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.



Believing in the Impossible

Believing in the Impossible

Epiphany 16


“There is no man living that cannot do more than he thinks he can.”  Henry Ford was living proof of his quote and yesterday a man was elected to the presidency of the United States who proved that as well.  This will not be a political post.  It is about encouraging us all to stop outside of any box someone or we have placed ourselves in and try.  Attempt the impossible… because it just might happen.


There is really only way one to make the impossible happen and that is to believe it can.  You must believe in the possibility of the impossible becoming possible.  And no, I have not gone crazy or am trying to win a bet using the word possible or its variations as many times as I can in one sentence.  Lewis Carrol wrote of this in his “Alice in Wonderland.” 


“Alice laughed.  ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’  ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


In his autobiography “The Crack-Up”, F. Scott Fitzgerald speaks of this.  “Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.  One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true.”


Ah but the book is titled “The Crack-Up” you might be thinking.  Isn’t is crazy to believe the impossible to be possible?  After all, they are contradictory terms.  Yes they are.  Perhaps the true question of value is “Are those terms factual?”  In fact, is it even possible to define something as impossible?


Sigmund Freud once said “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”  We might inquire of Dr. Freud by what standard of measurement would he define the impossible.


History is full of impossible things becoming possible.  Last year during this season of Epiphany we discussed people who had their own great epiphanies and invented new things, some of which would have been deemed impossible at one time.  They were people who attempted the impossible or unknown and not only made it possible but also known and popular, used in everyday life.


Believe that you are weak and you will be.  Believe that you are forever handicapped and you will never thrive.  Lee Wise wrote a really powerful sentence about this.  “Belief in what matters most holds the power of creating legacies that matter most in the long run.”  I believe in you and your power to live a life of intention, a life that will better the world … for you, for me, and for tomorrow. 



Epiphany 15


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.”  Today, as the United States of America prepares to swear in its 45th President, change is in the air.  After eighteen months of a heated and often contentious debate, a man most felt least likely to win will swear an oath that will change the rest of his life and his family’s. 


Today, as in no other, the Constitution of the United States will take center stage.  It is perhaps one of only a handful of legal and governing documents to encourage change.  While most eyes will be on President-Elect Donald Trump and his entourage, no living person is really in the spotlight as the Constitution is.  The whole purpose of change, who can participate, how such change happens, and how such change is tallied and then made to happen is all dependent upon this one document, two hundred and thirty-nine years old with only twenty-seven amendments.


Tony Robbins once said “Change is inevitable; progress is optional.”  That single quote describes the feeling of many today.  Politics aside, what comes next will be dependent upon many people, people who in spite of all the pomp and circumstance will have the same power as the man being sworn in today, his cronies, and followers as those who opposed his campaign. 


One of the hallmarks of the US Constitution is the recognition it affords change.  Winston Churchill believed “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. “  It is something we all tend to resist, however.  Nothing in creation remains the same.  Nature is one large and unending cycle of change.  Anatole France recognized this.  “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”


It seems contradictory to say we must die in order to live but there is a great deal of truth in that.  No one ever moved forward by constantly looking backwards.  We cannot embrace the future is we are stuck living in the past.  You will never see where the ocean might take you if you remain firmly planted on the shore.


It is not just those within the boundaries of the United States that will be watching this great change today.  Leaders all around the world will be watching, waiting, and wondering what will come next.  Often attributed to “anonymous”, our closing paragraph today actually comes from Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Reinhold Niebuhr.  It not only sums up the inauguration today o f a new world leader but offers a great roadmap as we encounter the inevitable changes of our own lives.


“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen. ”

Use Your Words

Use Your Words

Pentecost 169


The Voice is an American television program that is classified as a reality show, one of the few that actually is aired in real time about real people with real results all based upon…a voice.  The premise is simple: What truly counts for a singer is their voice.  Hundreds of local and regional judges hear contestants at local levels and the competitors go through an elimination process until almost one hundred make it to the show’s airing of auditions.   The field of hopefuls is narrowed down to a group of twenty-four who ultimately take part in the team and individual competitions.  The final four compete in the two-part grand finale, having spent months going through this process with the four industry-seasoned judges who act as role model and mentors.  Eventually a winner is chosen and receives a recording contract and a great amount of visibility.



We all have a voice if we are lucky enough to live in a nation that allows us to vote.  Even those living in a dictatorship, however, usually have an opportunity to exercise their voice.  Often we use our voice to ask questions.  Parents may very well be the only group of people that ask questions to which they are positive they already know the answer.  “Who broke my favorite vase?”  “Who ate all the cookies?”  “Who ate my bedroom slipper?”  “Who left the light on?”  Having been a parent, I’ve asked my fair share of such questions and, occasionally, I was surprised with the actual answer.


The fact is that we seldom ask questions to which we are positive we know the answer.  When parents ask questions like those above, they seldom are really listening to any answer they received.  They have already decided the answer and are asking for dramatic effect before issuing the punishment or consequence.


The Voice contestants originally sing facing the backs of the judges.  There is no eye contact, no swaying with clothing or hair styles.  The only “it factor” is the voice of a hopeful.  It is a wonderful analogy for prayer.  We stand, sit, walk, or kneel before that which we can feel but not see.  Our only talent is our faith, evidenced by the voice through which we pray.  It is not perfect not does it need to be.  It just needs faith.  Somebody to love us while we climb life’s mountains…Prayer is our stage on which we garner attention and guidance.  When we lift our voices, we pray.  In prayer, there are no losers.


How should we use our voice when we are promoting a cause?  We know what we want to say and many times, no questions are allowed. V We want to face those to whom we are speaking and dislike interruptions.  Yesterday the President of the United States gave a speech and was interrupted by someone wanting to promote the opponent.  The audience booed the man but was quickly admonished by the President.  Instead of thanking the crowd, the President encouraged the crowd to show respect to the heckler.  He used his words to illustrate true leadership and humanity.


We encourage small children to “use your words” instead of throwing temper tantrums but it is advice we as adults should also consider.  True maturity and leadership is illustrated when we use our words for causes which should be promoted.  Arrogance and ego are not worth the effort; neither is disruptive antagonism towards someone based upon their culture, race, religion or socioeconomic status. 


The voice is a beautiful thing when used properly.  You can make someone’s day extraordinary by sharing a compliment.  Let the tacky speech remain silent.  Use your words to make someone’s day better.  You’ll discover that the gift is returned tenfold.