I claimed my miracle, have 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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“I’m sorry, we are out of wine.  Would you like a cup of water or perhaps fermented goat’s milk?”

“Noooooooooooooooo.”  Undoubtedly, the scream echoed through the hills and valleys of Galilee as the feast master in charge of the wine supply realized his calculations for the wedding’s needs were misjudged.  His reputation throughout Israel would be ruined.  Nobody would hire him to cater their wedding after this fiasco at Cana.

And then Jesus, having been summoned by his mother, saved the day by turning six stone pots each filled with 20 to 30 gallons of water into vessels filled with wine.  When the wine was tested by the ruler of the wedding feast he went to the bridegroom saying, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  (John 2:10 NIV)

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal to us the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the ancient manuscripts.  Turning water into wine was the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry occurring three days after Nathaniel became a follower.  John 2:11 tells us that this “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.”

“He did whaaat?”  Had I lived then and one of my neighbors who attended that wedding at Cana told me about some yahoo preacher man turning about 150 gallons of water into wine, I am certain my doubting Thomas nature would have replied, “You’re out of your mind.  What were you smoking up there at Cana?”

Many people today say they don’t believe in miracles.  They also deny Jesus, God, and eternity.  Years ago I was one of those people.  I wanted to be an atheist, tried to be an agnostic and failed miserably at both.  If God did not exist why was I on my knees in a drunken stupor begging God to heal me?  If Jesus was just a myth like Santa Claus why did I talk to him like a friend when I wanted to end my life?

Yes I believed, but I refused to accept my miracle.  It was right there in front of me for years , but I was not done with the pain and self-loathing.  I wanted to beat up on myself for a while longer.  It gave me satisfaction to be a victim.  The floor of my bottom had a trap door that I wanted to explore.  Let’s kick me around and refuse my miracle a little bit longer.

But, you see, the God which I rejected did not give up.  Every night on my knees in a drunken stupor, God held my hand listening to me, comforting me, showing me the way to accept grace and mercy.  I tearfully forgave myself and accepted life, eternal life.  Miracles still happen today.  I claimed mine.  Millions of others like me, addicts and drunks clean and serene, are each and every one the story of a miracle.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed him.” (John 2:11 NIV)

I believe him too.

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scapegoats dujour

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.

devilFlip Wilson, in his wildly popular variety show from 1970-1974, introduced the character “Geraldine” to his audience.  Geraldine will remain forever remembered for her line, “The devil made me do it.”

The devil made me do it.  The horned and tailed trouble-maker has been a scapegoat for millions of people over many centuries.  That hell-raiser has had numerous names in various civilizations, but the purpose is the same – give humanity an entity to blame for its faults.  Rather than assume responsibility for the acts we commit against others, that fellow sitting on our left shoulder whispering in our ears becomes the universal scapegoat.

Tribalism is founded on scapegoating.  Whether my tribe is a government, a race, a creed, a social order, a caste system, or a religion, when it agrees on a common foe as the enemy to be feared or despised, discrimination and intolerance are born.  But it all starts with me nurturing the fear and distrust which has been indoctrinated into my tribal mindset.  I need a thorough “brainwashing.”

How does that happen?  My personal answer, although not yet perfected, is to replace those “Geraldine” moments with faith and trust.  Replace the scapegoating with inner transformation which uncovers my faults, my defects, and my hatred in need of correction.  Stop blaming the devil.  I need to grow up into the human being I was designed to be.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.  But, when I grew up I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

 

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betrayal

 

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They followed him, believed him, ministered with him, sacrificed for him, learned from him, loved him, and then –  betrayed him.  

The world refers to the above painting as the LAST SUPPER.  The original mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century is housed by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.  It represents the final meal taken by Jesus with his disciples before his trial and crucifixion as told in the Gospel of John. (1) (2)

Up until the end Jesus served his disciples.  The book of John tells us that before the meal, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and then approaching Simon Peter, Peter said:

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I am doing, but someday you will.  No,” Peter protested, “you will never wash my feet.”  Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

The narrative continues in verses 14 and 15:

“And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow.”

In ancient times the trails were dusty.  It was a matter of ceremonial etiquette to present to the visitor to one’s household  a bowl of water for washing the feet. In a well-to-do household a servant would have been assigned the duty.   Jesus took this one step further and became the servant whose chore (or privilege) it was to wash the feet of his guests.  His entire ministry is summed up in THE LAST SUPPER – serving a spiritually soiled and hungry humanity.

Judas Iscariot is known infamously as the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane for a handful of silver coins.  The death of his master and teacher earned Judas a mere handful of silver.  For us today, the task is to recognize and correct the many times we also betray Jesus, the one we name as Lord.  Our doubts are a betrayal, our addictions are a betrayal, our unspiritual thoughts, our lustful behavior, our profanity, our cheating, our lies, our violence, our greed, our prejudice, our gossip – all are acts of betraying the One who blesses us every hour of every day 24/7.  He has washed your feet then shared his bread and wine.  He put himself on a cross because he loved us enough to suffer crucifixion and die ignobly so that we could receive through the Gospels blessings from a loving, compassionate, just God, the same God whom he called Father.

