Lay Down to Build Up

Lay Down to Build Up

Advent 10

Year in Review 2017

 

A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”

 

The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.

 

Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.

 

How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”

 

Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.

 

Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

 

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.

 

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.

 

When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped.  We are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.

 

Advent is a time of preparation and many feel charitable at this time of the year.  It is important to remember that a gift is not a bribe nor is it payment.  It is simply a way for us to cherish each other and honor the life of the recipient.  It is at this time of the year that the light of goodness needs to shine its brightest.  When we cherish our world and those in it, we also cherish our being.  That is a great gift indeed. 

 

 

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Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Advent  6

Year in Review 2017

 

One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I have asked you to consider it a form of living but today we will discuss it not as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  Why?  Because, in my humble opinion, often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace.  I firmly believe our purpose in living is to cherish – each other, nature, all things connected to life.  Many times, the religious communities are the very institutions that define grace and yet, sometimes, they are its worst enemies.

 

Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.

 

Here is a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

 

“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”

 

Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.

 

In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.

 

To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.

 

So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 

 

Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”

 

We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.

 

Recently, I had a family member pass away.  I requested my religious leader to hold a fifteen minute prayer service as requiem for this person’s passing in order to honor their life.  It would have been that last thing I could do to cherish this person’s living almost a century on this planet.  For the past four months, this religious leader has been too busy to find fifteen minutes.  Clearly he does not cherish my membership in his religious community.  Someone else less determined might take his actions to be a condemnation of their living as well.  We hear of suicides and wonder why.  Usually it is something as simple as a person not feeling cherished, not having had grace extended, and seeing nothing in their future.

 

This religious leader has been so busy doing his charitable works that he forgot charity truly begins at home.  It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This proverb or aphorism is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote somewhere around 1150 ACE “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (Hell is full of good wishes and desires).  Life seldom goes according to plan but we still need to have intentions with follow through.  Otherwise, all we are left with is a disconnect and that not only might alter someone else’s life, it usually has an effect on ours as well.  Grace is a simple act of kindness that shows the recipient he/she is cherished.  Life is precious and worth at least fifteen minutes of our time.

 

 

 

 

Gifts

Gifts

Advent 5

2017 in Review

 

Advent is the first season on the liturgical calendar and it is so named because believers were to prepare for the greatest gift – the gift of a child who would become their savior.   Here is an excerpt from a sermon by Augustine, a North African pastor from the 4th century regarding this gift.

 

“The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without   whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.

 

“The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.

 

“To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years.  He did this, although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake, had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.”

 

Most of us receive gifts rather frequently.  Perhaps it is wrapped up in a pretty package or it may simply be the holding of a door or a quick smile.  The thing is… We all receive things from others.  St Augustine wrote of the connections that life has with each of us in the paragraph that spoke of one who is powerful needing nourishment; of one who created all food being hungry; that one who is nothing but truth being the subject of falsehoods, etc.  We all need each other for life.  We also seldom deserve the gifts we receive.

 

One of the most precious gifts we can offer someone is to pray for them.  Prayer is not something that people of just one faith do.  Most spiritualities have some sort of prayer.  I began this week participating in a mindfulness meditation group and it occurred to me that this was a gift we all gave to each other – a period of calm and quiet, of coming together for the betterment of each other.  Prayer is another form of this, of showing grace and love for one another.

 

Recently I attended a training of sorts in which everyone participated in a survey of their talents, likes and dislikes, and how they employed such.  The purpose of the survey was to discern how we were using those talents and other skills we had developed through our lives in living our faith.  Most of us, if backed into a corner and asked, would probably claim we are making good use of that with which we have been given and learned and developed.  I say “backed into a corner” because, honestly, nobody really wants to have to make such a personal assessment call, do we?  To do so leaves open the chance we might not be using all of our skills, etc.  We might be living in a lazy sort of way.  We might discover we are living for ourselves instead of for others.  We might not be living our faith.  We might not be hospitable in our faith.

