Lay Down, Build Up

Lay Down – Build Up

Epiphany 25-26

 

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 but we are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.

 

 

Grace for Granted

Grace for Granted

Advent 22

 

This week we begin our discussion of grace from an axiomatic view.  Not surprisingly, the word comes from the root word “axiom” from which another semi=popular word is derived, “maxim”.   Axiom I comes from a Greek word meaning authority and the word itself is best defined as “that which is seen as fit”.  Today axioms are those items which are seen as self-evident, those truths which are taken for granted.

 

The atrocities of war are horrible and one of the reasons for avoiding war if at all possible.  There is no grace in war although many times simple acts of kindness become self-evident during the course of a war.  The young Jewish teenager known to the world as Anne Frank lived a life as the recipient of grace, at least for a short time.  Denied the right to immigrate to the United States by the USA, Anne Frank’s family needed a place to live, a place safe from the Nazi soldiers who were corralling all those of the Jewish faith and forcing them to live and die in concentration camps.  For a period of time, the Frank family hid in the attic of a benevolent family.  They received grace in staying alive because of this family but upon discovery, all grace ceased.  Anne Frank kept a journal which her father later published.  Both Anne and her sister died while in horrid captivity at a concentration camp, just weeks before they would have been rescued by Allied troops.

 

The journal of Anne Frank bespoke of the grace she found after the life she had lived and taken for granted was taken from her.  It is a warning to us all to never take grace for granted because someone might let their ego convince them grace is a useless commodity which has no value.

 

The world was horrified as the true meaning and reality of the Nazi concentration camps came to light.  The media was severely handicapped in the 1930’s and 40’s by the lack of technology and news did not travel within mili-seconds like it does today.  As the Allies regained control, truth bore witness to the depravities and atrocities that man could inflict upon one another.

 

Today, however, is another age.  In the twenty-first century, we have the ability to connect with others around the world in the blink of an eye.  We have no excuse to ignore the lack of grace when mayhem, chaos, carnage, and destruction reigns down on the innocent.  We cannot and should not assume an axiomatic stance toward grace.  When mass killings occur, there is no grace to be found. 

 

If you have ever read the Diary of Anne Frank and marveled at the tenacity of a young girl while destruction bore down on her, then look no further than the slaughter occurring today in Aleppo, Syria for an incredible parallel. Government military forces, backed by Syria’s President and Russian President Vladimir Putin are butchering civilians in their homes as the city falls. The situation is complicated, and there are no quick solutions.

 

There’s a great and important conversation to be had about the role of nations becoming a part of the history of other nations in the world today, but this isn’t the time. The question before us with the Syrian situation is not one of politics but of grace.  One thing must be clear: The guilt and shame of these deaths lie on all of us, on the murderers themselves.

 

We must ignore the politicians both in the US and abroad who seek to flirt with men like Vladmir Putin for the sake of crony capitalism.  We need to exercise grace and act so that action prevents the immoral who enable children to be executed in the streets.

 

The dozens of those who claim Christian or Jewish or Islamic values, who knowingly risked the safety of thousands for their own comfort and political expediency, do not portray the grace of their beliefs when they allow such slaughter to occur but rather the humiliation of their failure to act with grace.  They are just the men and women in suits who play dice with the lives of millions from behind finely polished desks a world away. 

 

Shame also extends to the citizens of countries throughout the world who are more concerned with selfish nationalistic interests than the basic human rights of people who don’t look like us.  There are billions of the faithful, religious and spiritualists who recoil in horror and then change the channel when the news bespeaks of these horrors, ignoring the most basic of mandates from their Creator.

 

We must take action and not take for granted that grace lives.  It lives in the world only when we act, supporting those who are at the front lines offering sanctuary, aid, food, and medical comfort.  As we live grace by helping, we must also extend grace to both the slaughtered and the butchers.  Grace is not multiple choice.  Ernest Hemingway once said “Courage is grace under pressure.”    An axiom is any mathematical statement that serves as a starting point from which other statements are logically derived.  Our axiom is that grace is real.  Therefore, the axiomatic approach concludes that, once established as being viable, grace can accomplish wonders.  Can you find the courage to do something and extend grace today?

