“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
“If you want peace, work for justice.”
As a precursor to thinking about world peace, it is necessary to recognize that governments and government agents cannot enforce peaceful co-existence. Governments desire power above peace, governments covet profits from its nation’s war machine and munitions industries above peace, and governments employ military might as an insurer of peace within its own borders at the expense of violent oppression elsewhere in the world. The great Roman Empire was created on this principle. The American experience also became an empire in this manner. Peace on an international level is unattainable without the intervention of a supernatural mediator.
Perhaps that is what Pope Paul VI is inferring in this quote. Wise men know that mankind is violent and warlike and that the governances created by man are equally so. The peace envisioned is not going to happen in the halls of government but rather within the temples of man. Man is a spiritual being housed in a physical body, his temple. When that spirit is tuned in to a greater universal force, the process of peacemaking can begin. It is a miracle of interior transformation which prepares each individual to journey to the destiny of enlightenment offered by his/her Creator.
The transforming process begins with a recognition of inherent ego and its continual demand to be self-satisfied. Slowly ego is replaced by sacrifice and awareness of surrounding suffering. The injustice of world systems becomes increasingly apparent as the individual reaches out to live in solidarity with all brothers and sisters, to seek justice for all people. Justice mothers the driving desire to share resources equally, to treat others compassionately, and to extend peaceful co-existence to the entire creation. Striving for universal justice becomes the life work which will usher peace into the worlds existing within the temples. No government can deter or destroy that which dwells within.
“BULLYING – abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger and more powerful.”
In junior high school I weighed about 145 pounds, I was gangly and scrawny, and my oversized ears and nose made me an easy target for the big boys waiting in the gym where I had to go after lunch on my way to my next class. Punching, poking, slapping, and pushing became such a stressful occurrence that I ended the school day with an extreme gastrointestinal disorder. But the physical abuse was more tolerable than the name-calling and ridicule of my physical appearance. I recovered from the punching and poking much sooner than the hurtful words.
The teachers were aware of the ongoing abuse. Their advice was to fight back. Not only was that a stupid idea, the big boys collectively weighed about 800 pounds, but it was an unacceptable option in the tradition of my faith. The end result was that a young junior high school student blamed himself for the abuse and felt he actually merited the bullying because he was not only ugly but a coward as well.
We hurt each other with actions and words most often unaware of our indiscretion. Mindlessness is not a virtue but it is forgivable. Bullying is not mindless. It is intentional, demeaning, diminishing, and tragic. Today’s media headlines tell of young girls who are bullied at school and on social media and then choose suicide as the only option. As young as twelve years old, they end their lives over an act of social injustice which tells them they are unworthy of living..
Yes, it is injustice. Bullying is an action and an attitude. It is an outrageous verbal and physical assault on those who are vulnerable, those who are unable to fend for themselves. It is cowardice at its ugliest. As a nation we are witnessing bullying in our highest government offices, in the powers seated in Washington, D.C., in the Oval Office of the White House. We witness bullying in corporate offices, in the entertainment industry, in the factory, and in schools. It is fed by bias, racism, discrimination, sexism, xenophobia, and unfettered ego.
We are building a world where bullying is not tolerated. In that world the pain inflicted by words and actions on weaker victims will no longer exist. The tears and sorrow suffered in grieving for loved victims will no longer exist. The strong and powerful will be made to serve and the meek will be exalted. That world will manifest someday, but until then it is our responsibility as members of a righteous humanity to oppose bullying at all levels of society and courageously expose it for the cowardice which it is.
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Eleven years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory. As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families. Their way of life was fascinating to me. How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew? I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.
Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears. Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman. On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours. My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me. Five killed. Others injured. The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.
“For the sake of Christ, my God, they were children! Why?” That’s all my mind could process until later in the day when the news reported a statement from the Amish elders of that community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, “We forgive the gunman.”
Oh my God! These simple, peace-loving men and women, having suffered the most horrific of crimes perpetrated against them, immediately turn a most hateful act of violence against innocent children into an opportunity to show the world what Jesus expected of them. “Forgive him, Father, for he did not know what he was doing.”
Could I have forgiven? If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive? Even today, eleven years later, I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly. I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger. Perhaps I am the one who needs forgiveness.
That day and the days following were a time of continual mourning. More tears, more questions, less confidence that American society would ever turn from violent rhetoric and behavior. In time the tears did indeed wash away the sorrow. A brighter day appeared.
Those who mourn, including me, realize that mourning is another day in the seasons of life just as pain, depression, illness, disappointment, and inadequacy. Life is an inescapable mingling of sorrow and joy. Without the times of sorrow we would not recognize joy. Without the sorrow we would not seek the blessing of a Comforter.
“Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
“Jesus describes those who grieve as feeling the pain of the world.”
“Saint Ephrem said, ‘Until you have cried, you do not know God.'”
Jeremy Camp released a video and recording encouraging us to endure the pain and sorrow for there will be a day…….
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4
A friend invited me to sit with him to watch one of the popular offerings on prime time television. My viewing over the years has diminished to baseball, news, and college football. Sometimes an old movie will grab my attention and I will settle down to watch and reminisce. But, today’s 1258 channels on cable don’t get me too excited.
The show we watched was not alarmingly violent, had little sexual content, kept cussing to that which 8 year-olds now use at school. But, it was bizarre in the images presented and the script. Actually, bizarre is not strong enough. It was chilling, ominous, and dark. It creeped me out. The computer generated visual effects were graphically disturbing, not something I wanted to put into my memory banks and certainly not something I would want a 10 year-old to process in his/her developing psyche.
“Trash in, trash out”. We seem to have lost as a supposedly advanced society the wisdom that what we ingest mentally is who we become as a person. Those images and that music which I allow into my brain will affect who I become as a person. I can fill that space in my head with soul-nurturing entertainment or gut-wrenching graphics. I can honor the presence of Jesus within or I can dump trash on his salvific glory. It’s a choice I have to make every minute of every day. And, being the broken piece of humanity which I am, I sometimes fall short. There are times when the best I can accomplish is damage control.
Our entertainment industry has replaced a God of joy and peaceful coexistence with its god of sex, immorality, and violence. We should not wonder why mass shootings are becoming commonplace in America. The children are learning from the movies, music, media, and politicians that the best solution to a problem involves a gun and standing up for “rights”. Even some of our churches are preaching a theology of exclusion. “You are not like me, you do not think like me, you do not look like me; therefore, you need to be eliminated.” The less violent of these misguided religionists are content with the thought that the elimination will be an eternity in hell for those who do not fit their narrow viewpoint. But, increasingly in America we see an active pursuit of legislating hatred in the name of God.
I am a child of God, I need to be careful what I see, hear, say, think, and feel.
In my little world there’s an inside voice that tells me, “yes Larry, you are on the right track,” or, ” no Larry, you are screwing up”. It’s a good personal barometer of fair or foul weather lying ahead. Get out the sunglasses or put on the hip boots.
I take lots of things in life pretty seriously, sometimes too seriously. Often I take myself too seriously. I can be too thin-skinned for my own good and in the past I have spent days brooding over unkind remarks which honestly had no bearing on me as a person. I guess I often allow ego to run my life. I can be judgemental and I can be overbearing.
I usually believe that I have a fairly decent handle on the world and world affairs. I see myself as a sane, rational human being. On my better days the future has a rosey glow and I feel like I will live forever….well, almost forever. On less optimistic days I truly have no desire to live a long, long life. Why bother? Who really cares?
But rarely do I find myself shaken to the core with a realization that simply has never occurred to me before. I don’t know where it came from, I don’t remember thinking that peculiar thought before. It’s discomfitting and it’s challenging.
That’s what has happened today. I share opinions about the world, society, people, spirituality, sobriety, serenity, politics, etc., etc. And I know that mine is just a small voice participating in a raucous conversation. We share thoughts, we agree, we disagree and we go on with the day’s agenda.
However, never have I considered that there are people in this country, in this world who do not want to live in a society of non-violence. We know some can’t, that some are caught up in political turmoil and social injustice. But, I always thought that given their druthers, they would choose peace. Apparently, that’s not true.
It’s obvious by responses on Facebook where conciliatory Congressmen are booed and ridiculed. It’s equally obvious from reading letters to the editor in my newspaper. We see it on our screens everyday. Lord forgive me for being so blind and for living in a world of make-believe. I should be old enough by now to know better. Some folks simply love violence and actually thrive on it. That is the utopia they seek.
So by now you might be asking, “Larry, where are you going with this?”
I’m a tired man with high blood pressure, aches and pains, cholesterol issues, emphysema and bunions on my toes. I don’t have the financial resources to buy an island in the South Pacific where my cat and I can live in a peaceful disconnect from the world. Hell, I barely have enough to feed my cat. We are both getting older and, I don’t know about Max, but I am weary of the world’s agenda.
There’s a contemporary Christian song by BUILDING 429 which says:
“Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing but am I alive
I will keep searching for answers that aren’t here to find
All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong”
That sums it up for me. This is not where I belong. The guns, the violence, the hatred, the racism, the bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia………
“So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.”