Barcelona Benediction

Barcelona Benediction

Detours in Life

Pentecost 32

 

Over two decades ago I moved to another part of the country that was heavily populated.  As is the case with large metropolitan areas, several of the major thoroughfares were under construction.  Detours were in place as roadways were rehabbed, refurbished, and retooled for the increasing number of cars and trucks that traveled them daily.  For ten years we followed the detour signs until the detours became more familiar than the actual interstate highway.

 

The mayhem and chaos of terrorist attacks have once again taken over the international news.  The scenes of crowds running, people being sheltered in place, and the all-too-familiar wail of emergency responders replaced the sounds of a busy city this week in Barcelona, Spain.

 

As is my habit, this blog went dark out of respect for the double-digit number of victims killed and the greater number physically injured.  Such events make even the strongest of us want to hide in our houses and crawl under the covers.  This is not the time for silence, however.  It is a time for action.

 

The Barcelona attack on Thursday was not an isolated event.  Wednesday night a house exploded killing one person in the Spanish town of Alcanar and injuring the firefighters and police who responded to the call.  Thursday a white van careened onto a crowded pedestrian mall in Barcelona with the afore-mentioned casualties.  Spanish Police on Friday shot and killed five people wearing fake bomb belts who staged a car attack in a seaside resort in Spain’s Catalonia region hours.  Authorities said the back-to-back vehicle attacks — as well as the explosion earlier this week elsewhere in Catalonia— were connected and the work of a large terrorist group.

 

Today crowds chanted “No tinc por” meaning “I’m not afraid” in Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona following the minute silence observed for the victims of the attack in the city.  This is not the time to cower, believing our silence will not only save us but prevent future attacks.  We need to respect freedom of speech and we can without condoning violence.

 

Last weekend a rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of the US President Thomas Jefferson.  The result was bedlam and the death of three people, one attending a protest rally to the original white supremacist/nep-Nazi rally and the other two law enforcement answering the call to assist in trying to resolve chaos.  The events Charlottesville were neither sad nor tragic; they were failure. The so-called supremacists did not act supreme in any way. The other side did not show love for all – emphasize – all. We cannot say we are better if we do not act it. We cannot claim love for all mankind if we only mean we love those we like.   At the end of the day, Charlottesville was a lesson in identifying none of us are supreme, right, or seeing the “other” person as equal. It was a mirror reflecting misguided energy.

 

Instead of traveling to march, we need to walk… walk across town to feed the poor, help the homeless, tutor a child, donate to your community, hold the door and smile at a stranger. The best way to support your vision of and for humanity is to be humane.  Instead of spending money on training camps for future terrorists, we should spend money on feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, discovering cures for the illnesses that affect all people.

 

Nature cannot exist apart from its many segments. The sun dries up the rain as it creates new life. Animals need plants; water needs the soil for filtration. We all have a purpose, not a place.   We failed in Charlottesville.  The terrorists failed in Spain.   No death should be a battle cry. It should become a motivation for us all to be better, to use the life we have to live humanely. We are, after all, human – all of us.  What will we choose – chaos or community?

 

William Faulkner believed as those in Barcelona did today that our best respect for those who have perished is to speak up.  “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

 

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Sanctuary

Refugees and Sanctuary

 

Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  I can still hear the clown of the group:  “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”

 

In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.

 

The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us.  My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

Build

Build

Epiphany 34

 

There is a great deal of talk worldwide about refugees and people act like it is a new thing.  It isn’t.  Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  These kids who had protested eating vegetables their entire lives now realized what a gift they were on the dinner table and how lucky it was to have them to eat.

 

In the 1990’s, as the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA, we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there, buts of paper napkins folded into beautiful works of sculptural art.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  These were people trying to escape a Communist regime that allowed for no one to be a dissident; no freedom of thought respected.  Eight hundred men and women had attempted to flee the harsh conditions of their lives.  Their ship, the Golden Venture, did not complete the journey and some perished in the ocean before being pulled out, only to be arrested and some, eventually returned to China.