On This Day

On This Day

Pentecost 67

 

On this day in history in 1944, a fifteen-year-old girl stopped hiding in a hidden section of her father’s spice and jam warehouse in Amsterdam.  Born in Germany in 1929, the family has moved to Holland eleven years earlier to escape religious persecution of the Jewish people led by Adolf Hitler.  The young girl had attended a Montessori school with her Dutch friends until Hitler moved his intolerant ideals to Holland.  The family had lived for two years in their hiding place, along with another Jewish family and a Jewish dentist, a single man. 

 

Those hiding in this Dutch warehouse were able to do so with the help of a Christian employee of the spice and jam company.  For over two years, the employee practiced the humanity of their faith so that the Jewish families hiding out might be able to live and live their faith, though different.  The Allies landing on the beaches of Normandy France gave all involved in Amsterdam hope but two months later, On August 4th, German soldier discovered them.  The two Christian employees and all of the Jews were arrested and shipped to Auschwitz death camp in Poland.  As the Russians liberated Poland that fall, this fifteen-year-old girl was moved with her sister to a concentration camp in Germany.  Both contracted typhus and died in March, 1945.  Less than two months later British soldiers liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp where the young girls had died.  Of the ten arrested on this date in Amsterdam, only Otto Frank, the girl’s father, survived.  On this date in 1944, Anne Frank was taken prisoner, her only crime being the fact that she was alive and of the Jewish faith.

 

Fifty-two years earlier a man and his wife were found dead, having been the victims of an ax attack.  One of their daughters was later tried for the crime and found not guilty.  In the court of public opinion, however, she was deemed guilty.  “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.  When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty -one.”   The Borden crime scene was full of evidence.  Finger-printing was quite common in Europe but the Fall River, Massachusetts authorities never used it on the axe handle found at the scene.  Given the choice of accusing Lizzie or the housekeeper, the only two people known to be in the residence at the time, they accused the younger of the two daughters.  Deliberations of the jury took only ninety-minutes to acquit her but the veil of guilt continued to envelope Lizzie until her death thirty-five years later and even now.

 

Lizzie Borden was already considered a “spinster” when these deaths occurred, as was her sister, Emma.  The rhyme quoted above is also inaccurate.  Lizzie Borden’s mother had died years earlier and her father had remarried.   The step-mother Abby was not well-liked by the two daughters of the family.  Andrew Borden, who received not forty-one but ten or eleven hits with a hatchet, not an axe, was also not well-liked in his hometown.  A millionaire, he often argued about spending his wealth and was considered a miserly, frugal and unpleasant man.  No one seemed surprised he met his death in such a manner and few grieved over the loss of these two people.  The two sisters, Emma and Lizzie later grew apart although they died within days of each other in 1927.

 

Two women each had significant life events on this day in history, August 4th.  I am certain there are many more who consider today life-changing although their names are not recorded in history.  On this day in 2012, Oscar Pistorius becomes the first amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in the 400 meters, representing South Africa.  On this day in 1936, Jesse Owens continues to excel at the Olympic Games, angering the head of the host country for the games, Adolf Hitler of Germany.

 

We like to think we are in control of our fate but in truth, we can only control so much.  We do make a contribution to the world, however, in our daily living.  Anne Frank wrote in a diary to help pass the days living in a wall-off portion of her father’s warehouse where the windows were covered and no one was allowed to flush the toilet in the day time so as to avoid detection.  Because her diary was overlooked by the Nazi soldiers that took her prisoner, later found by one of her father’s employees who then kept it, confident in her faith that one day she would again see the family, we have insight into the life of the families who remained hidden for two years.

 

Lizzie Borden did not keep a diary of that fateful day but neither did she live in the shadows, hiding out after her acquittal.  She remained in her hometown and lived a life quite common with those of her social-economic status.  For many, the stinginess of Andrew Borden and his untimely, gruesome death proved a lesson in mistreating one’s family and putting too high a value on the accumulation of wealth.  The family lived like those with much less income, without indoor plumbing or the conveniences considered common for the time.  The tight reins with which he lived his life and ran his own home led to his death, many believed, and some used his demise as proof that money does not always, if ever, buy happiness.

