parish and to his wayward flock of recovering drunks.

What is it for me to live simply?  For many years it meant a personal commitment to reducing material possessions to minimums.  It meant being an environmentalist and a steward of God’s creation.  In later years it also manifested by minimizing  theology and doctrine, bringing it all back to basics.

Father Richard Rohr in today’s comment “BE PEACE AND JUSTICE” writes:

“When you agree to live simply, you do not consider the refugee, the homeless person, or the foreigner as a threat or competition. You have chosen their marginal state for yourself—freely and consciously becoming “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as Francis put it (quoting 1 Peter 2:11). A simple lifestyle is an act of solidarity with the way most people have lived since the beginnings of humanity.”

Francis (1182-1226) and Clare (1194-1253) of Assisi lived life understanding fully what Jesus the Christ envisioned – a simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty)  Therefore, assuming a vow of poverty does not mean living in filthy hovels with no running water or sewer systems.  It does not necessarily mean hunger and starvation.  For most of us a vow of poverty would mean a commitment to jump off the insane cycle of incessant material accumulation and depletion of the earth’s resources.

With today’s screaming calls to bring social justice to the world’s oppressed perhaps we can find guidance in these further words of Father Rohr regarding a conscious identification with the marginalized of society:

“In this position we do not do acts of peace and justice as much as our lifestyle itself  is peace and justice.” (underlined emphasis are mine)

Like many of you, I would like to fix every single episode of social injustice, but in wanting to do so I will undoubtedly make myself quite insane because that fix is unattainable.  Just as Father Bond walked the path of Francis and Clare, we also can be advocates of social justice through simplicity by speaking our truth kindly, by identifying with the marginalized,  and by being living examples of Christ’s teachings.

Look at the world around us.  Living “marginalized” is the norm, not the exception.  We are all in some way a refugee, a foreigner, a visitor and a pilgrim.  Our validation as a nation of ethics and values is currently under severe testing because of governmental actions regarding immigration.  Our strength and our salvation rests not in our criminalization of those who are marginalized, but rather in our solidarity with them.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19: 33-34

CANDLE

 

copyright 3

 

was it good for you?

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

smiley-face-2I would like to think that I am the guy who always keeps a cool head, always speaks kindly, always responds in a civil manner.  But, I am not.  I stammer, spit, and sputter in moments of anger or disgust.  In my mind I am able to read to you the riot act when I feel I’ve been maligned.  Don’t you know who I am?

In the previous paragraph “I” or a form thereof was used 8 times.  That is the problem.  “I” sometimes becomes the dominant pronoun used in thought and conversation leading to a severe case of me,me,me which almost always excludes “you”, “they”, and even “we” from any dialog.  It becomes a one-sided conversation which clearly clarifies my position, but simultaneously bars you from taking part in the interaction.  Great ego stuff for me, not much fun for you.

The world is like that, is it not?  Tact, civility, and compromise have all but disappeared.  Conversation consists of pointing accusatory fingers, pumping personal ego, and demanding respect where respect is undue.  “My way or the highway” has become the norm in political discourse separating your party from my party and forcing one of us to be the boogeyman.  In a candidate debate for elected office, the debate often turns into a tit-for-tat assault on personal integrity.  Oh, never mind that children in America are starving, that violence is escalating alarmingly, or that we could be nuked tomorrow.  You, candidate A, are a scumbag and I, candidate B, will let our constituency know all your lurid details.  Really?  Do you think the homeless veteran scrounging for a meal in the dumpster really cares what candidate A did?

It seems that we take our cues from celebrities, the rich, and the famous.  As they do, we want to do.  As they speak, we speak.  Twitter and Facebook have made it too simple to assail, insult, assault, libel someone we probably don’t even know without any threat of accountability.  No need to fear blackened eyes or missing teeth from a physical one-on-one confrontation.

Personally, as I have confessed, I still go there sometimes.  The verbal barrage, the unkind thoughts, and the judgmental attitudes can swoop down on me in a heartbeat.  But, when the emotion is spent and the brain is engaged, I find myself saying to a beleaguered me, “Was it good for you? Did that tirade make you feel better about yourself?”

unshackled-2

 

 

my friend, Carol

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

I often start a new page, sit and stare at it for inspiration, and 15 minutes later realize my mind has wandered to chores needing to be done, yesterday’s conversation at the grocery store with another shopper, politics, injustice, and what to cook for supper.

Distractions!  I look at a greeting card (yes, some people continue to exchange greeting cards) setting on my desk.  It says:

“There’s a place you can stay as long as you like – it’s safe and you never have to pay rent.  It’s my heart.  I’m here for you.”