 

People who had spent their professional careers in administration were surprised to discover that they did not rate high in their personal assessment in that area.  Others were happy they scored high in leadership.  The entire group was proud most scored high in hospitality.  They began listing the ways in which they invite people into their place of worship and the success of such.  Listening to everyone speak, not only a habit of mine but I believe also a talent I possess, it occurred to me I was not defining the terms on the survey the same way everyone else was.

 

Faith was defined by some present as “being” faithful, not really the active “act of believing”.  I was asked my highest score and it was faith.  “Really?” was the response I received.  “You don’t take part in every activity; how interesting.”  If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that Easter of 2014 as well as at other times, my Christian brethren have called me to task for not emphasizing the Christian doctrine enough.  Indeed, I call this more a blog involving spiritual and religious concepts rather than a Christian journal of living.  Again, I think it comes down to definition. 

 

My definition of a supreme deity is one who is all-encompassing and that means He/She is Christian and Muslim, Jewish and Hindu, Buddhist and Wiccan, etc.  I think I can believe in my own Episcopal credo while respecting the right of others to believe in theirs.  My God is big enough to be the God of everyone, with different names and worship practices.  In my humble opinion, faith is the interaction of belief.  It is true that I do not score one hundred percent attendance at every activity at my own place of worship.  Sometimes I am out in the community living and practicing my faith; sometimes I am doing other things that most of them might be doing.  Is it only faith if it has to happen at one specific address?

 

Someone in the group was relieved to discover they scored highest on leadership and was not only happy in their relief but expected it.  “I like to be out front and get credit” the person explained.  This is a person who is very much a hands-on, busy person and not one that simple delegates.  This person is down in the trenches so to speak, getting their hands dirty and often covered in sweat.  Their comment, then, was a surprise to me.  We all like applause, even those that say they do not.  Being appreciated is a quality we all share and we share it with others in the animal kingdom.  That is why a dog wags his/her tail.  There are even some plants that respond well to positive reinforcement.  There is nothing wrong with liking appreciation.  Still, it is not guaranteed nor is it part of the definition of leadership. 

 

Mindy Gibbins-Klein, the founder of REAL Thought Leaders defines leadership as “having a vision, sharing that vision and inspiring others to support your vision while creating their own.”  Nothing is said about getting credit.  This definition involves other people getting credit for what they do and while, they should give credit to the person who motivated them, they might not do so.  Perhaps the person who wants to get credit should stop thinking about being a leader and spend more time on being a doer who works in fields that use a byline. 

 

Every definition of leadership I found involved guiding others to work in such a way that they were given credit.  Kurt Uhlir, CEO and co-founder of Sideqik summed it up best:  “Too many people view management as leadership. It’s not. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, helping to lift others up and working toward a common mission [to] build influence. True leadership comes when those around you are influenced by your life in a positive way.” 

 

As I mentioned before, the skillset that most delighted the group was that of hospitality.  We think of hospitality as throwing a good party but that is not exactly how it is defined.  Hospitality centers more on the relationship between host and guest rather than the event itself.  A hospitable person is one who is considered generous, not necessarily a great event planner.  To throw a great party or event involves an entirely different set of skills – organization, knowledge of caterers, space planning, decorating sense that accommodates the purpose for the event and not just the combination of colors, meal planning, entertainment, etc.  The group at the survey event defined hospitable as opening the doors and wearing a smile…on their faces.  No one mentioned how guests felt when they left.

 

That brings us to prayer.  How hospitable are we in our prayers?  We pray for our friends and family and the friends of friends and perhaps the acquaintances of friends and our coworkers and their friends and family.  Do we pray for those we dislike?  Do we pray for those we despise?  Or do we just write some people off as being evil and dismiss them from our prayers all together?  Should those “evil people” be at the top of our list to pray for or are we right to leave them off?

 

There is an old Irish blessing that includes those we don’t like…or rather those that don’t like us.  “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping.”  It takes a great deal of faith to pray for those we consider to be evil and yet, they are the very ones that need our hospitality.