Greater men than you and I have been traitors.  Simon Peter, the Rock, the Father of the Roman Catholic Church, when leaning into Jesus at the supper asked to go with Jesus to his destiny:

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”  Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.”  Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me?  Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (3)

Is it just my imagination, or do I hear a multitude of roosters crowing?

(1) THE LAST SUPPER

(2) JOHN 13:1-30

(3) JOHN 13:36-38

 

the angry Christian

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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I probably would not write about faith and recovery if I did not have an unyielding, nagging directive to dispute the abounding, fear-filled theology which controlled my life for many of my early, formative years.  It is my sense that many others also suffered and continue to suffer an “ism” of hell fires and damnation.  It is for them that I return to the memories of pain caused by delusional theology in order to propose another way, the Way proclaimed by Jesus, our Christ.  I am the way, the truth, the life seems to be lost on a religion more concerned with retribution, payback and profit than restoring life abundantly to the world’s lost and dying.  Mega churches, millionaire televangelists, a gospel of affluence are obviously missing the mark set by Jesus to minister to the poor and downtrodden, to seek heaven at the bottom of the social ladder rather than in the far reaches of the universe.

In the book of Mark, a man comes running to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answers that one must live by the commandments.  To which the man said he had followed them all.  Then,

“One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross and follow me.” (1)

The man went away sad.  We don’t know if he sold his possessions or if he cherished them more than a relationship with God.  Soul sickness, however, does not discriminate between rich and poor.  Selfishness and avarice are not limited to wealth and power.

Fortunately, through the recovery rooms of AA and the loving compassion of fellow trekkers, a restoration of soul for me was possible.  The first step in this restoration was grasping the concept of “God as I understand God.”  It is a foundational tenet of AA’s recovery program which has enabled millions of doubters like myself to find mental and spiritual health in a sea of unhealthy religious dogma.

God hates me, and God wants to burn me in hell’s fires.  Imagine living with those thoughts for the first 33 years of your life?  I tried to drink myself to death thinking I could drown with alcohol those haunting visions.  I tried to wear the atheist armor and the agnostic unbelief to no avail.  God still despised me and was waiting for me to commit the ultimate sin that would seal my fate in hell.  In truth, during the years of alcoholism, I was already serving my sentence in his realm of fire and brimstone.

I don’t go there today because the God of my understanding does not take me there.  Together we find green pastures and still waters.  We are as One enjoying peace, solace, contentment, and treasures of the soul.  It seems silly to me today that anyone who is seeking would choose a vengeful, wrathful, hateful old man as their God.

From Richard Rohr @ Center for Action and Contemplation:

In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way” (the life of Jesus as a ransom to an angry, demanding God) – “working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in ‘his’ actions.  Many people still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent.  People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.” (2)

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(1) MARK 10:21

(2) CAC.ORG

when belief becomes action

“Over the past few decades, our Christianity has become obsessed with what Christians believe rather than how Christians live….But in Jesus we don’t just see a presentation of doctrines but an invitation to join a movement that is about demonstrating God’s goodness to the world.”  Shane Claiborne (1)

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In chapter 2 of the Bible’s book of James, verse 17 – “faith without works is dead” – is a favorite of addiction recovery programs.  It is the foundational premise of the fellowship’s call to live a life of service to others through works.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not the copyrighted property of Christianity.  Many major religions and cultures profess an obeisance to this maxim.

But it is not merely a statement of belief.  It demands supporting action in the way I live, in the way I treat other people.  Not only family, friends and neighbors should receive my best efforts to live by the “golden rule,” but everyone on earth who names themselves a member of the species homo-sapiens.

Tall order, isn’t it?   Now, let’s stretch it.  How about every creation of the God whom I name as Lord of my life?  The birds, tigers, my pet cat, fish, the flowers of the field, our water resources, the air we breathe – everything?  They are all a portion of the gift given to us to use and enjoy.  Treat creation with the respect and stewardship with which we want to be treated.  Might be a much better world, don’t you think?

Every seed is awakened and so is all animal life.  It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our animal neighbors the same right as ourselves to inhabit this land.”  Sitting Bull

In contrast to our world of greed and disregard for the elements of nature, the forgotten creed of the Native American embodied a legendary wisdom and spirituality.  Animals were respected as equal in rights and, when hunted, they were killed only for food. The hunter first asked permission of the animal’s spirit. (2)

Born in 1182 into wealth, St. Francis of Assisi, during his conversion period, was considered a madman when he renounced money and chose to live simply practicing equality by honoring, respecting and loving every person whether beggar or pope.  Francis’ love of nature is well recorded in writings, but his love was much deeper than enjoying time in the woods to admire the beauty.  His brotherhood included all of God’s creations.  To him the sparrow was as much his brother as the pope. (3)

Francis, born Giovanni Bernardone, had no thoughts to establish a monastic order named after him, but when called to serve his God, his answer was yes.  What will my answer be?  How about you?  Please take 5 minutes and 27 seconds of your life to watch the Franciscan Plea For the Soul of America.

