Others – Ourselves

I was reading the Washington Post on Monday, fascinated by one of the editorials: E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s “Profane President, Penitent Pope” proved more interesting than this simple title. Dionne mentioned that our president does not apologize for anything (this is the last time I will refer to President Trump). Dionne continues with comments on Pope Francis, “First, he did something that comes very hard to most public figures, and particularly to the current occupant of the White House: He apologized fervently for ‘grave errors.’”

 Admission of misdeeds is important in a complete person. We are born into a world of shadows, where truth is many times optional. The pope also mentioned that we “waste precious time, being caught up in superficial information and instant communication.” How much of this is truly affecting our minds, our relationships with family and friends?

Jesus admonished us when he stated that the second most important commandment is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. My query is that it is difficult for us to identify the person with whom we are dealing. All of us are affected by those outside influences that bombard us on a daily basis. We have to look beyond the facades that we post to exist in this topsy-turvy world we have created. As we examine our own inner selves, so must we examine those around us. For example, we cannot be offended when a coworker, or a family member, or a friend snaps at us. We do not know what has negatively affected him. We cannot know the stressors that are holding him hostage.

We cannot completely judge a person by the outward persona. We must take the time to dig through the falseness of their projected image, finding the person that God brought into this world, just as we do with our own persona.

This grave error we make in our relations with others is divorcing ourselves from brotherly love. We are all related in God’s world. Our brothers and sisters are wandering the world, looking for a safe haven to raise their families and turn their frustration into love for their neighbors, as we must do.

In the Old Testament (Leviticus to pinpoint this) is the statement that we must accept the stranger at our door and not oppress him because he looks or talks differently than we do. I am a white American; according to God’s law, the dark-skinned, Urdu-speaking family that moves into my neighborhood or sits behind me in church is related to me in the most basic way. We are living there with our families to nurture them and give them the chance to succeed, as this neighbor is doing, as we are doing. We have entered the church to praise God and receive that comfort and elation that only a house of God offers. As we leave the church, we wish that the feeling of openness, love, and ease would stay with us throughout the week. Normally, it does not.

We can keep this euphoria by looking at that family, open our arms and our homes, accepting them as brothers and sisters, or at a minimum fellow travelers who are struggling to find their way, or, to find The Way.

May God help us do this.

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And Sarah Laughed

Sarah laughed

And Sarah Laughed

Sarah thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, now will I have this pleasure?” then later in Genesis 18, “God has brought me laughter” and she named her son Isaac, which means He laughs in Hebrew.

Sarah laughed. God brings us laughter. I have suffered pain, regret, disappointment, failure, and loss. All these have caused great pain and suffering in my life. But each time this happens, I return to being myself. Joyful, content, happy, and yes jovial.

There is nothing new to this. My grandmother used to say that time heals all wounds. I have to agree with her; unfortunately, she did not live what she preached. My grandfather, whom I never met, left her in the 1940s, moved south, and had another family apart from his first family in New Jersey. My grandmother never forgave him, never let go of the loss, and as a result did her best to sour the life of all around her.

I and all my cousins laughed at her when she went into this routine; after a good cry, or more often, a good rage at everyone, she would settle down and begin to enjoy her grandchildren, there were 27 of us, and begin laughing and enjoying life. For a time.

I have had my times of depression and anguish, some serious, some not. When I remembered to take life as it comes and put my failures aside, I quickly returned to being a forward looking person. It was difficult at times, especially when I almost lost my life and subsequently lost the business I owned. This was a very tough time for me.

But God opened doors that I did not even know were there. I was led into teaching by his angels, some ethereal, some real life people. I glided into teaching with little difficulty and enjoyed 23 years in front of students, from middle school, to high school, and finally, to college. I have loved each of my classes, and each of my students. I have laughed with each of them.

All of these young people added to whom I am today, formed the person I am . . .  serious, but humorous. These classes and individuals over the 23-year period opened a world of understanding to me. I learned to appreciate each of their individual talents. I have always enjoyed music, but to learn about music from my history students when I taught in high school, allowed me to truly appreciate the sounds of quality music; and that does not include Rap.

I also learned to appreciate art and crafts from these young enthusiasts.

The ardor with which they approached their projects impressed me, and help to create an appreciation for all forms of art. Jealous that I cannot do the same.

So I write.

When I write, I laugh.

