butterfly

 

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  MAYA ANGELOU

Why is it that butterflies become beautiful in our sight only when they have survived the stages of development leading up to their appearance before us in our yards as flitting, soaring, gliding, sailing, dancing, fluttering marvels of nature?  We hardly appreciate them as eggs, larvae, and caterpillars.  Rarely do we say, “Oh look! A spectacular worm.”

Members of the Kingdom animalia, Phylum Euarthropoda, Class insecta, Order lepidoptera are a species dating to the Paleocene Era about 56 million years ago.  The eastern North American population of monarchs can travel thousands of miles to over-wintering sites in Mexico and reverse the migration in the spring.  The British painted lady undertakes a 9000 mile round trip in a series of steps by up to six generations from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle. WIKIPEDIA

Yes, I am about to compare us, humans, to butterflies.  Don’t you see the similarity?  Or, if you would rather, I could liken us to mosquitoes or house flies?  (Yes, I have been called maggot on occasion.)  We do, after all, share some pesky traits with those insects also.  OK, then.  Now that we see eye to eye,  I am going to call you and me beautiful butterflies.  As you perused the opening photographs, which one is most splendid to you?  Did you choose one that is brightly colored? or one that is intricately patterned? or one that is a stately monochrome?

The extravagant beauty of a butterfly is self-evident.  We see it, we marvel, and we say, “Oh, what a lovely creature that is!”  Not so much with us humans.  We are short, tall, obese and slender.  We are black, brown, red, yellow, white and many shades in between.  We have black hair, brown hair, red hair, blonde hair, straight hair, curly hair and like those of us who have raised too many children or seen too many years, we have white hair or no hair.  Not all of us are at our beautiful butterfly stage.  Some of us are in the not-so-pretty stages of eggs, larvae and caterpillars.  Men especially can relate to being called a “worm” by a disgruntled spouse.

But, as Maya Angelou so profoundly says it, our transformational beauty has to endure the sometimes ugly stages before we are recognized by the world as the gorgeous humans which we are.  Whatever size, shape, shade, or sex we grow up to be, we are beautiful when allowed and encouraged to mature into a sailing, soaring, fluttering, floating masterpiece of the Lord’s handiwork.

Just like the butterfly, each one of us is a miraculous creation in his/her own right.  The Book of Genesis tells us that God created each of us in the image of God. GENESIS 1:27  Male and female He made them in his image.  The wisdom of the ancients tells us that we are God-like.  So how can we be anything less than beautiful, compassionate, loving, replicas of our Creator?

Of course, you can be a pesky mosquito or house fly.  They also have purpose and reason in God’s universe.  It’s your choice.  But, I’m going to be a swallowtail when I grow up.

smiley 3

 

 

 

fear not

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.

cropped-clouds-dark-dark-clouds-416920.jpg

How many times as children during an electrical storm have we run to hide in a room without windows or pulled bed covers up over our heads?  We felt we were safe because we could not see the lightning flashing outside.  And then, when the thunder cracked in the heavens, we plugged our ears with little fingers.

As an adult I thoroughly enjoy an electrical storm, smelling the air, feeling the energy in my body, hearing the claps of thunder and seeing the spectacular display of lightning in the skies.  I no longer hide as I did as a child, but that doesn’t mean I will stand outside in an electrical storm under a tall tree, or on a golf course with putter in hand, or on the water in a boat.  Why?  Because I know today not to tempt the power of nature and I don’t believe God protects foolish men on golf courses or fishers on the lake.

But soon a fierce storm came up.  High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.  Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion.  The disciples woke him up, shouting,  “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  Mark 4:37-38

Naturally, the disciples feared for their lives.  This body of water on which they were being tossed about furiously was not some little backyard pond.  But, instead of taking measures to save themselves by bailing water out of the boat, they awakened the sleeping Jesus and questioned his concern for them.  Don’t you think in that situation, one would awaken Jesus and throw a bailing bucket to him yelling,  “Get ready to jump, can you swim?”  How many times in my life have I confronted God, “Don’t you care about me?  Why are you allowing this to happen?”