What a sweet sentiment from a dear friend dating back to high school days.  Not many people enjoy a 55 year friendship.  We lost contact for many years but then reconnected just as if life had always held our hearts close even without a letter or a phone call.  Carol also loves Jesus.

I picture Jesus being that way.  His heart is always a place where I can dwell.  It’s safe and it’s rent-free.  I often write about my acceptance of the universality of different faiths’ God concepts.  When the great religions are studied, the core of their belief is a messiah which instructs humanity in paths of peaceful co-existence and compassion.

But my home base is Jesus, his life, and his teachings as recorded in the Gospels.  My faith lies not so much in the theology surrounding Christianity but in the completeness and ethic of the Jesus story.  In my times of confusion and turmoil I turn to favorite verses for strength.  When past demons rear their heads, I retreat to a favorite chair for time alone with he who strengthens me.  When the world and its affairs becomes too disturbing and confusing, I know the one who has the answers.

His heart is always open and welcoming regardless of where I have journeyed and what I have done.  My favorite parable, of course, is the prodigal son.  Check it out in LUKE 15:11-32.  It’s my story.  Jesus always says, “Come home, I’m here for you.”

Special thoughts today to my friend Carol, a comfort in late life and to MIKE , always an inspiration for my early morning reading.

unshackled-2

outrunning the darkness

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

Outrunning the darkness.  Quite often my spiritual trek feels like I’m just keeping a few steps ahead of the darkness chasing after me.  Regardless of my belief concerning the hereafter, this journey being undertaken, this search which has transformed life not only  brings an awesome, reverential awareness of the brilliance of deity, it also brings a heightened consciousness of the ominous, surrounding clouds.

Of course, much of the darkness is external.  The injustices which governments inflict upon its citizens, the heresies which religions claim as inerrant doctrine, the social breakdown leading to intolerance and bigotry all have a part in darkening my world.

Fortunately, we Americans still have the privilege and duty to protest publicly on various forums the actions which we believe are inconsistent with whom we are as a nation.  We can talk, write, and rally until the cows come home sometimes with favorable results but more often with nothing more than hoarse voices and tired feet to show for our efforts.  It’s our right and our duty to stand up against what we see as social injustice.

But in the end summation, most of that darkness is beyond my control.  I have learned to recognize it, battle it, and then retreat to my quiet space to regroup, thereby protecting my soul from the hatred and savagery which darkness inflicts.  A good heart can sour quickly under an assault by the world’s horrors if the inner sanctum is not honored and cherished.

St. Francis of Assisi addressed another darkness, that which is indwelling, in his popular prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where injury, pardon; where doubt, faith; where despair, hope; where darkness, light; where sadness, joy…….”

These words did not strike me as particularly inspirational until I applied the directives not as an outward display of compassion to others, but as an inward act of soul consolation.  Today, when I repeat these words, I am seeking comfort for my ravaged soul within.  It is the inner me which needs healing from the onslaught of the world’s darkness.

Equally disheartening as the dark powers and principalities of the world are the inherent human conditions known as the seven deadly sins, the “cardinal” sins:

wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony

Name them sins or call them character defects, the result of these conditions, when allowed to fester within, are devastating.  Take your pick.  Which one is your favorite?  Each one, if entertained in excess, will bring a threatening cloud over a trekker’s world in a heartbeat.  Running one or two steps ahead of this internal darkness can be a daunting marathon.

We trekkers and survivors in recovery are undeservedly blessed to have the necessary tools at hand to survive in a world which is broken, violent, and tumultuous.  However, we are not infallible.  Always we must vigilantly protect that essence within which is who we are as children of the universal Oneness.  The spiritual life is a race to outrun the world’s darkness and our internal demons.  Reflection, prayer, contemplation, and meditation take us where we can find a safe harbor, a refuge from the raging storms of life.

CANDLE

copyright 3

 

 

worthy of all praise

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

orange tree

Listening to great music from contemporary artists and the masters of classical works has the capacity to soothe and encourage.  Sitting in a chair in the stillness of a quiet nook, my world is transformed from one of agitation and discontent to the truth of knowing without reservation that God is, always has been, always will be.  Music such as Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Our God” confirms that others experience this same peace and awe in the presence of a Greater Power, one which defines for us compassion, acceptance, and love.  Unconditionally!

I cannot temper my feeble attempts to be Christ-like with earthly conditions for extending or withholding God’s indwelling spirit.  I cannot deny anyone the directive of Jesus to love my neighbor as myself.  The color of skin, the ethnicity, the creed, the political affiliation, the sexual persuasion, the gender, and the theology of another brother/sister cannot be a determinant for sharing the grace of God which was freely given to me.