I also pray; I pray for and pray with others. This enlightens me to another aspect of my life. I rejoice with people, and I cry with people. Every person I pray with and pray for is special to me. At our church we have a prayer circle in which we may not know our prayer target. We have a name only. So we pray for a person we may never have met. This is a truly joyful experience. Because I get to embellish my prayers for this person with all forms of tomfoolery. Hopefully bring him (or her) and me closer to God’s wishes for us and our lives. Hopefully to bring joy and laughter into our lives.

So Sarah laughed; she laughed at God; and He blessed her with a son. Do we dare to do the same? Are we brave enough to laugh at God? Abraham is one of three people who actually saw God according to the Bible. Moses and Jesus also did. And Moses only saw his hind quarters.

We are none of these people; we will probably not see God in this lifetime, face to face or his hind sides. Can we laugh at God? I do it all the time! God created laughter in me; why shouldn’t I share His gift with Him?

My 75th

spring

From Psalm 109, “With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the Lord; and in the midst of many will I praise him.”

On this my 75th birthday, I reflect on a life of mixed feelings about faith. As a young Marine, I was always angry with God with all I experienced. As I aged, I ignored God for most of my life; I was angry with my parents for many reasons; therefore, I was also angry with God.

But gradually, over the last thirty to thirty five years, I have come to realize that no matter what I have done and what has been done to me, I have always had God beside me, many times carrying me through those really tough times, like a head-on collision with a very big truck.

I also realize and realized at the time, that when I lost my business and went into teaching, the doors fell open so rapidly that it could only have been by god’s hands. As a fifty year old, there is no way that I was a better candidate for a history teaching job in an upscale community. There was also no reason why as a sixty year old I should have been admitted with no difficulty into an elite doctoral program for literature.

The major steps in my life, including my marriage to the love of my life, and the birth of my two wonderful children, have been blessed.

Now, as I turn seventy, and am finally hanging up my teaching robes, I look forward to a life of helping others find their way in life as I have found mine. I will use all I know, including my relationship with God, to help others avoid the trenches that I fell into.

I feel truly blessed by the Lord and in the midst of many will I praise him.

 

Knowing Ourselves

reflection                                          Knowing ourselves

This is always a challenging idea. I am never sure if I truly know myself. As I progress in age, I am reflecting on my life, my present circumstances, and my future on this earth. Questions always arise as to what my true nature is. I was reading a passage from the Plough journal and came across this by M. Basil Pennington; I want to share the entire passage with you:

Unfortunately, in seeing ourselves as we truly are, not all that we see is beautiful and attractive. This is undoubtedly part of the reason we flee silence. We do not want to be confronted with our hypocrisy, our phoniness. We see how false and fragile is the false self we project. We have to go through this painful experience to come to our true self. It is a harrowing journey, a death to self – the false self – and no one wants to die. But it is the only path to life, to freedom, to peace, to true love. And it begins with silence. We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves. This is the great value of silence. It is the pathway to all we truly want. (from: A Place Apart)

I am due to retire at the end of April, and I am confronted by what I will do for the remainder of my life. However, to really discern what my future will be, I must reach deep inside me to discover what God has planned for me. Pennington mentions silence. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to find true silence. Even when the house is quiet and my wife has gone to bed for the night, I can sit in relative silence to meditate. But I don’t think that this is the silence that Pennington speaks of. I think that true silence is when I clear my mind of all thoughts, thoughts of the just ended day, thoughts of what I must do in my duties as a vestryman and a prayer leader at my church. With a congregation exceeding 1500 souls, it is extremely difficult to rid my mind of ongoing concerns for those I love. I know I must do this to truly find the path that God wants.

I turn 75 on April 7th; I have many years to serve my fellow man. I know that the service that I undertake will be led by God and that what I do will bring peace to those in my spiritual care.

Are We the City Upon the Hill?

city

At the turn of the 20th century, W. E. B. DuBois commented that either the United States would destroy ignorance, or ignorance would destroy the United States. We are dangerously close to fulfilling this prophecy. This is a frightful thought for which we bear complete responsibility. We have to take our part in the working for change. We, for instance, are now in a position to do something about all the suffering in the inner cities. We are the only ones who can make the change; others are either incapable of doing it or do not care to do it.

I just finished reading Chris Matthews’ novel on the life of Bobby Kennedy, a truly fascinating study of RFK’s life. I learned a lot and I remember a lot from that time. In this novel, Matthews comments on RFK’s travels through the South to discover that there were people who were so poor that one child commented that his diet consisted of a couple of teaspoons of molasses a day. Sights, such as these, caused Kennedy to be on the side of the non-privileged in our society. He could not believe that in a country as wealthy as the United States, there were people forced to live like that.