 

Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring.  My faith gave me strength to help disband it, wading through all the necessary agencies to report it and make sure the case was not lost in the myriad of cases that existed. 

 

My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

I have been lucky in my life, although not as lucky as some.  Usually my displaced feelings come from peer pressure, not attempts on my life nor missiles and bombs exploding in my ear.  Still, life is not a competition and displaced feelings are valid regardless of their level of threat to our well-being.  The saving grace in life comes not just from our beliefs and faith but from our actions.

 

I believe that the world needs more bridges and fewer walls.  When we connect, we build bridges and recognize how similar we really are.  The world benefits from our connections when we build them.  Such human bridges serve to strengthen our world and create a better future for us all.  The world will never have enough sanctuaries and it is up to each of us to help build them.

 

 

 

Darkness: Living and Grieving

Darkness: Living and Grieving

Advent 18

 

Advent is often compared to darkness.  For many it signifies the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  However, when it began as a significant event during the fourth and fifth centuries, Advent was a time of preparation for Epiphany, not Christmas.  Advent in the beginning was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). In the beginning, the faithful would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for the celebration of God/s grace come to earth.  Originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

 

Advent was the dark time, that period in which people had nothing to hold onto, no real proof of what they believed.  They did their fasts out of reverence and each week lit a candle to bring more light to the bleak darkness of nothingness.  Advent represented in the early days the end times of the Church, a time in which faith mattered little.  Faith is described as “the evidence of things unseen” and Advent celebrated that.  Epiphany was the Festival of Lights with faith not seen and manifested.  Grace was now real and living among us.

 

Today marks the fourth anniversary of 26 murders, most being children whose lives had barely started. Tonight I will participate in a service called Lessons and Carols, playing eight different instruments which, hopefully, will help herald the message of good news and belief in the future.  Tonight others will participate in a memorial service for those who died that fateful day.   I wonder what lessons we have learned from those deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary.

 

One lesson is that there were actually 27 murders. A troubled young man shot 20 children, 6 staff members, AND his mother. Then he committed suicide with a weapon.  We forget the responsibility factor when we protest gun laws, when people claim gun ownership is a right, when we go about our daily lives today amid claims it was all a hoax.

 

“Certain unalienable rights” is the core phrase upon which the United States of America was founded. Those 28 that died this day four years ago had the right to live. Our responsibility to them and ourselves goes beyond what we might have in a closet or gun case. It includes providing mental health, protecting our children and yes, intelligent ownership.

Grace came to earth but it is up to us to give it life.  We do this by living and grieving and then by beginning the process all over again, this time using knowledge gained from our past lessons.  May light perpetual continue to shine upon those 28 who died. May those of us living continue to learn and strive to be responsible in living grace.  I ask your prayers for the families as they remember the joy and grace of those for whom we grieve.

Trust-Distrust

True Test

Pentecost 116

 

In a country where all are said to be welcomes, at least for the current time being, and in which a statue stands welcoming all, this weekend’s acts of terrorism beg a discussion of trust…and trust broken.  These welcoming efforts are best dealt with by making sure goals are met and work is organized.  The inscription on the Stature of Liberty gives an air of legitimacy to such efforts of welcoming those to our shores.  However, the land can only support just so many and policies are put into place so that those coming to this country are subject to scrutiny.  However, policies are only as good as the people that lead them and  will be effective and continue the open door policy only if those coming having a willing heart and caring demeanor.  Clearly some would wish to defy these policies which are, at their core, a matter of trust and distrust.

 

An easier way to review the immigrant policies is to think of them as aid organizations.  They do, in fact, give aid to those wishing to live here.  Many are escaping rigid and murderous regimes while others are simply seeking a better life for their families. Like immigrant policies, aid organizations have a standard they must meet and are subject to intense review.  Some prove able to pass; others are not.