(1) Shane Claiborne

(2)  www.pantheism.net

(3) www.catholic.org

 

Imperium Romanum

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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IMPERIUM ROMANUM

The Roman Republic (Roma) dated from 509 BC to 27 BC after which the Roman Empire was established.  It had a government headed by emperors and held large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa and West Asia.  Until 285 AD the empire was ruled from Rome when it split into the Western Roman Empire based in Milan and later Ravenna and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Nicodemia and later Constantinople.  The West fell to Germanic Herullians in 476 AD, the East fell to Ottoman Turks in 1453.

In 380 AD Emperor Theodosius made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the West.  Earlier, in 313, Emperor Constantine convened councils of bishops to define the orthodoxy of the Christian faith.  Ecumenical councils were convened at the direction of the ruling emperor to assemble ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice.  The 1st seven ecumenical councils of the Church were: 1) First Council of Nicaea in 325, 2) First Council of Constantinople in 381, 3) Council of Ephesus in 431, 4) Council of Chalcedon in 451, 5) Second Council of Constantinople in 553, 6) Third Council of Constantinople from 680-681, and 7) Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

 “Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.” cac.org

Fr. Richard Rohr, a follower of the Franciscan order, does not mince words when describing the formative years of Christianity as a time when Roman emperors exerted power and control over the population through religion.  Our liturgy in contemporary Christian worship services recites the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds which define what Christians should believe, but leaves the implementation of that belief unexplored.

“The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth – to the real , historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth.  Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul.  Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.”  cac.org  (underlined emphasis is mine)

In my mind, the urgency for a renewal of Christianity according to the early writings of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth becomes ever more pressing when religious leaders endorse a government policy which clearly defies the teachings of Scriptures by stating those same teachings of love and compassion, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” do not apply to our interaction with people of a differing creed, nationality, or culture.  Furthering the incredulity is when those same church leaders dismiss government leaders from any obligation to moral discernment when dispensing their official duties. This coalition of church and state, both without a moral compass, foretells a broken American Empire. Washington Post – Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Thanks to Fr. Richard Rohr at cac.org for the quotes and inspiration for this post.  He ends with the following words:

“Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life….a Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does….a Jesus we can imitate in practical ways….” cac.org

red letter Christians

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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One of my daily reads is RED LETTER CHRISTIANS. It is a ministry which I use to lead my desire for simplicity in my faith walk.  You may have a red letter KJV Bible as I do.  Mine was presented to me on the occasion of confirmation at age 13 into the Lutheran Church.  Over the years I felt a need to add a Scofield, a Comparative Study Bible which presents 4 translations side-by-side, and an American Standard Bible.  I also have a translation of the Torah and a Concordance.  Additionally, my book shelves overflow with commentaries and theological opinions.

I am not trying to impress you with my collection of books.  I am letting you know that I am the ultimate doubter.  I am the apostle Thomas in the Jesus story.  “Let me see your hands with the nail holes and the scars on your head from the crown of thorns.  Prove to me through the many books which I have read that you are real, that you are indeed a Lord and Master.”

And nothing happened.  I learned an abundance of information about Israel, about Jerusalem, about the apostles who followed Jesus, about life under the Jewish religious hierarchy, about the oppression of the common people.  But, I sadly realized that somehow I was not getting the message.  And why was that?

I began to understand through engaging with the community of ‘red letter Christians’, those followers who find their truth in the red letters of the Bible, the words which are attributed to Jesus, the Christ, the union of man and God. The words, the teachings, the parables, the healings popped off the printed page and became real when I saw them as a guide to living rather than a God 101 course.  When I read those red letters as a call to action rather than a statement of belief, my faith can be transactional rather than static.

I believe Jesus spoke those red letter words in his ministry, but it doesn’t matter if he did not.  I believe he walked the earth as a common peasant, that he had healing powers, that he performed miracles, that he died on a cross.  But it does not matter if he did not because I do not worship Jesus, I merely aspire in my everyday life to be more like the man portrayed in my Bible.  I accept those red letters presented to doubters like me as proof that you and I can hope to live life abundantly even when persecuted,  even when destitute, even when crucified for being who we are.

Many of you, like me, grew up in churches with spectacular stained glass windows, with a crucifix in the sanctuary and paintings depicting Biblical stories.  Some of us mistakenly were taught to worship those icons and images.  The heavens were filled with angels and a wrathful God holding lightning bolts in his hand.  We recited the Creeds as statements of belief.  But nowhere in those creeds does the humanity of Jesus take precedence.  The love, compassion, forgiveness are forgotten.  In the Apostles’ Creed Jesus is taken from “born of the Virgin Mary” to persecution under Pontius Pilate to crucifixion on the cross, to death.

Did Jesus not live a life in his 32-34 years walking the earth between “born of the Virgin Mary” to “died and was buried”?  That was the missing link in my years playing the role of doubting Thomas.  The red letters tell me about the man who ministered to the poor, healed the broken, forgave the sinner, and also lived his life abundantly.  He did not shy away from a wedding with flowing wine or a good time with friends or supper with society’s disenfranchised.

That’s the Jesus to whom I can relate, the one I want my life to emulate.

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