I contend that conditions for the poor have not changed all that much relative to the change in the rest of society. Our leaders have been so concerned with the taxes paid by the well off and the corporations that they have completely forgotten those at the bottom of our society. Between stagnant wages and the desire to remove state-sponsored health care, the poor in the United States are suffering. Money is withheld from public schools preventing the poor from earning the education necessary to succeed in our high-tech economy.

We need to open the blinds and shine a light on this issue. Our future depends on it. If we shine a light on it, bringing these conditions into the light, greater understanding will result; which in turn will produce trust, unity, and eventual love shared by all. This sounds simplistic, but the lack of substance creates suspicion, hated, and disunity, causing a split in the objectivity of our society. Jesus said that we are the light of the world, and no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel basket. This is exactly what we have done to the poor in our country. Jesus also said that we are to let our lights shine before the world so that others can see our good works, which in turn glorifies God.

We are not glorifying God with our lack of concern for the poor. In effect, we are the destructive force that is allowing ignorance to destroy the United States. It’s late, but I do not think it is too late to reverse course. But we cannot sit back thinking others will act; they won’t; we must. As the youth of the world demonstrated about guns earlier this month, they called out all to vote, to vote for what we think is right about gun control.

I make the same call for us to vote for those who are willing to balance things in our society so that all of our brothers and sisters can live in the light of our Lord.

That ‘let-it-all-go’ Love of Jesus

Let all that you do be done in Love.That ‘let-it-all-go’ Love of Jesus

Brother Keith Nelson of the Society of St. John the Evangelist began today’s Lenten Meditation saying, “We’re made strong by the model of self-spending love – that ‘let-it-all-go’ kind of love of Jesus – so that we can go out into the world and practice the same kind of love.”

This is a powerful statement that directs us in the way that we are taught to follow Jesus. This means that in communities of love, such as St. George’s, to whom we’ve made faithful commitments¸ it means to practice vulnerability, the vulnerability we see and recognize in others and in ourselves. We lay down our lives by volunteering to do the things that need doing; even if we are unsure of how to accomplish what needs to be done’; we risk our reputations on an unsure thing, not knowing how it will help others, if at all. We ask if we have the means and the volunteers to walk with us, but we walk the path anyway to serve others.

When we find ourselves in a place where we feel we are called to sacrifice for others, we say a prayer, a prayer to assist us in our quest, a prayer asking for guidance. This action, this prayer, is Love. It is that Let-it-go-Love that Brother Keith speaks of.

This meditation, led by Brother Keith, is very apropos this morning, considering that last night was our monthly meeting of our Grace in Action Commission, formally called our Outreach Commission. The twelve people around the table reported on the different ongoing activities this commission is presently conducting or participating in with others. From feeding those struggling to keep their heads above water, to our call to provide understandable church services to our deaf community, to our call to help dress the underprivileged children in our local schools, all around the table were deeply concerned, deeply committed to sacrifice in Love for our neighbors, for our brothers and sisters in need.

I speak of this not in a braggadocio way, but as an example to others as to how with a little daring, we can help the person next to us in the light of God’s Love.

 

Prayer to Save Ourselves

prayer

Prayer

We do not pray in vain – even when everything seems to be hopeless. We are truly concerned for salvation and bring our problems before God; He will bring us under His special care, so that – perhaps before we are even aware of it – miracles can happen, even when we had already given up. I remember the story of Jesus with the crippled man by the fountain: “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

The question I always ask myself, especially after feeling that the whole world is on my shoulders crushing me, is: am I ready to be cured, am I ready to be made well. This usually occurs after several days or even weeks of feeling sorry for myself, whether it is a psychological or a physical problem.

Why do I, why do we, always do this to ourselves? We know that God is on our sides, yet we continue to torture our minds and bodies.

Why is it that we are not generally living by what is happening today. We spend too much time, too much effort, worrying or planning about tomorrow. We also waste time worrying about what has already passed. Neither one of these fruitless exercises calms our souls. By living fully in what is occurring today, understanding and accepting that god is with us, we can be much more relaxed, much more focused on living our lives to the fullest. For years, I beat myself up over the fact that I let my 85-year-old father die, rather than go against his religious beliefs. Now that I am 75, I think that I can truly understand how his faith was the one true concept that he could and did understand. To challenge that, to go against his will, would have been wrong.

This is another example of holding on to what has long happened, and cannot be changed.

God is on my side. I pray that I can remember to put aside any unfortunate things that happen and realize how special I am in God’s eyes.