 

One such example is Greg Mortenson and “Pennies for Peace”.  Born in Minnesota, Greg Mortenson grew up in missionary schools in Africa, learning to speak Swahili as well as he spoke English.  His parents returned to the United States in time for Greg to graduate high school.  He attended college and earned degree in liberal studies and nursing after a stint in the US Army.  Mortenson began the CAI, Central Asia Institute.  His time with them has been fraught with investigations and repayments of monies.  Although he was the New York Times Bestseller List for over two hundred weeks, having written five or six books, some of his biographical details and stories in his books have been disputed.  Although he was subject to court-ordered restitution, the IRS has not cleared his CAI foundation and he no longer serves as its head.

 

What cannot be denied is the work done with his Pennies for Peace campaign.  The organizations tag line says it all: “Together we can cultivate peace, nurture hope, and change the world—one child at a time.”  So how does this campaign work?  Quoting again from the website:  “Participants collect pennies while learning important lessons about cultural understanding, experiencing the rewards of sharing and working together to bring hope and educational opportunities to children in Central Asia.  A penny in the United States may have little worth, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan just a few pennies can buy a pencil and open the door to literacy.”

 

The terrorist acts that occurred in New Jersey, Minnesota, and New York City this past weekend are a call to our faith and put our belief in the ideals of this country to the test.  Those who will react with distrust and fear are playing into the hands of the terrorists.  The definition of terrorism, as defined by the federal government of the U.S.A., is this:  “criminal acts perpetrated on innocent victims for the express purpose of creating terror and fear.”  These villains do not know their victims so they cannot claim they are doing this out of a religious belief or an intent to improve anything.    They just want to create distrust and fear.

 

In 1936 Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston wrote a song entitled “Pennies from Heaven”.  Recorded by Bing Crosby, Billie Holliday, and Frank Sinatra, it became a popular hit.  The phrase “pennies from heaven” came to mean unexpected goodwill or found treasure.  “Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven.  Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?”  While the leader of the campaign had some problems and perhaps did not go about his work in the best way possible, the Pennies for peace project was and has been successful.  By placing trust in even something as small as the smallest unit of currency, positive change was possible.  One penny may not seem like a lot but one hundred of them makes a dollar and one hundred of those can equal one hundred dollars.  That can purchase a flock of chickens or two goats that can not only provide food for a family in need but also give them a livelihood.

 

I hope today, if you live in the U.S.A., you go about your living with a smile on your face.  We need to be aware and report what looks askew.  Additional unexploded devices were discovered in New Jersey when two homeless people reported a suspicious backpack.  As a robot sought to disarm the devices they exploded.  Thanks to these two homeless people and their trust in the system, lives were saved.

 

Continue to welcome those who come to our shores with trust but also be diligent in your own living.  While you are at it, find an empty jar and start your own collection of pennies.  I think you might be surprised that you can collect quite a few that will amount to greatness when combined with those of others.   The victims of this weekend’s tragic events did nothing wrong.  They were doing everything right in living as best they could.  We owe it to them to investigate and continue to live our best efforts.  Trust in your ability to make a difference, continue to trust and don’t let terrorists lead you astray.

Life Happens

Still Give Thanks

Pentecost

 

Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned.  Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting.  Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole.  Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system.  Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off.  Maybe you split coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house.  None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right.  After all, life happens.

 

Earlier this week we talked about how practice makes perfect; well, Not perfect but nice.  The same is true when it comes to basic living.  We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and goofs that really build strength.  We seldom practice success; it is its own reward.  What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way.  By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn.  We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life.  We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges.  Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes.  And the process starts all over again.  Life happens.  When it happens, we still need to give thanks.

 

As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  The designation for this series , the way I am organizing these particular posts is Pentecost because I began them on Pentecost Sunday, the fiftieth day after the first Sunday following the First full moon after the vernal spring equinox. most commonly known as Easter.  Pentecost was for the early believers a time of practicing what had been preached.  It still is a time of practicing and also learning.  For the nonspiritual among us it is a time of reflection.  Summer is the big thing during Pentecost.  It affords us time to enjoy life and to be reflecting on what was and looking ahead to what will be.  It is a time to reflect on one’s spirituality, the good and the bad, and how to improve.  It is also the perfect time to give thanks.