 

What about leadership in our praying?  We have all said a prayer that included the desired outcome.  I am not smart enough to tell you if that is correct or not.  I try to pray “Thy will be done” but I do admit that at times, I want to know what that will is.  It might just be that the best outcome is not what I want.  Can I truly be a real leader in my own prayer life to let that happen?  Am I really that faithful?

 

I will leave you to ponder your own skillset when it comes to prayer.  In closing, I will give you another Irish blessing.  “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”  This is a prayer I can pray for everyone…and feel good about it afterwards – a prayer that is hospitable to other people and myself.

 

Life needs more hospitality, more relationships than solo acts, and more motivations than condemnations.  In our daily living and in our prayers, we need to focus more on how we make people feel than in how we feel, in extending grace to others rather than be concerned with just our own feelings and image.  

 

I close with the most hospitable prayer and gift of written grace that I know:  “May God give you…For every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise, and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer.”

 

 

A New Beginning

And so we begin …

2017 in review

Advent 1-3

 

This blog is organized into the liturgical season of the Christian calendar and so while December is the last month of most calendars; it represents the beginning of the church calendar.  Advent means coming and it is a season of preparation.  It is, though, also a season of review.  Many find this conflicting but for me, it makes sense.  We cannot prepare for the future if we do not review where we have been and learn from the past.

 

This Advent we will review the topics and some posts from 2017, beginning with the very first post from Advent 2016.  Advent 2016 was a blog series about grace, a commodity of which there is precious little in our world.  Oddly enough, grace is one of those words that, although simplistic in its form and spelling, it really rather complicated with multiple meanings.  My first post on grace rather summed it up.  Entitled “O.M.H”, it discussed our human nature and why we need something like grace. 

 

I began by discussing a presentation from June 20, 2011 when filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg gave a TED talk on gratitude.  For the past twenty years, people all over the world have given and listened to oral presentations sponsored by TED, a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of these short, powerful talks. It began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 110 languages. TEDx events are independently operated local presentations that help share ideas in communities around the world.

 

Schwartzberg employed his skills as a filmmaker and previewed two interviews for an upcoming project of his entitled “Happiness Revealed” in the particular discussion on gratitude.  As he introduced the brief filmed interviews which featured the stunning time-lapse photography of nature that he is known for, he used a popular slang term – “O.M.G.”.

 

In English this popular acronym stands for “Oh my God” and is used both pleasantly and in shock and horror by people of all ages.  Little children are shown on commercials seeing a new bicycle for the time screaming it much the same of older people appear on camera to say it when surprised.  Schwartzberg, however, did not use it in a trendy fashion.  He explained it.  He asked his listeners to think about what they were saying and hearing and gave one beautiful explanation.

 

“Have you ever wondered what that [O.M.G.] meant? The “oh” means it caught your attention, makes you present, makes you mindful. The “my” means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard.  And “God”?  God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we’re connected to a universe that celebrates life.”

 

I discussed how Advent is a liturgical season which captures our attention.  The first season on the liturgical calendar, Advent is the “oh”, a season whose purpose is to grab our attention.  It is the new beginning on such a calendar, the season that ushers in a new year and because of this, we are encouraged to be present and mindful of what we believe and how what we do, think, say, and act conveys those beliefs. 

 

Even if you do not believe in Advent, everything you do illustrates who you are, what you believe, and how you live.  The “my” when we utter it connects us and who we are to the present, to what is happening right in front of us or what we have heard about happening somewhere else.  When we hear of six children dying in a senseless school bus crash and say “O.M.G.”, we are connecting to the pain that must be felt by their families.  Saying it in shock as yet another terrorist action takes place or a natural disaster is experienced, does indeed as Schwartzberg explains “creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard.”

 

Over the past almost four years that I have been writing this blog, we have discussed sacred spaces and holy creation stories as well as mythologies that are not perhaps quite so holy.  This blog is read in over forty-three countries and I have delighted in hearing from a diverse group of people.  That is why I truly respect and adore the definition Schwartzberg, considered one of the best naturalist cinematographical artists ever, give to the “g”, the “God!” in this colloquialism. 