The passage from Mark goes on to say that Jesus woke up, calmed the waters and told the wind to be still.  In the same manner when I begin to panic, God says to me, “Relax, son.  Be cool.  I’ve got this under control.”

“I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”  Psalms 34:4

Seeking the Lord in times of turmoil and surrendering the outcome to his mercy and grace is easy.  In the storms of life I usually have no other options and the resulting relief is welcome.  Conversely, seeking the Lord when life is good, the skies are sunny, and I’m enjoying a great day is a challenge.  I’ve retrieved my white flag of surrender, the crisis is over, and I am once again doing the driving.  “OK, Lord, thanks for the help, but I’ll take it from here.”  It would be wonderful if I could surrender my will and my life just one time and be done.  But my life simply does not work that way.  I am still a work in process and apparently have many future lessons to learn.

This physical existence which we experience gives no guarantees to our survival.  Car wrecks, disease and illness, crazy shooters at our local WalMart – we are not assured that tonight we will return home safely to loved ones.  But, it’s always been that way.  Rocko, the cave man, never knew whom in his neighborhood had a bigger, more deadly club.  The Jews, during Jesus’ time were at the mercy of the Roman conquerors and the religious hierarchy.  Jesus was not the only one crucified.  History tells us that thousands were hung on a cross during the rule of the Roman Empire.

Rational fear in the temporal world is probably a good thing.  It keeps me alive and out of harm’s way.  I have learned not to run around my neighborhood looking for a hairy caveman with a big club and I don’t seek out soldiers wanting to crucify me.  But what about fear in my spiritual world?  As a child I became  an extremely fearful person listening to the stories of a judgmental, white-haired, bearded, vengeful, fire-breathing, old man sitting in the heavens just waiting for an opportunity to BBQ me in hell.  The people telling those stories were not evil; they were merely misinformed.

That childhood fear was irrational, not based on truth.  Today, I have the truth in front of me in the words and teachings of the man whom Jewish countrymen hoped to be the deliverer from Roman and religious oppression.  He was not that messiah.  He died like many other victims ignobly hung from a cross.  Centuries later the Roman church fathers assembled writings about Jesus into a plan for successful living which suggested we could have freedom from fear.

I believe that is what the book of John tells me.

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

It’s not rocket science.  In his lifetime, Jesus spoke to his disciples and his followers in parables.  Analogy and metaphor detailed what he was trying to teach about the spiritual world in which he dwelled.  Essential to delivering those teachings was not only the faith of his followers in who he was, but also Jesus’ faith in an eternal, everlasting presence which he named as God, his Father.

Scriptures tell us that Jesus suffered the human condition just as we do.  He displayed anger, compassion, doubt, disappointment, and fear.  The lowly carpenter from Nazareth probably suffered the same concerns about clothing, housing, and providing food for his family as we do.  He enjoyed the company of his Jewish brothers and sisters, attended weddings, and partied with sinners.  That’s what gives me hope.  Jesus was not a saint when he was alive on earth.  He became divine centuries later only when the fathers of “Christianity” proclaimed him to be so.  But, while alive on this earth, Jesus was just like you and I.

That gives me tons of hope and reason to have faith.  I, too, can be a better version of me.  Temporal fear is a life-preserver, but soul fear is merely an absence of faith in what Jesus can do with me as a child of God.  A Psalmist from long ago told me to not be afraid of walking this earth even when death and darkness surround me because the love and compassion of God will protect my soul, will lead me out of that deep valley into a place of gentleness and kindness where I will dwell forvever in His mercy and grace.  Amen, my cup is overflowing.