 

My emphasis during Pentecost, known as the Ordinary Time because no major holidays or religious feast days fall during it, was to explore ways we could make the ordinary hum drum of life something more, something extraordinary.  Life is not about standing still.  For the past ten days or so we have explored being grateful, practicing the “Thank You!” we need to give in our lives.  There are those days, however, whenever it would seem that we have nothing for which to give thanks.

 

Late last year I took a class on spiritual practices.  I freely admit I signed up for it because I was writing a series on prayer.   I thought it would be a great reference and the timeliness of the class offering made it a perfect fit.  I was certain such a class had to include praying.  I was wrong.  Life happens.  The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings.  It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do.  Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray I heard about washing the dishes.  Was this an “Oops!” moment?

 

Trying to define prayer is both very easy and intrinsically complex.  The word spiritual is equally difficult to define.  If you remember, after presenting you with all the complex definitions of prayer, I summarized it down to one word – conversation.  I am certain each of us defines “spiritual” in our own way and we could go through a host of definitions.  For many people, it is synonymous with being religious but for others, it is a distinct and different approach to life than being religious.  For me, a spiritual life is a connected life.  I define spiritual as just that – connected.

 

The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying.  What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment.  Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.”  What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand.  It is great advice…in the moment.  Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake.  That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket.  Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.

 

Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life.  We all have a soul, a spirit within us.  We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people.  Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat. 

 

For many people, prayer is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game.  It can also be a time of asking for help or understanding.  Life can be very confusing and confounding.  Prayer is one way many people seek to find solace for their spirit or soul.  So is gratitude.

 

Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places.  Bah humbug!  True spirituality is something that is felt and lived with very little talking involved.  For some, spirituality is a term they use to avoid in-depth retrospection.  For others, it is a curse to be avoided and for still some, it is a way to avoid the unpleasant truths about ourselves. 

 

We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves.  In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things.  We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas.  Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do.  Can these things possible be spiritual?  Are they a part of our prayer life?

 

Who are you?  What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”?  When a terrorist attacks occurs, the fabric of many lives are ripped apart.   People doing rather mundane tasks suddenly become victims in a matter of moments as a destructive spirituality tore hundreds of lives apart.  The same thing happened a little over a week ago in Louisiana as flood waters overtook the city of Baton Rouge.  Two days ago the quaint historic town of Amarice, Italy was hosting a thousand visitors who walked the beautiful streets and laughed.  Today rescue and recovery efforts continue after a devastating earthquake.  How quickly these lives were torn and dramatically changed forever.  How quickly we felt their pain and the fear it created in our own lives.

 

None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks.  Life happens.  The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected.  Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive.  Life happens and so, we need to live it and be grateful for it.  Life is scary and exhilarating.  It needs reflection and preparation.  It demands we are present in the moment and that includes being grateful. 

 

Life happens.  I hope today you take a moment to give thanks for what you have.  It may not be much but when it is taken from you, it will seem like a great treasure was lost.  We are all precious as is each life.  Today share a smile, a hug, and yes, even a tear.  Be glad in your moments and give thanks, please.

Remember

Remember

Pentecost 51

 

The word “terror” is a most uncomfortable word. To speak it is to define it because just hearing the word brings about exactly what it is – fear, horror, alarm, shock, trepidation.  More terror has occurred in Germany in the past twenty-four hours as well as in Fort Myers, Florida.  We react based upon recent events and peace seems to have left the planet.

 

We can change this cycle of terror by reacting with hope and faith, not fear.  We honor those who have died and been injured by living the best we can, with respect and courtesy to all.  Vicious language and hurtful actions accomplish nothing.  We cannot become the evil we fear.  We must display the love and peace we seek to find.

 

The extraordinary in life is found in the everyday miracles of living… a baby’s smile, a child’s laughter, a friend’s hand.  Generosity of spirit does far more than any amount of speeches or threats.  In memory of yet more deaths please go forward with kindness.  The world is waiting for us to remember that a kind spirit is the key to a bright future.