Justice

hands photo

Justice

The Oxford English Dictionary defines justice as just behavior, the quality of being fair and reasonable. Justice, according to the Bible, involves making individuals and community whole, complete, by maintain goodness and impartiality.

Since its inception, the United States has led and been the model for the UN’s human rights council. But this is no longer true; we have withdrawn from this important international commission because our leaders are no longer concerned with justice.

I am morally and spiritually offended by how our country is treating people with different ethnicities than ours. My daily meditations seem to be futile. My practice used to be to bring my friends into my core to pray for their health and welfare. Having been a public-school teacher and college professor for the last 24 years, I have had the honor of being with Americans who are rich and poor, black, brown, and white, people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America.

Throughout these years, all my students have become a part of my wonderful family. I love them all. I cannot distinguish them by gender, ethnicity, or economic status. They are all important to me, as I pray that I am important to them. These family members are veterans, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, suffering with PTSD, insecurity, a lack of confidence; I have had students who have terminal diseases and prison records.

I don’t care what their pasts were; they were my students and are now a part of my family. All deserve fairness, reason, Love, and impartiality. This is the way that I live my life.

I can only pray that men and women of similar beliefs and practices will come to their God-given sense of justice and correct this abomination on on southern border.

   

 

Working Faith

shrine

From Psalm 40: I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.

This is a very interesting thought for today – at least for me. As I am now closer to 80 than 70 years on this planet, as with all of us old folks, I am beginning to experience some physical insecurities. At times, these are depressing; I get upset that I am no longer able to put in a full day teaching (which is one reason I finally and forever retired this past May).

I have to force myself to recall these words from Psalm 40. This comes from both the Christian and Jewish Bible and is repeated in the Qu’ran. God walks with me, whether I remember this or not. I may doubt many things, and since I am only human, I sometimes question this. Fortunately, my good wife, and my intellect, and above all my faith brings me back to this substance.

I attach the words of Basilea Schlink, a 20th century religious influence in Germany for almost 100 years. “I do not want to be respected by certain people; I do not want to be admired. Lord, accept my commitment today. I do not want to worry about whether I get a bad deal; I do not want to be involved in myself. I want to trust that you will not let anything happen to me that would not be for my good. I always want to think the best of my brother and sister and not give way to any mistrustful thoughts again.…”

This is a passage I often read to bring me back to reality; this is especially needed now, when I doubt what my future will be.

Whatever will be is not in my control, so I trust myself to rise each morning, pray for those who are in need, and thank God that I am with my friends and families. This is a good day and a good time to be active in this world. There are interesting times ahead, all of which I anticipate greatly.

Bless you all and my the Good Lord walk with you always.

A Prayer for all

prayer

I have a daily prayer that basically asks that our society does not slip back to the age-old practices of white privilege, western privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, entitled Christendom, and American isolationism (I call these the six deadly sins). All of which are practices that we began eliminating from our society over fifty years ago. I ask for nothing but one thing: that His will be done, that His kingdom come, and that His nature be revealed. Then all will be well.

This, however, is a difficult prayer; I accept that nothing is impossible for God, but mankind has been given free will, and right now our free will is rapidly crashing down a deep abyss after being derailed by those who are obsessed with money-hungry and power-hungry greed.

I have been deliberating greatly on the need for a kinder, gentler community over the past several weeks; this is one area that always needs further discussion. To Love our neighbors, as Jesus commands, is a very difficult thing to do; but, we must begin doing it. Just to get historic and political for just a minute: between 1933 and 1935, a powerful popular person became chancellor of Germany, with a very week Reichstag. I all hope we remember what happened in the ensuing ten years.

Don’t put words in my mouth, but I pray that we do not repeat the failures of human society again. Our president is in word and deed a very popular person, using a very weak congress to achieve his goals. We don’t really know what his goals are. They may be excellent; I pray they are. But I also know that our community of families is being undercut on a daily basis. We cannot believe in strong family values if we continue separating children from their parents.

This practice is bringing back four of the above deadly sins. As a Christian, as a western, white, semi-privielged male, I shed a tear every time I read about the 1500+ children that have been misplaced after separation from their biological parents.

Jesus di not want anything like this to happen; neither did Peter, or Paul, or any of the other disciples. Even under the structure of the early Middle-Ages Christian Church, the white men in robes, as strict as they were, did not foresee anything such as this in their domains. None of the original desert religions created by Jacob, Paul, or Muhammed had anything like this in mind.

My brothers and sisters, I ask that you included the above prayer in your daily routines, as I have done.

Pray with me . . .

Who are our neighbors?

good-samaritan

Who are our neighbors?

I often get confused, and I will admit, I also often get upset, with people’s actions toward each other. I cannot overlook someone who has not had the same opportunities as I have. I do not want to use the term advantages, because coming from a lower middle-income family, born in Newark, New Jersey, I do not consider myself advantaged; but I do consider myself a product of my opportunities, when I learned to recognize and accept them.

