2017, A NEW YEAR?

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A new year has begun and I am not sure what it will bring. Usually I have a sense of new beginnings, or I have excited expectations and hope as I pick up from where I left off and start over again. Not this year though. There has been too much acrimony, too much hate, too many lies, too much racism, and too little justice, mercy, kindness, and peace for me to look forward to the coming year. Sad really, because it seems 2017 is already defeated before it is a week old. I am afraid 2017 will just be a year of more hateful speech, more injustice, more discrimination, and more violence.

There is no one person to blame, we all are responsible for the atmosphere of distrust and hate we see every day, in the news, from our politicians, from our neighbors. Let me make this clear, you and I are to blame from the people who fear the changes created in the last 30 years. We forgot that people might not understand, might not be willing to accept those changes. We assumed they would go along “when the discovered how much better they had it.” But they didn’t. No, they felt left out of the process, unasked, and left behind, and they felt their concerns and issues weren’t being addressed.

Yes, they could have become involved and worked with those of us who believed we were working to better the lives of everyone, and the environment. But somehow, they didn’t feel as if they could. Maybe they didn’t believe as we did, maybe they needed to be given more information, maybe they just needed more time to assimilate all the information being thrown at them. Whatever the reason some people became alienated and open to manipulation by those whose agenda is to turn back the clock to a time when only the few profited from the bounty of this country.

Maybe the reason for the divide is that those of us who want to see us progress broke into interest groups who fought over what issue was most important when, in reality, all of it is. No one has ever bothered to look at the larger picture. To try developing a program that would have given equal emphasis to each issue. To bring together the disparate interest groups formulate a policy that would have benefited each area of interest. The modernization of each issue, environment, inclusivity, racism, woman’s rights, children’s right, poverty, immigration, all of them, each is dependent on the other.

What do we do now that we have a president whose only interest is his own personal gain, a congress dominated by old white men bent on preserving white privilege, and the hate and racism propagated during the last eight years by has let loose violence and terror in our communities. Well, to start we work together, all interest groups working together to keep what has been achieved from being lost. Our job now is to stand up when we see abuse or harassment and protect the victims, stopping hate speech when we hear it, and working to prevent injustice wherever we see it. None of this is easy. It isn’t easy to do and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to take a stand. But that is what we are called to do.

I am a person of faith, and 2016 sorely tested that faith. Yet I still believe in what I was taught that we are to act justly and to love kindness, mercy, and compassion. We as a people of many faiths and beliefs are called to care for the disinherited, the lost, the incarcerated, elderly, young, and the stranger. That doesn’t change even though it has become much more difficult at the moment. History moves in many ways and we repeat our mistakes over and over again. We have the possibility to achieve great heights or astounding lows. The choice is ours. Do we repeat history or do we show that we can change history.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 3, 2017

Random Acts of Kindness – Prayerful Tuesday

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments,
show kindness and mercy each to his brother.”
–Zechariah, 7:9

“You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
–Matthew 5:43-44

JPG-Single-Act-of-Kindness-Quote-Amelia-Earharthttpwww.uniqueteachingresources.com Quotes-About-Kindness.html
http://www.uniqueteachingresources.com/Quotes-About-Kindness.html

 

Thursday I am taking part in the Face book event 24 Hours of Random Acts of Kindness.  I don’t have to DO anything specific, or travel anywhere.  The only thing I am asked to do is perform some act of kindness for someone who doesn’t expect it.  Sounds simple, I guess I will see.

I have been trying to decide what I would do, help a little old lady across the street, well I am a little old lady so I will leave that for someone else to do.  Maybe take cookies and give them a way, Now that I could do.  Wait a minute; I do believe I am trying to plan for something for a random event now that can’t’ be right.

My favorite Biblical verse comes is Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,  and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Nowhere in this small verse does it say we are to plan to do any of that. Rather when we see injustice we do something to correct it. When we see the embodiment of God we are to walk together.  When we see someone, be it human or otherwise, in need of kindness we are to offer it freely with no expectation of being acknowledged or of a being paid back.  We are to show kindness where it is least expected, recognizing the blessedness of the recipient. Even if the freely given gift is refused or unacknowledged we have done what is right in the eyes, heart and mind of the Spirit.

Oscar Hammerstein wrote: “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it – Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!” To give the gift of kindness is to put your love into action.  What a better way to express God’s great gift of love, the Teachings of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, than by giving it away.

So this week I am going to challenge you to practice the spiritual practice of a “Random Act of Kindness.”  Sometime this week do kind act for someone or some creature when they least expect it.  If you want to up this challenge a notch, try doing it anonymously and let your heart warm with the thought of the gift being received.

May your week be filled with kindness; kindness received and kindness gifted.

Ruth Jewell, ©May 17, 2016

Stand up and say NO MORE – Prayerful Tuesday

We are all Homo Sapiens sapiens but we will never be Human Beings until we stop just surviving and begin to live in harmony with each other and all creation.  

NO MORE
NO MORE

I have been trying to comprehend the shootings in South Carolina at the First Emanuel AME Church.  Just as the acts in other mass shootings I simply can’t get my mind around a hatred that produces such evil.  I have listened to the prayers for comfort and supplication.  I have listened, unwillingly, to the NRA and other public speakers who blame the church pastor and members, or minimize the acts of the shooter.  I can’t, or won’t, believe that 9 innocent people were the cause nor can I believe the shooter acted without encouragement.

You see, I believe we, you and I,  are to blame for what happened in South Carolina.  You and I, and everyone else regardless of skin color, privilege, ethnicity, or any other cultural classification are equally responsible for pulling the trigger and this is why I believe this.