 

Perhaps it is from the two track stars that we can take the most lessons.  Today Oscar Pistorius is sitting in a jail cell, having been found guilty in the death of his fiancé.   Pistorius claims it was a case of mistaken identity; her family says it was negligence born out of his own controlling ways.  Pistorius shot into a bathroom where his fiancé was hiding.  The reasons for her hiding are disputed and Pistorius has testified under oath he thought she was an intruder.  Whether the true story, on this day in 2012 he ran the race of a lifetime and proved to the world that being an amputee would not sideline him.

 

Jesse Owens was one of ten children and born on September 12th in Oakville, Alabama in 1913.  This less than auspicious start of life bore no evidence of the victories he would garner as a track and field star.  In 1922 the family moved to Cleveland Ohio and Jesse discovered a passion for running.  His efforts at competition in 1935 have been called “the greatest forty-five minutes in sports’ history”.  In four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics were proof that Hitler’s claim of Aryan race supremacy was incorrect.

 

Jesse Owens returned to the United States a hero but also a man of color.  He rpudly waved during his ticker tape parade in New York City but then later could not enter through the front doors of the hotel hosting a reception in his honor because of his race.  While guests were escorted through the majestic front doors and up the public elevators to the reception hall, Jesse had to enter through the deliver entrance and ride the freight elevator.  He might have proven to the world that racial bias was unfounded but he returned to a country whose laws protected such discrimination.

 

Also on this day, swimmer Michael Phelps received his eighteenth gold medal.  AS he stood on the medal platform, announcers worldwide described the scene in which Phelps received what was being called “his last medal”.  Tomorrow Michael Phelps will carry the USA flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics and compete once again, hoping for yet another medal…or two.

 

Hopefully today will bring you joy as you run the great race of life.  Hopefully nothing will victimize you nor will you experience discrimination or errors in judgement.  We each write the history of our lives.  We cannot control everything but, with any luck, we can control ourselves and our responses.  We can make extraordinary by living our faith, showing respect to all, and being at peace with each other.

Defend & Protect

Defend and Protect

Epiphany 30 & 31

 

There is an old expression: Behind the man there is the woman, and I believe she was the great human being.”  Maurice Markheim, a Nazi Holocaust survivor, said this quote while describing Emilie Schindler.  Together with her husband Oskar, the Schindlers are credited with saving more than twelve hundred Jewish people from extermination camps.  Oskar had joined the Nazi movement but then. Upon realizing the brutality of the Nazis, decided to save his Jewish workers.

 

The love story of Oskar and Emilie cannot be told without reliving the political history of the period.  They married after dating only six weeks and, as the Nazis moved closer to their enamelware factory during World War II, were forced to flee to Buenos Aires, Argentina with many of the Jews they helped save.  Twelve years later, bankrupt, Oskar returned to Germany and the two never again lived together as husband and wife.  Seventeen years later, Oskar died in Germany, still legally married to Emilie.

 

Emilie continued to live in Argentina until homesickness caused her to return to Germany in her nineties.  She died in Strausberg at the age of 93 and is buried in Waldkraiburg, Germany.  There love story may not seem to have had a happy ending but for the hundreds whose lies they saved, they were angels, angels who protected and defended their culture and a faith.

 

Once known as “Sham”, the region became known as “Suri” and later “Syria” by the Greeks and Romans.  Today the coats of arms contains a hawk, the emblem of Mohammed, the founder of Islam, as well as two green stars which are also symbolic of Islam.  And yet, today, many of its cities are in rumble and its people are being bombed… supposedly in the name of Islam.

 

Politics aside and regardless of what ever religion, faith, or spirituality you believe or disbelieve. The destruction of an entire culture affects us all.  While modern day Arab nations seem to contribute little culturally except terrorism, it would be impossible to imagine our current world without the contributions of such Arab nations as Syria.  The fall of the Roman Empire in the sixth century put a stop on many of the great artistic and education explorations.  One only has to look at the Architectural artwork and buildings of the early first century Arab nations to appreciate their beauty, detail, and mathematical prowess.

 

The current destruction of these cities and the culture of the people being scattered will affect our future.  It may seem to not be our problem but when families of the world are being torn apart, it is our problem; we are but one race, after all. 