UNSHACKLED 2

 

 

 

WORDS

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.

rainbow-solidarity

For all its inspiration, for all the lives it has changed, the Bible is undeniably problematic. Put in the hands of egocentric, unloving, or power-hungry people or those who have never learned how to read spiritually inspired literature, it is almost always a disaster. History has demonstrated this, century after century, so this is not an unwarranted, disrespectful, or biased conclusion. The burning of heretics, the Crusades, slavery, apartheid, homophobia, and the genocide and oppression of native peoples were all justified through the selective use of Scripture quotes. Richard Rohr – cac.org

From my daily reading habit, this from Fr. Richard Rohr jumped off the page this morning.  A wise old man shared with me many years ago his take on Bible-reading.  If what you read does not promote in your heart tolerance, love and compassion, then you are reading with blinders.  Go to your quiet place and talk with God about it.

My grandfather suffered miserably during his last years with lung cancer and COPD.  I have fond memories of him sitting in his chair by the front window, Bible open on his lap, looking out to the highway 100 feet away.

“What are you looking for?”  I would ask.

“The undertaker just drove by.  I was wondering if he was stopping here.”

At that time in my life I was a ‘wannabe’ atheist and dismissed his reading habit as foolishness.  Today, looking back, I can see that the verses and stories he cherished from the Bible were his strength in his end-of-life travail.  Grandpa was a kindly, gentle man who had not a shred of egotism or hatred in his soul.  Grandpa lived his life by, and drew his comfort from, the words of the ultimate Comforter.

Those words are powerful.  Taken in the wrong context readers have justified vicious attacks on differing creeds, races, and lifestyles.  In the hands of misguided, opportunist men of religion and politics, the love and compassion demanded by Scriptures have been translated into a doctrine of intolerance and oppression.  Prominent church leaders have recently declared that Jesus and his teachings applied only to those of the Christian persuasion, that Christians do not need to honor the legacy of Jesus, the Christ,  when interacting with those who are not “like us.”  The government and leaders of a nation, which they declare to be a “Christian nation”, do not need to apply principles of Christianity to its dealings with other people and other nations. WP interview – Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Matthew 25:33-46…”as you have done unto the least of these, my brothers” – NLT…leaves no room for interpretations supporting one’s errant theology or political persuasion.  It is perfectly clear what followers of Jesus must do to be acceptable to God.  Beware of the wolves dressing in sheep’s clothing quoting scriptures to support agendas of violence and oppression.  They have bastardized a verse which is absolutely explicit in its instruction.

cropped-candle.png

CHRISTMASTIDE – Feast of St. Stephen

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.

animals-elderly-forest-40873

Tell me something.  How far are you willing to go to defend your property?  Or your integrity?  Or your person?  Or, for veterans and military personnel, your country?  Or your family?  Good.  I knew all my readers were men and women of honorable character.  Now, how far would you go to defend your love for Jesus or whomever you name as Lord of your life?  Hmmm, let’s talk about it.

Chronologically, I have been the boy fearful of a judgemental white-haired man in the sky, the strident atheist, the unsure agnostic, the sure-footed Christian with all the right answers, the doubting Thomas, and the child of God living in the mystery and awe of an Almighty presence.

But, I have never feared becoming a martyr for my faith.  We are indeed fortunate and blessed to live in a society where we can fearlessly worship, or not, as we choose.  Much of the world does not have that luxury.  What about you?  Are there elements of faith which you will never abandon, no matter what the cost?

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he died.  Acts 7:59-60

Is there any reason to doubt this account of the follower of Jesus who, 2 years after Jesus’ crucufixion, was stoned to death by those who considered his testimony blasphemous?  We are witness in our age to televised beheadings by radical elements of religion.  They are disturbing and frightening, but no more so than what the early Christians faced when proclaiming their faith.

Today, the 2nd day of Christmastide, parts of the Christian world celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, Christianity’s first recorded martyr after Jesus himself.  What would I do?  How about you?  I would like to think I’ll be on the front lines willing to take a bullet for Jesus and my faith.  And then, as I lay there dying, I would say, “Lord , forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing?”