One of the things that I have begun to realize and to share with others is the idea that even the simplest things in life are filled with multi-level meanings. Cornell West said, “To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely — to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.” I couple this with the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. Many times, we have difficulty in recognizing who in fact our true neighbor is. It could be the family living in the house next door; it could also be the family living in the single-wide house in a trailer park; it could also be a poor Venezuelan family on the border of the United States seeking asylum.  

My heart tells me that it is all three; two of them I have yet to meet, at least face to face. But, in all cases, these are my neighbors; these are family members that I have not had the pleasure of sharing a meal with.

My heart tells me that if I had not recognized the opportunities that came my way, I would not be where I am today. In 1990, while I was the president of the NPHS booster club, the Athletic Director came to the monthly meeting in September and announced that he had just lost his swim coach. To make a long story short and meaningful, I ended up being the temporary coach. After four years, this lead me to pursue my masters degree in history to become a history teacher at NPHS. This opportunity began my 24-year career teaching at both the high school and college levels.

One of  these same people that I have not met could recognize the same possibility and end up becoming a teacher who affects the lives if his or her students. This is not impossible to imagine, unless you have no imagination whatsoever. Only a loving outlook on life can produce and add to the life of our neighbors.

Many of us look at ourselves and cannot imagine how we can be this open in our outlook; many of us just don’t know how, or we are to busy to think we can learn to be this open hearted. I find that if you follow your heart, you cannot do wrong by our neighbors living on the edge of society. All of us can learn to love our neighbors; it is not impossible; it is not even unfeasible.

Thinking of the poor refugees on our southern border, I am reminded of Father Zossima. For those non-bibliophiles, he is a main character in my favorite novel by Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov. Father Zossima prays for his forgotten souls with the following: “Remember too, every day and whenever you can, to repeat to yourself, ‘Lord, have mercy on all who appear before you today.'” 


My grandmother, as doty-ish as she was, always said, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” a good lesson to remember when dealing with those we think are below our station. God’s Love leads my heart always; it leads me to risk the attachments of Love for all my neighbors.

So – all those people who upset me with their haughty attitudes, well, I also recognize them as my neighbors, and I love them just as much.

 None of us are perfect; especially me; I try, but alas, I have yet to succeed.

Maybe my new unknown neighbors can help!!

 

d-day

June 6 1944 D-Day Thoughts

On this 74th anniversary of D-Day my thoughts are very multifarious, I think of the bravery, the fear, the loss of that day . . . on both sides. Families grieving over the loss of a son, a husband, or a father. Being a former Marine, who was blessed by not facing combat, I do understand what all of these men had in common. All of the men had one job to do; they had the most intense focus imaginable.

I wonder if we in our safe communities can share that intense focus. Richard Rohr refers to this as living in the now. But what does this genuinely mean? Think of the possibilities we can perform if we focus on that one thing in the moment. As I am thinking on paper, I have a Haydn symphony playing in the background; I have the window slightly open, listening to the birds at our feeders; I look out the window and see the Afgan war veteran washing his car for the third time this week; and, I am thinking about the next few days when my focus will be on the Finance Commission and Vestry at St. George’s. All of these are distractions that can keep me from focusing on what I am doing now.

The beauty of nature, the myriad displays of colors in neighbors’ gardens, and the sound of a soft breeze blowing through the trees outside my window all calm me to help me focus on what I am now doing. But, I have to ignore all of these dream-filled distractions to keep on my path.

I complain to Linda that she spends to much time on serving others at The Table at St. George’s. At times, it seems as if her whole life revolves around serving those members of our community living on the forgotten edges of society. God has blessed them with a woman who is devoting her life to their needs. I am blessed to have a wife with such a mission. And, truthfully, there I times I feel that she spends more time doing this than she spends with me. After all, these are our retirement years; we should be doing what other retirees do.

But no, God has chosen us, has chosen Linda to spearhead this idea of The Table and make it the success that it is today. She has had tremendous help from other doing this, and I am grateful that God has included these other people in this project to make it what it is today.

In order to make this successful, it took an inordinate amount of focusing on the tasks at hand. Diversion was not a possibility; it was an impediment.

But this is the kind of focus we all must have to accomplish our goals in life. The men storming the French beaches 74 years ago dedicated their lives, sacrificed to allow future generations peace. The volunteers at The Table are sacrificing hours of relaxed pleasures to bring a better life to our brothers and sisters who have not shared in the prosperity of our country. I am sure that if roles were reversed, each would do the others’ jobs. God gives us gifts, gives us dedication of purpose, gives us the love of others to sacrifice our lives, or something in our lives, to serve our fellow man.

I praise God and I thank the men who sacrificed seven decades ago; I also praise God and thank the many volunteers across this country who dedicate their lives to help those less fortunate people who are parts of our extended families.

I have rambled from idea to idea today; but, as I read over what I have written, I will not change a thought; all these have contributed to my overwhelming gratitude for being where I am today, experiencing not only the beauty of the world outside my window, but also appreciating the whole world outside my window. Where I am today is because of the sacrifices of people who have helped put me where I am.  

May God walk with all of my families today.

