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

 

me, a thistle?

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”smiley 3

I am a thistle.  Most of you have seen me growing undisturbed in an abandoned farm field or along a country lane.  The neighboring farmer thinks I’m just another noxious weed needing to be destroyed, but, I know better.  Like the crops which he grows, I have a purpose in this life because I am part of God’s creation.  If you have ever observed me while in full bloom, you will see the multitude of bees, butterflies and birds that come to partake of my sweet nectar.  Additionally, the beauty of my purple blossom is beyond comparison in the places which I grace.  I am useful and I am beautiful.

My velvety leaves protect me from those who would try to uproot me and place me in another location.  My spiny leaf tips give notice to those who would prefer to see me elsewhere that I am just fine where I am growing.  I know my purpose in God’s grand plan and I am destined to fulfill that purpose exactly where I am placed.  As with my neighbor, the dandelion, many would rather see us eradicated than appreciate the beauty and sustenance inherent in us.  But, both of us are hardy and undeterred by man’s plan to eliminate us.  We will grow in places which orchids and tomatoes dare not consider.

Of course, I have been at times envious of the beauties growing in the farmer’s manicured vegetable garden and yard.  Who wouldn’t want to be the star attraction, the luscious orange carrot or red beet in the garden, the multi-colored petunia or geranium gracing the front yard?  We all, at one point, aspire to greater appreciation.  But, that chase is futile for a thistle can never be a tomato.  A thistle can only hope to be the best thistle ever to grow in God’s creation.  I’m OK with that.  Are you?

cropped-p1010037.jpg