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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Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong?

A Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong

Detours in Life

Pentecost 11

 

Recently a world summit ended regarding global concern and action for the environment.  If you do not remember it, don’t worry.  It seems like there are such global meeting of world leaders rather frequently, whether it be about the weather, the economy, etc. 

 

I am always surprised that much is spent on participation in these functions and yet, few enact real changes in living.  Most end up with leaders explaining their views on everything from each other to themselves to the supreme being of those choosing.  It seems like their comments reflect a detour from the gathering’s purpose to one of personal concern and no, I do not mean personal conviction. Each leader speaks with the authority of a deity, secure in the rightness of their position, firmnly against any detour of thinking.

 

Two years ago during Pentecost we discussed various names of deities, particularly the many names for “God”.  The name for the one deity which led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths, was “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  It means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth” and, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit, as I did two years ago, that it is not one of my more well-liked names.

 

The reason for my displeasure with this name is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used.  You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies.  Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly.

 

My problem is that is seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism.  What if I am the one in error and not my enemies?  Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer.  We also discussed two years ago another word that went together with “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  As you guess, I have a bit of a problem with it as well.  It is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”.

 

I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine.  I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them.  These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone?  How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such?  Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging?  When we face feeling of wanting revenge, something that always seems to be lurking behind the scenes at global meetings, are we to take a detour of thinking and instead avenge?

 

The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”  Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings.  Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages.

 

In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties.  Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that.  I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge.  For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love. 

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote:  “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment.  Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness.  That I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.  Cooperation is a positive action, often requiring a detour of thought as well since it can include compromise.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions.  They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.”  I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge.  Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.  I would rather have a world leader that seeks justice for all, not just promotion of themselves.  This, in my humble opinion, would involve recompense rather than revenge.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers.  Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged.  As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”.  Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong.  But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense. 

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.”  Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.”  Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved.  The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”  Forgiveness requires a detour in our thinking.

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything.  It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc.  I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better but it is a most difficult detour to elect to take.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention one more word for a deity – El Nose, the God who forgives. 

 

Today someone will most likely cut you off in traffic, whether it be foot traffic or vehicular.  Someone will not be truthful and someone else will do their job in such a way that making you angry seems to be part of their job description.  In short, today will be imperfect and normal in its problems.  Will you stand up and pontificate just as many of those world leaders seem to do with little purpose except to be full of one’s self or will you detour your emotions toward a more active and effective reconciliation of the issue?  It is said that revenge is sweet but it often does not make for a long lasting resolution.  Forgiveness is in short supply in today’s world and yet, it is the best detour we could ever take. 

 

Come to the Party!

Come to the Party

Lent 41-43

 

Our lives are like a puzzle.  Each day, each event, each sorrow, each joy – all are pieces of this puzzle we call our life.  Sorting out the pieces would be an impossible task if we encountered them all at once.  Fortunately, each piece is revealed much like a treasure map or the clues on a scavenger hunt.

 

During this series we have been discussing life from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes.  Someone asked me to summarize this series in one sentence.  My answer is a quote from Marty Rubin:  “Drink freely the wine life offers you and don’t worry how much you spill.”

 

We need to celebrate being alive.  All too often we find ourselves competing with others.  Life is not a race; it is a pace.  We should spend our time realizing that our being is a gift and celebrate the party that is our life.  So if we are going to consider our lives a party, how do we live that?

 

Every good party planner will tell you that the first step in having a successful party is the invitation list.  Most of us do not have the ability to control everyone who enters our life.  We can and should make sure that we ourselves come to the party that is our life.  We need to be present in our living.  Kevyn Aucoin explains how to do this.  “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

 

Next in party planning comes the actual planning.  We need to awaken and give thanks for having done so.  Then we need to proceed with a purpose, a plan if you will on our living.  This might include some religious or spiritual aspects but it certainly must involve respect and compassion as well as courtesy toward others.  Essential to every good party is lining up any needed help.  No one goes through life without some help from another.  We need to be confident and reach out to others for assistance.  There is no shame and everything to gain when we recognize this.

 

Crucial to a celebration is having the space to celebrate.  Whether the party is at home or at a rented venue, clearing out space to gather and be merry.  The same is true for our lives.  We need to take the time to declutter, both literally and figuratively.  Next on my to-do list for a successful party is the item “set the stage”.  All too often we forget to set ourselves up for success.  Whether it is by getting the proper education and training or simply putting on a happy face and having a positive attitude, we need to prepare to be the best we possibly can.

 

This week is celebrated by Christians as the last big party and the sentencing and crucifixion of the man known as Jesus.  This year, Jewish people are also celebrating Passover this week, a time of great meaning for them.   In their own way, both holidays celebrate freedom and atonement.  They remind us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others.  To fail to do so is to deny one the joy of living.