 

“God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we’re connected to a universe that celebrates life,” Louis Schwartzberg explains.  Whether you consider yourself to be religious or spiritual, atheist or Buddhist, young or old, we are indeed all on a personal journey.  We do all want life to inspire us and yes, even the most hardened curmudgeon desires connection to the universe.

 

During Advent 2016, the beginning of the liturgical 2017 year, we discussed a commonly held concept in the entire world.  It is a concept that gives life to how we explain the beauty of a butterfly dancing through the air as well as the kindness of a stranger.  It is the one action that connects us to each other when we experience it, that illustrates our own personal journey, which takes us out of the basement of the everyday and creates something very similar to a miracle made by humans.  It is grace.

 

Grace is a word that most of us have heard used in a variety of ways.  Some claim it is, as a concept and undeserving gift, the foundation of the Bible and explaining it is what the Bible exists to do.  Others use it as an adjective to describe action of movement.  In the next twenty=eight days we will explore all its definitions and yes, there are many.

 

The word ‘grace” has its history in twelfth century Middle English dialect.  It was derived from the Anglo-French and as a romance language, taken from the Latin “grati” meaning a favor, charm, or thanks, and also from the Latin “gratus” which meant pleasing or grateful.  All were considered akin to the Sanskrit “gṛṇāti” which translates as “he praises”.  In Hebrew grace is “chen” from a root word “chanan” which is defined as “to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior”.  In Greek “charis” is the word for grace and is refers to a “graciousness in manner or action, derived from the root word “chairo” which meant “to be cheerful, happy”.

 

All of our modern-day definitions for the word “grace” illustrate its varied etymology and all are correct.  Grace has, in all its manifestations, one common element – the human experience.  And so, out title today is a derivation on that popular slang term Louis Schwartzberg so wonderfully described.  In our discussion of grace we will, hopefully become attentive to how we live it and connect it to each other, making it “O.M.H.” – “Oh, my human.” 

 

You see, grace is something we all would like to share and without remembering our human connection to each other, we will fall short of that wish.  Regardless of your age, condition, belief system or lack thereof, grace is still salvation from the human condition that we all need, not only to survive but to thrive.  Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives, the advent of our living! 

Showing Up

Showing Up
Detours in Life
Pentecost #81-89
Mega Post #3

In my last blog post I quoted Corrie Ten Bloom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Prayer is often synonymous in today’s world with faith. Today’s battle cry of “Take a Stand” and “Take a Knee” is all about showing one’s beliefs and/or patriotism or the lack thereof. Everyone from the NFL’s youngest fan to the President of the United States has an opinion. Everyone, it would seem, firmly believes in freedom of expression… as long as the person expressing is saying or doing what the listener/observer believes in.

I was not around during World War II but a Caucasian Christian had to think they were relatively safe from the witch hunt that the Nazis were conducting in rounding up people of the Jewish faith and sending them to concentration camps for eventual extinction. And before I go any further, let’s address the issue of “Did it really happen?” Yes and the hundreds of thousands who died and are buried are the proof that it did. Six million of the Jewish faith from all ages and walks of life were killed for nothing more than believing. Germany became a killing ground as did the countries invaded by Adolf Hitler. He had promised to make Germany great. Instead it made it a graveyard.

Corrie Ten Bloom was something of a superstar in her chosen field. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to become a licensed watchmaker. Corrie also ran a club for young girls which provided them an opportunity to learn and expand their lives. She believed in these young women and in a bright future for them all. Such actions were considered dangerous by Hitler and when he invaded the Netherlands in 1940 he instituted restrictions that banned Corrie’s club for these girls.

Because of her Christian faith, Corrie and her family helped their neighbors who had been targeted by the Nazis and were in fear of being sent to concentration camps. As father stood up for his faith, different from those he was helping, by stating: “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” Word of their actions eventually reached the Nazi authorities and Corrie Ten Bloom and her family were arrested. Her sister and father both died in the concentration camps. Corrie Ten Bloom spent time in two such camps over a span of eleven months. On New Year’s Eve 1944 she was released due to clerical error. The following week everyone in her age group in the unit in the Ravensbrück concentration camp was sent to the gas chambers.