Really?  Could I be a willing and forgiving martyr?  Hmmmm, something to think about.

beard-beggar-face-35015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonah’s Whale

jonah

 

Jonah, historically, was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BCE.  His name is given to the Book of Jonah representing the  Judaic teaching of teshuva, the ability to repent and be forgiven by God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  Jesus left them and went away.  Matthew 16: 1-4

There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Briefly, the Biblical story of Jonah tells about a man of faith who was instructed by his God to journey to the city of Nineveh to warn the residents to repent of their sins or face divine wrath.  Jonah instead flees in the opposite direction and gains passage on a ship to Tarshish.  The voyage encounters tumultuous seas threatening ship and crew with destruction.  Jonah, realizing he is the cause of this raging storm at sea, orders the crew to throw him overboard.  He is swallowed by a whale, survives inside the whale’s belly for three days, is then vomited ashore.  Jonah completes God’s mission, the people of Nineveh repent, the disobedient man of faith is forgiven.

I enjoy reading this story about Jonah.  It is a rich example of the Judaic society of that time drawing upon the writings of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans expressing a faith system in greater powers than themselves.  It is a fascinating mythology.  But, in contrast to the neighboring cultures, the Hebrews developed a monotheism worshipping one God to whom they attributed power greater than any of the other gods of the time.

Our powerlessness is acutely apparent when we are in the “belly of the beast”.  Those times when I know what is right and sustaining, but choose instead to follow what is convenient and comfortable are days in the belly of the beast.  The times when I know what the Lord of my life commands, but follow instead what pleases my ego are even more days in the belly of the beast.  I relate to Jonah when what I choose to do is in opposition to what God desires for me.  The seven deadly sins (character defects) of greed, anger, envy, sloth, lust, gluttony, and pride will in a heartbeat put me in the belly of the beast.

It’s a place I can’t fix, control, explain, or understand.  Sooner or later, life is going to lead us there, you and I.  Graciously, that’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing.  It’s transformation that leads recovering addicts out of the beast of addiction.  Like Jonah, that whale vomits us back up onto the shores of sanity and submission.  I am rebellious by nature, slow to learn lessons, and have spent many days and nights suffering in the belly of my personal giant beasts.

Thankfully, the Hebrews taught me about teshuva.  The story of Jonah affirms the teaching of their wisdom.  Repentance and forgiveness, repentance and forgiveness – the cycle continues into eternity.

Hurricanes, volcanoes & God

 

beard-beggar-face-35015

It is difficult to feel joy and happiness while millions of my neighbors to the north are still reeling from the devastation of a Category 4 hurricane.  It will take months, if not years, for them to rebuild their lives.

I believe that what the rest of us Floridians are feeling is relief.  We dodged this one, but the next could get us.  It’s what we live with here on the Gulf as do our friends on the Atlantic coast during the hot, summer months when superheated waters spawn super storms.  I try to never say I’m glad that the hurricane missed us and made landfall in another community.  I try never to believe that God saved us from the devastation because then the follow-up question would be, “Why didn’t God save them also? Don’t we have a loving and just Father who tends all his people?”

Naw, don’t need to go there.  I’d rather live with the mysteries of my simplistic God-belief than the theories of scholarly minds and PHDs in Divinity.  The bottom line for all of us is that nobody knows.  We all get a one way ticket to eternity and nobody has come back to explain the God mysteries to us.  The theses and scholarly papers written throughout history are nothing more than man’s philosophy.  The scriptures accepted by many as the inerrant and infallible word of God are beautiful literature written by men and women highly inspired by their faith in what they hope is truth.  But, nobody knows.

And therefore, why was my coastline spared while the Panhandle got blasted?  Do you think that maybe God had nothing to do with it?  The reason I’m hot about this tonight is because a neighbor commented, “Well, God surely protected us from the wrath of Michael.”  Really?  She also believes that Sodom and Gomorrah got incinerated because of their sins.  Folks, active volcanoes, not God, do that kind of thing.  Volcanoes spew fire and ash into the air and destroy villages and cities.  If we need to credit anyone let’s give Mother Nature a hand for being the weather-master of our planet.  She creates and destroys.

FREEDOM

larry6

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unshackled-2