Most of us, especially me, are often conflicted by this wisdom from a gracious God.  If you are white like me, male like me, Christ-follower like me, Democrat like me, and peace lover like me, then it is not difficult to also be Christ-like.  My perfect world is one in which no disagreement or contention exists.  My perfect world would also be totally black or white, right or wrong, moral or immoral, no shades of color filtering into it.

That, fortunately, is not God’s world.  The God, which I know today, knew from the beginning that we would be a broken species fraught with discontent, envy, jealousy, anger, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and “isms” of all descriptions.  Yet, God loved us enough to give us messengers in human form who showed us how to evolve into the humanity with whom He would be pleased.  I don’t have to pursue this transformation without instruction manuals.  Each of our great religions have presented to us a path to follow which leads to enlightenment.

Enlightenment is not some mysterious element in a future eternity.  It is not something to be attained by sustained adherence to rigid rules of morality.  No, enlightenment is the discipline of practicing and sharing here and now in this lifetime the same mercy and grace which is freely available to every soul on earth.  In this quiet space of the soul, a corner of absolute connection to Spirit, there are no distinctions, no fears, no judgements.  We all are one with the great Oneness whom some name Allah, some name Krishna, some name Yahweh, and some name God.  The name we call  upon doesn’t matter.  The heart we share does.  How’s your good heart today?

CANDLE

 

 

fear

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.

“….So false pride became the reverse side of the ruinous coin marked ‘FEAR’.  We simply had to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 46

Often, I have heard “fear” defined as the absence of love.  In acts of unconditional compassion and love, there is no thought given to the “what if” moment.  What if this person is scamming me, what if that homeless man intends to harm me, what if my spouse is cheating on me, what if I lose my life trying to help my friend, etc.?  The list of “what ifs” can be endless.  They will control who I am and undermine my commitment to be fearless and thorough in all my actions.  Fear will always keep me from realizing my full potential as a person in recovery.

In addition to concerns about physical safety, which are healthy in certain situations involving the unknown intentions of people I encounter, fear has always been a tool used to hide my deep-lying inferiorities.  Having endured bullying at the hands of “the big kids” in junior high school, I convinced myself that, yes, the names those boys used were accurate.  I was everything they called me and I was inferior to “normal” guys.  I learned how to fend for myself, not by fighting back which would be against the faith in which my family raised me, but by justifying the self-hatred growing inside me.  I deserved their attacks because I was ugly, I was stupid, I was a coward.

My driving response to life became fear.  Fear that friends would not like me if they saw that which I saw inside of me.   I despised myself and therefore expected others would also feel that way when they came to know the “real” me.  I learned very effectively to present a persona completely contrary to the insecure man into whom I had grown.  Alcohol aided that deception tremendously.  Under the control of my demon, I eventually believed the lies I portrayed about myself.  Honesty was replaced by justified lying.

Fear, fueled by alcohol, led me into a life of torturing self-doubt and an inability to form any semblance of intimacy with another person.  When that possible mate reached a point which required absolute commitment, Larry bailed out.  My fear refused to accept that any other person could love me unconditionally.  How could they?  I certainly could not love me because I despised whom I was.  How could anyone love me?

Fear, consoled by alcohol, took me to a place where the walls were high and the moat was filled with emotional tools to protect myself from the intrusions of life.  I refused to participate in those events which brought joy and camaraderie to other people.  I convinced myself that they did not truly want me to be a part of their lives.  I resorted to my indwelling unworthiness to seclude and detach.  My concept of happiness was living in a cave of a cliff-side monastery baking bread and meditating on the meaning of life.

Fear, having consumed every second of life, finally brought me to a personal ultimatum.  It said to me, “You are worthless, you are useless, you are a failure, you should probably die.”

The absence of self-love in my existence was preparing the final victory for fear.  It was a demoralizing moment in an alcoholic’s life.  My constant companion, alcohol, had taken me to a place where human determination and self-will could no longer hide me.  There were no more places where I could run and continue life.

So, when I remember and when I tell others about the miraculous intervention of a Higher Power at that point in this alcoholic’s life, I joyously give all the credit to a God and a fellowship which loved me more than I had ever been able to love myself.  And guess what?  That love eventually rubbed off on me.  From my deepest insecurities flowed a healthy self-awareness of whom I really was.  From the self-loathing came an appreciation for the person God had discovered within me.  From the loneliness of a self-imposed cave on a cliff-side sprung a home among millions of brothers and sisters who had also been saved from lives of despair and worthlessness.

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

It required a thorough, internal house-cleaning  and a complete restoration to bring the demon alcohol into submission and defeat.  The praise and the victory belong to a commitment to sober-living, the power of God as I understand God, and the fellowship of like-minded survivors.  If you are sober today, give yourself a hand.

clapping