Corrie Ten Bloom returned home and continued to help the disenfranchised, particularly the mentally disabled. She established with her remaining family members a rehabilitation center in Bloemendaal. The refugee houses consisted of concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the Occupation exclusively until 1950, when they accepted anyone in need of care. She returned to Germany in 1946, and met with and forgave two Germans who had been employed at Ravensbruck, one of whom was particularly cruel to her sister.

Corrie Ten Bloom lived her faith, standing up for what she believed and showing up by living it, even when the going got impossibly rough and life-threatening. You might say her faith created the detour her life took by being sent to a concentration camp but really, isn’t that what faith and our beliefs do at times? Life is not all about smooth sailing. Any sailor will tell you that the most exciting times out on the water are not those where everything is calm and bland.

The recent furor over whether one stands or kneels during the playing of the National Anthem is not just about one song. It has become a battle cry to respect those veterans who defend our nation’s ideals every day. But is that really the only way to show such respect?

I would suggest that perhaps we should use our faith as our own personal steering wheel and follow in example of Corrie Ten Bloom. Faith should not be something we pull out only when we get in a tough situation or are scared. Neither should patriotism. Both faith and patriotism should be active parts of our living each and every hour of every day. They should be as evident and visible as the noses on our faces.

I would suggest that we should be respectful and attentive during the playing of the National Anthem of our own and any country. I do think we should take it a step further, though. Because this has become such an issue involving our veterans, let take it all the way. I’d like to see people continue to support the NFL so that the NFL can support our veterans. Let each team donate fifty tickets to Wounded Warriors, injured and disabled veterans that could then attend the game. I would like to see those Wounded Warriors who bravely lived their patriotism escorted to the sidelines for the playing of the National Anthem by team players with all present on the sidelines for the flag and anthem.

To be sure, some of those Wounded Warriors will not be able to stand but certainly no one can doubt their patriotism. Let’s stop the shouting and start taking real action. Let’s show up for what we profess to believe in and take a stand… or a knee… or a wheelchair to honor the true heroes of the game of life.

 

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

A Detour of Fate

 

A Detour of Fate

 

Detours in Life

 

Pentecost 13

 

 

 

I organize three hundred and sixty days of blog posts into an arrangement I can identify with – liturgical seasons of the church calendar.  A recent follower asked me what Pentecost had to do with detours and as I began to explain that the division for arranging these posts often had little to do with the actual season, I realized the wisdom in the question. 

 

 

 

Pentecost is a season to put one’s faith into action and nowhere is that more evident than when we are faced with a detour.   Detours seldom are accompanied with shouts of joy.  More often than not, we are dismayed when they pop out and hope/pray that they will not delay our journey.  Pentecost is all about the journey and so are detours.

 

 

 

The season of Pentecost celebrates the time when Christian believers received the spirit of their deity.  The mythologies of the world celebrate the spirits of one’s beliefs.  The world fate often is used as one’s destiny but in truth, the word comes from the Latin “fatum” a form of the verb “fari” which meant to speak.  Thus one’s fate was something spoken, a decision.  It became a word that ultimately meant one’s destiny since what one said reflected what one believed and how one lived.  The spirits that help influence this were known collectively as the Fates, much like the Greek Moirai, a group of spirits who determined the course and end of one’s life.

 

 

 

We tend to think of mythological creatures as being larger than life; most deities are as well.  After all, we want those spirits that can affect the history of mankind to do so with great fanfare.  We think of miracles as large “Hollywood-style” productions.  While the focuses of some spiritual beliefs are calmer, even their main characters possess great power and knowledge.

 

 

 

In 1691, a Scottish minister named Robert Kirk put pen to paper to tell of a different type of mythological creature.  His characters were not new and had been a part of Celtic folklore and myths forever.  Once depicted as being quite tall, by the time Robert Kirk wrote of them, their size had been greatly reduced.  These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (like those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the subtlety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.”