 

American writer Alex Haley once said:  “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”  These two posts were delays by a death in my family.  My family member, however, died peacefully in his sleep.  He served his country by defending its constitution and protecting freedom and though I lament his passing, it was after a life well lived.

 

Today the island of Taiwan suffered a natural disaster and as I write this over one hundred people are still unaccounted for and many are presumed deceased.  We have enough things in life that will threaten us.  We do not need to twist religion and use it as an excuse to commit genocide.

 

I once asked a young girl about the age of ten if she knew what a humanitarian was.  “Of course I do,” she said.  “I am a human being so if I live like I should, I am a humanitarian.  And if I don’t live like I should, other people get hurt.  That’s just stupid.”  Alex Haley agreed:  “Through this flesh, which is us, we are you, and you are us!”

 

The next time you wonder why we are “over there” defending and protecting “them”, just remember Alex Haley’s words:  “We are you and you are us.”

A Fragile Peace

A Fragile Peace

Pentecost #173

Eleven minutes of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns went silent and World War I was ended with the stroke of a pen.  This was not the first nor the last time one group had sought to rule.  In some countries today is known as Armistice Day and in others it is Remembrance Day.  Since 1954, in the United States of America, it has been a day to honor all those who served in the military, Veterans’ Day.

In the Middle East today, thousands protests the beheadings of seven people, including two women and one child.  Protesters from various Afghan communities that included Pashtoons, Hazaras, and Uzbeks were not the only ones protesting, though.  Ethiopians gathered in Addis Ababa to rally against killings in Libya.  Both instances are said to be the work of ISIS.

Mankind was once simply a collection of small groups living among other small groups.  Many believe a prince of Macedonia and student of Aristotle was the world’s first great conqueror.  By the time he turned 22, Alexander the Great had conquered Greece and set his sights on further lands.  In turkey myth and man came together when he cut in half the famous Gordian knot, a knot with which, according to mythology, the Phrygian god Sabazios had once ties an ox cart to a post.  Legend stated that whoever untied the knot would rule the world.  Alexander’s empire eventually reached from Greece to India and many felt he had fulfilled the prophecy of the myth.

Alexander the Great was just one of several world conquerors.  Eleven hundred years earlier Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III inherited the throne at the age of seven.  He established Egypt as a major power and was known for his humane treatment of those he vanquished.  The Romans, as they expanded the Roman Empire to Great Britain, were said to have been successful rulers because they tolerated the continuance of cultural ways of those they conquered.

Fast forward to the thirteenth century ACE and we find the Incas living in the Cuzco Valley of the Andes Mountains in the new World’s southern continent.  By 1438 the Incas had their own great empire that reached from Colombia through Ecuador and Peru into Child and across Bolivia into Argentina.  The Incan emperor Pachacuti not only appropriated lands but also the myths of those they vanquished.  He took the Aymaran god Viracocha and made him one of the supreme deities of the Incans.  At one point, the Incan Empire boasted sic million people.  It had a sophisticated system of roads and they successfully farmed the mountainous regions by creating elaborate terraces and intricate irrigation canals.  With no written language, the Incans preserved their “history” with professional troubadours who used fact, myth, and the legends of other cultures to record their existence – their ethos, their values, their principles, and their living.

The Incan creation myth explained the importance of their being rather than the actual creation of the world.  Some might call it a defense for their life style and their actions in aggressively conquering other tribes.  The Incans believed their rulers were children of the sun and therefore rulers themselves.  It was a defense that Adolf Hitler used in justifying the killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children in the actions that precipitated World War II.

This concept of leaders being gods has come back into fashion, especially in cults.  A cult is often characterized as a religious group that does not allow “free” or independent thinking.  Some might claim all religious groups, due to their being organized with stated doctrines, disallow independent or free thinking.  While we could debate those last two sentences for several months and still not be complete in our discussion, it cannot be denied that those who disagree with extremist groups often end up killed, considered vanquished for the cause.

Nothing good is gained from the senseless killing of innocents, particularly children. Good will always need defending but perhaps one day we can learn to fight with wisdom and grace instead of fear and death.