Using our God-given Talents

feet-washing

In Luke, when Jesus visits with Simon, he asks if Simon sees the woman who is tending to the feet of Jesus. This is a very deep question that Simon does not understand. As humans, we want to be recognized for what we have done in our lives, how much money we have earned, how high we have climbed on the corporate ladder. We are looking to boast, to honor ourselves for our accomplishments. This is what Simon is.

This may be what most of us are. We are tempted to brag about ourselves. We are seeking to be served for the grandiose heights we have achieved. We are not looking to serve. God create us with unique gifts; we are all different in our skills. Linda and I were watching PBS last evening, a special on Peter, Paul, and Mary. During the program, I was dreaming about the memories that this trio brought back to me, memories of my own ambitions as an amateur (very) folk singer. I lacked the talent that these three had. I was jealous.

God didn’t bless me with the talent or the drive to become a famous folk singer, even though I loved and still love the music that this trio and others, such as Tom Paxton, we able to perform. My gifts from God fall elsewhere. But I am still serving God, doing what I can to bring his light to others. When I think back on the folk songs of the 1960s and 1970s, there is definitely a protest entwined in the owrds, but the words also bring us a spirituality that grows within us. Tell me that the words of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” do not bring a thoughtful feeling throughout your very core.

I think if the words of Britts’ Sonnet #1:  How often do we miss the fainter note/
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue/ Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet/ Eyes fixed upon some other, further view. We are blinded by our own ambitions for ourselves. Like Simon, we cannot see other people for who they truly are, not who we think they are. We are here to help others, to serve others in need, not to boast about our accomplishments.

If I compare myself to others, I sometimes feel that my life had not truly affected the world. But I know this is wrong; I know that God called me to be a teacher, a rabbi, for others to learn from, to emulate. I have met and been the intellectual mentor for many high school and college students. Through Facebook, I have kept in touch with them. Many are married and have successful careers of their own. When I read their profiles, learning of their career choices, learning if their marriages and children, a warm grows within me knowing that perhaps, just perhaps, I affected them positively.

I may not be a Peter, Paul, or Mary, but I pray that I have had similar effects on my former students. I truly believe that tis was God’s will for my life. The more faithful and joyous I am with those I meet, those I pray with, I know that my gift to the world, at least my little part of the world, will make a difference. I also believe in the ripple effect.  This is one of the gifts God has given me.

Enjoy today. It is sunny in Virginia; I pray that those severely affected by the 10 inches of rain we received can pull their lives back together.

Blessings to you all.

 

A World of Goodness and Love

 

Desmond Tutu writes that we are made for goodness and Love, friendliness and togetherness; we are made in a world created where there are no outsiders. We must build on this thought, especially these days, when it seems that everything around us loses value, even when there is longing in people’s hearts for a better world to come. If we accept what Tutu writes, it is vital that we reflect this goodness, this togetherness, allowing us to experience the beauty of our lives, our worlds.

This all starts within us, within our own homes, within our own neighborhoods. To get peace, we must open ourselves to love all the people in our homes and communities. We find it easier to give to a worthy cause found on TV when a child lives in poverty in Africa, or Southern Asia. Yet, when we turn around, we do not recognize the similarities in our own friends.

We are made for goodness; we are made for Love. We are made to be in a community, to raise the community to a higher level so that all members reap the harvest. It is only difficult if we do not try.

My wife and two friends looked at Sarah Miles feeding ministry in San Francisco and said that yea it is possible to replicate that in Fredericksburg. They tried; they struggled; they succeeded. Now St. George’s Episcopal Church is known as the produce church. Now, these same few people are inviting others in the community to expand their efforts to do the same. Love of neighbors, true Love, will defeat hardships all the time. But only if we try.

I am involved in the prayer ministry, and the healing prayer ministry at St. George’s. all my former friends, including former students, know me as one who can talk about any subject. I have the gift of gab. I have the gift of being able to talk about anything,  talk legitimately.

I have turned this gift into a comfort for those in physical and mental depression, to lift them up. You all know that I have had many physical traumas in my life. I always wondered why I was able to bounce back to a productive life. I firmly believe that God was directing me to this present sacred role in my life. My years of teaching high school and college students allow me to be comfortable in areas that others shy from. I know standing in front of a classroom full of wise, intelligent students can be scary. I also know that praying in public is also a thought provoking and limiting practice that few are really comfortable doing. Trust me; neither of these two activities was easy for me.

If we step outside the box that we have enclosed our lives in, and if we can try to bring the Love that is within us out of our closets and share that with our neighbors, the whole world will improve. Just this morning, I was leaving an office building and the senior citizen ahead of me held the door for me, allowing me to stumble through it with the cane that an NPHS student carved for me. I told her that tradition says that I should be holding the door for her. Her comment: “Poppycock.”

We can break with tradition and take that little step that allows us to make it easier for the person next to us, regardless of what others may think.

And maybe, just maybe, our world will be a world of Loving our neighbors as ourselves, not distrusting them because of their appearance.

Personally, I Love you; all of you; especially the students who handed barbs right back to me, making my life just a little more interesting.

Have a great day!!