 

 

 

The word” faeries” has an often disputed etymology and the faeries we see pictures in children’s books are a relatively new version.   Their origins are a melting of various elements of mythologies and folklore from different parts of the world.  Many believe they were originally minor goddesses, spirits of nature who took their revenge upon mankind when the natural world was mistreated.  Thus the term faerie has been used to indicate trolls, goblins, gnomes, or ethereal spirits.  They are sometimes called wee folk, good folk, people of peace, or the Welsh “tylwyth teg which translates as “fair folk”.

 

 

 

Celtic faeries are said to live in nature, often hiding, and are portrayed as a diminutive race driven into caves and underground by invaders.  These enchanted creatures either protected the good people or could extract revenge upon the evil.  In western parts of Europe ancient mythologies described faeries as personified aspects of nature, similar to the ancient gods and goddesses who had their origins in personified elements of life and questions about it.

 

 

 

The advent of Christianity in the first century ACE had no room for such mythological creatures as faeries.  The Irish banshee and Scottish “bean shith” were referred to as a ghost, a woman who lived underground.  There was no room in the Abrahamic faiths for such creatures.  Their angels might seem like faeries but they were divine creatures, not creatures of nature.  While medieval England portrayed faeries as both helper and hindrance, Victorian England explained mythological creatures as aspects of nature and faeries as metaphors for the night sky and stars.

 

 

 

Faeries are also found in ancient Greek mythology and are closely aligned to the Greek word “daimon” which means Spirit.  The nymphs the classical poet Homer wrote about in his works “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” could be considered faeries.  The Roman penates, lares, and genii from Roman mythology were also faery creatures.  It is easy to see how the word “daimon” came to mean evil faeries known as demons.

 

 

 

I think the real benefit of our mythological spirits and stories is found in the Victorian definitions of them.  A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is compared to another thing, both things being very different.  One example is: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight.”  Victorian England sought to justify the telling of these stories without compromising one’s religion. They became metaphors, much like the stories found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths.  The difference was that religious stories were held to be true while myths were considered fables of the imagination.

 

 

 

The real test of validity lies in the spirit of the believer.  In 1891 W.B. Yeats wrote:  Do you think the Irish peasant would be so full of poetry if he had not his fairies? Do you think the peasant girls of Donegal, when they are going to service inland, would kneel down as they do and kiss the sea with their lips if both sea and land were not made lovable to them by beautiful legends and wild sad stories? Do you think the old men would take life so cheerily and mutter their proverb, ‘The lake is not burdened by its swan, the steed by its bridle, or a man by the soul that is in him,’ if the multitude of spirits were not near them?”

 

 

 

The legends and myths of the world give us a better understanding of both the world and mankind.  Like the word fate, they speak of what we believe, how we live, and ultimately how we will die.  Whether you consider something folklore, mythology, or doctrine, the spirits in which we believe shape our lives.  “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.”  Those words from the classic “Beowulf” are an example of the importance fate has been given by mankind.  For many, fate is an inescapable shadow.  For others, fate is merely the road upon which we travel, neither threatening nor constrictive. 

 

 

 

The characters of the myths of man are really metaphors and if we take heed, they can assist us in our living.  We might not live on the top of Mount Olympus but we can make every abode our own palace and live our own beliefs, even when traveling down a detour.  Small children delight in the stories of faeries and often have a favorite.  Such differences in their likes and dislikes are seen as individual, not threatening.  Yet as adults, we often see the differences in beliefs as fearful. 

 

 

 

Hopefully one day we can truly learn from such myths and create our own fate, a road of success for all built upon a foundation of respect and reverence for all life.  As William Ernest Henley wrote in his “Echoes of Life and Death”: “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll.  I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

 

 

 

Our attitude in approaching a detour will often make all the difference as to whether it is a hindrance or an opportunity.  Our own spirit as we embark upon what is often a strange new path will enable us to learn and enjoy our journey, even if it is an unexpected detour of fate.