 

One of my favorite life quotes is one said by Auliq Ice:  “Laughter is like a windshield wiper, it doesn’t stop the rain but allows us to keep going.”  I think in their own way, the Beatitudes tell us the same thing.  We will encounter negativity in our lives.  That is inevitable.  However, with faith and determination as our windshield wipers, we can use them as lessons to keep going and celebrate the living our life is.  When we decide to come to the party of life, great things are bound to happen and we will truly be free to find joy in our being.

 

 

 

Women, Life and Beliefs

Life and Beliefs

Lent 28

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although said document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War Ii.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

March is Women’s History Month so today I have dedicated this post to women of great faith.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith.  After all, why do we believe if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

Living Today

Living Today

Lent 4-5

 

On November 1, 2016, Pope Francis offered his own updated version of the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are eight instances of cause and effect, given by a poor carpenter as he spoke to a crowd gathered on a hillside thousands of years ago.   Their named comes from the Latin “beatitude” which means happiness.  Each instance references something from the Old Testament but with a twist in its interpretation.  Pope Francis offered his own take with six new beatitudes.

 

The need for us to recognize this cause and effect is as necessary today as it was almost two thousand years ago.  In our modern world we see cause and effect every day.  The most striking examples are the suicide bombings which are prevalent worldwide.  These bombings are said to be based in religious teachings yet they offer no real restitution to those they purportedly are defending and their effect contributes to further dislike and discrimination of said groups of people.  They certainly do not follow the teachings of Islam.  Instead, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Islam would be better served as would all types of religion, especially Christianity and Judaism, if we stayed true to the teachings instead of responding with hatred and fear.  “Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.”

 

We tend to think of such writings as the Beatitudes are being out of date and yet, they are very applicable to world events.  Perhaps this is why Pope Francis mentioned “Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.”

 

As I have mentioned so many times, life is messy and living in today’s world is not easy.  Instead of fearing each other, we need to remember just how close we really are and in spite of our differences, recognize Creation in all we see.  “Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.”  Perhaps there are those who do not believe in a God of any sorts.  I would suggest to them to substitute the word Creation for God.  The fact is clear from a biological and genetic point of view that we are all reflections of each other.  We share a great deal.

 

Pope Francis continued with two more:  “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.   Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.”  Again, don’t think of just your physical abode but of our home, Mother Earth.  And finally, Pope Francis concluded with “Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion.”

 

Communion is not just something that happens during a mass or Eucharist church service.  Communion is relationship and hopefully, unity.  We are all in a relationship with each other whether we recognize that or not.  Not all relationships are great.  The connections we make, the interactions we have…These make up the brunt of our living.  Shouldn’t we try to make them as effective as possible?

 

We need to stop trying to give an eye for an eye and start showing kindness.  Period.   Not just be kind to those we perceive as being kind to us but be kind to all.  We need to not see just our differences but embrace them for the wonderful diversity and excitement they bring to life.  When we see the abandoned or excluded, we need to reach out and embrace them.  We share so much in common and there is beauty in all of Creation including those who might have been pushed to the outside.  We should respect all who offer our life and homes protection as well as those who are protecting our home, Mother Earth.  We needs to give thanks for those willing to put themselves last and us first and for those who go that extra mile to engage in relationships with all of humanity. 

 

Who can say they stand on the pedestal of right all the time?  Who can say who should have to live on the left of normal?  None of us is better than the least of us.  A rose by any other name…is still a flower.   Blessed are they who truly embrace their living for they… live.

Embrace and Tolerate

Embrace and Tolerate

Epiphany 23

 

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

 

The above paragraph was in a post I received on Facebook from a young man of strength and character.  This paragraph has become the topic of the world news because of recent events occurring in the United States.  The man elected in part with the support of conservative religious groups seems to have forgotten this part of faith – all faiths.

 

In times where terrorism seems to occur several times a day in some part of the world and several times a year in others, fear is an understandable reaction.  Fear responses are our body’s defense system.  It serves as a reminder to act – not to hate.  We take cover during a storm because our body fears the consequences.  We use medicines productively to combat illness because our body is telling us something needs attention.  When used appropriately, fear can serve great purpose.

 

To hate one’s neighbor, though, is not productive and none of the world’s top religions encourage it although they all speak of it.  “Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define your ‘neighbor’?”  In other words, who do we embrace, loving them as ourselves?

 

We all have had neighbors with whom we were not friendly.  It is inevitable that at some point in time our neighbors will not share our interests or respect for boundaries, play loud music, push their leaves onto our yard, etc.  In some settlements, the neighbors have guns aimed at the houses.  How on earth are we supposed to embrace these people?  Surely they are not our true neighbors.  Or are they?

 

“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side…”.   This quote is from the Quran, 4:36.  Islam speaks highly of the one who not only sees their neighbor and embraces them but also tolerates them and treats them with respect.

 

“The Scale of Wisdom” is a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Twelve Imams compiled by M. Muhammadi Rayshahri.  “It is to help him if he asks your help, to lend him if he asks to borrow from you, to satisfy his needs if he becomes poor, to console him if he is visited by an affliction, to congratulate him if is met with good fortune, to visit him if he becomes ill, to attend his funeral if he dies, not to make your house higher than his without his consent lest you deny him the breeze, to offer him fruit when you buy some or to take it to your home secretly if you do not do that, nor to send out your children with it so as not to upset his children, nor to bother him by the tempting smell of your food unless you send him some.”

 

What does the Torah say about loving one’s neighbor?  “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.”   This passage from Leviticus 19:18 is important as is the Jewish definition of love.  Judaism defines love as “the emotional pleasure of identifying virtues in another person.”   It is not seen as an act of fate nor a physical pleasure but a deliberate embracing of another and a purposeful identification of their existence.

 

The third of the world’s largest religion is Christianity, the third of the Abrahamic faiths.  Scripture for this topic is found in many places in the Christian Bible but it appears first in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, in the twenty-second chapter.  To the question at the end of our first paragraph, the man known as Jesus of Nazareth gave this answer earlier in this book.  Matthew 5:43 states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 

 

 Later in that same book, Matthew 22:36 we find this:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are to embrace all and tolerate them.  In Islam this is illustrated by not having your house higher than your neighbors so as to prevent him from the breeze.  In Judaism, it is to recognize that we are all different but those differences have value.  In Christianity it is to allow that your enemy is still your brother and sister as children of the Creator and should be treated as you would wish to be treated.

 

Who is the neighbor you are to embrace and tolerate?  The person who is standing beside you, the person standing halfway around the world, the person who looks nothing like you or whose speech is unfamiliar because they exist and are, therefore, your neighbor.  We should embrace and tolerate.  To do anything else is to live a lie and hasten the end.  This is not political or even religious.  It is simply good common sense.

 

 

 

 

To Be; To Serve

To Be; To Serve

Christmas 8

 

We’ve spoken of the three holidays during this time and in some detail about Kwanzaa.  Tonight the eighth candle of Hanukah will be lit, each candle having significance in the commemoration of the miracle of the struggle of the Maccabees. 

 

Many believe Hanukah serves to remind us that life is a struggle and we find joy when we participate in that struggle.  Those that celebrate Hanukah often do so believing that, to quote Rabi Levi Ben Levy, “the past [serves] in a way that transforms who we are in the present, which in turn, affects what we may do in the future.  If you fight for life, salvation is won. It is in the victory of life that we find joy.”

 

The eight days of Hanukah are broken down into central concepts for each day.  One is concerned with their Creator, another in studying the oral and written tenets of the Judaic faith.  The third days recognizes that Judaism is an Abrahamic faith and those that follow it are children of Abraham, a belief shared by Christians and Muslims.  On the fourth day unity is emphasized, a unity that sadly has seldom been lived here on earth.

 

The fifth day is dedicated to the words of Moses and special note is made of the 365 positive commandments which correlate with the 365 days of the year.  The remaining 248 negative commandments some feel correspond with the same number of organs in the human body and this is used to illustrate the need for peace within and with one’s neighbors.

 

The sixth and seventh days are associated with creation, the six days the Hebrews and Christians belief in which creation took place of the earth, heavens, and all living things, as well as the seven orifices on the human face.  These orifices are considered gates through which things are taken in and are said to relate to the seven days of the week.

 

One could argue these points, especially those that reference the calendar because the Jewish faith does not follow the standard calendar.  On the Hebrew calendar this is Year 5777-8, for example.  They do have seven days a week and belief that the world was created in six days but comparisons could be difficult is one really delved into the subject.  Metaphors are good, though, and help us remember basic facts.

 

Life is difficult and whether one is struggling to make oil in a lamp last or stretch a dollar to cover all necessary items for living, such celebrations give us hope.  Even for those of us who are not Jewish, Hanukah serves to remind us of several important things.  First, that our faith is seen by all we encounter.  We wear it as visibly as we do our clothes.  The menorah is placed in a window so that all may see and know.  Our faith dictates our behavior and it is the walk we walk and not just the talk we talk that gives meaning to our beliefs.

 

My particular favorite thing of Hanukah is the Shamash candle.   It is sometimes called the “server candle” because it is with the Shamash candle that the other eight candles of Hanukah are lit.  Shamash is the Akkadian name for the sun god of the religion native to the Mesopotamia region.  He was also considered the deity of justice. King Hammurabi left evidence that gave credit to Shamash for his famous code by which most legal codes are written and the admonition to “love they neighbor as thyself” which occurs in most religions is derived.

 

The Shamash candle reminds us, just as the other eight candles do, of a very important aspect of living – the importance of serving.  On this the first day of a new year, according to the standard calendar, the eight candle of Hanukah will be lit with the Shamash candle.  The eighth candle is one of retrospection, rejuvenation, refortification and thereby, giving us a rededicated mind. 

 

On this first day of January in the year 2017 or the third day of Tevet in the year 5777, how will you be a server?  It is our purpose to not just take and experience but to serve others, to share in life.  On this day, many will make resolutions for a brighter future to forge pathways to be as bright as the sun god Shamash.  I hope you will also be a server candle and help another find their way towards a better tomorrow for us all.