We refuse to stand against acts of injustice, violence, discrimination, or the use of degrading speech.  We listen politely and shake our heads and tell ourselves that offering a prayer that people will change is enough.  We are afraid of what others might say about us if we stop someone in mid speech and tell them NO, I will not listen to this.  We look the other way when someone abuses another.  We tolerate public servants who degrade people of color, are poor, elderly, or have a religion they don’t follow.  We have tolerated public servants who have spoken as if they are the only ones who matter, who have verbally abused our President and anyone else they disagree with or disagree with them.

We have created this atmosphere of hate and violence found in country today.  Yes, I admit I am right there along with the rest of us.  Have I stood up and defended someone being abused, sometimes yes but not always.  I do it when it is convenient for me and that is not what we are called to do.  We, you and I, are called by the Divine to be better than that.

This week I am recommending a spiritual practice of standing up and defending the voiceless.  I am asking each of you to speak up when you hear someone abusing or degrading someone else.  I am pleading with each of you to stand and be counted when you see injustice happening.  As you go through this week remember this:

8 But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 The Message (MSG)

Ruth Jewell, ©June 23, 2015

Praying With Gratitude – Prayerful Tuesday

Sunset in the South Pacific April 23, 2015 (Ruth Jewell)
Sunset in the South Pacific
April 23, 2015 (Ruth Jewell)

While I was traveling in April I carried a small book with me by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ titled Reimagining the Ignatian Examen.[1] On our sea days when I would sit on the deck of our cruise ship and watch the ocean go by I various meditations for my daily prayer time.

Thibodeaux’s book takes the traditional Examen and includeds a specific focus to use within the prayer practice.  There are 34 different themes and I discovered a number of them to be very helpful for me as I sat in stillness. Over the next several months I will occasionally offer one of the meditations from the book for our Prayerful Tuesday. As today follows Memorial Day when we honor those who have died in service I would like to offer the meditation for Gratitude.

First let me offer a few hints from the book to get you started.

  1. Keep it short. Keeping your Examen under 15 minutes will keep your prayer in the moment and a reminder that this is a check-in with God that reorients your toward the Divine.
  2. Skip to the good parts and don’t get hung up on sin. You only want to dwell on the steps and you want to get to the point rather than linger for an extended period of time. Nor do you want to dwell on all the things that have gone bad or at least you think have gone bad.  God has the facts you don’t have to bore him with a lot of details.
  3. Sometimes, break all the rules. If you feel like it, skip over parts of the Examen you don’t feel you need to do or change them around.
  4. Experiment with different ways of journaling. Tweet-sized, or drawing, or video yourself dancing.  Do whatever moves you in prayer.
  5. Keep it prayerful. Keep the prayer God centered and don’t let your meditation drift into your shopping list or your latest aggravation.  Extra hints: A. ask God to take the lead, ask God to do your Examen for the day; B. Talk to God instead of yourself; C. listen for God’s voice, sit in silence for a moment and let God enter you

Here is how I began and closed my ritual, you may choose something totally different that fits you and the place you’re in spiritually right now:

  1. I stand still for a moment and let my mind quiet.
  2. I repeat Micah 6:8 as I sit down
  3. I place my hands in my lap, palms up, in a gesture of being open to God’s love and grace
  4. I slow my breathing and clear my mind, sitting very still for a moment
  5. I welcome God in to my heart and spirit
  6. Then I begin my Examen

Closure:

  1. I take several very deep breaths as a way to bring myself back to moment
  2. I place my hand on heart and repeat Matthew 28:20b
  3. I journal for a short while before rising from my chair.

Note: I change scriptures from time to time, substituting poetry and prayers.  Remember nothing is written in concrete.

Examen theme of GRATITUDE

  1. Begin in your usual way
  2. Ask God to reveal special blessing in your life this day. As yesterday was Memorial Day, ask God to also reveal the special blessing you’ve received from someone you loved who has passed on.
  3. Ask yourself ‘what am I grateful for today? “Who am I grateful for?’ Name the person(s) gift and offer the following “Lord, I am so grateful for your gift to me of _____.” Repeat this as many times as you need to
  4. Relish each gift in turn, letting them warm your heart. Using prayerful imagination see, feel, hear, touch, sense the gift again
  5. Let the gifts you have received dance in your memory offering your gratitude to God for each one. Offer the following; “Thank you Lord for (neighbor, family, laughter, shared meal, etc.)
  6. End in your usual way.

I truly enjoyed Thibodeaux’s focuses on my trip, they helped me retain a pilgrim attitude to the whole trip and I hope you find today’s focus helpful as much as I did.

Peace and Blessing on your journey

Ruth Jewell, ©May 26, 2015

[1] Thibodeaux SJ, Mark E; Reimagining the Ignatian Examen, Loyola Press, Chicago, IL, 2015

on being human—Prayerful Tuesday

Nursing an Ebola Victim Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures
Nursing an Ebola Victim
Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures

Matthew 25: 36 “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

One of the books I read while I was on my sabbatical was Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong.[1]  As always I was impressed with her writing and level of scholarship but more than that in this book Ms Armstrong lays out the reasons for our love of violence and power.

Right at the beginning she identifies one of the factors in our continuing struggle between living in a harmonious world or living in a power driven world, the construction of our brains.  We have 3 brains, the old brain or reptilian brain is responsible for our fight or flight actions. It drives us to defend our territory for food and other resources, it is the self-centered part of the brain, most concerned with keep ourselves safe; the mammalian limbic system, which formed over the core of the reptilian brain is our second brain. It is responsible for new behaviors such as care of our young and the formation of allies with others; and the new brain, the third brain, the neocortex, is responsible for our “reasoning and self awareness that enables us to stand back from the instinctive, primitive passions.” (pg 4-5)

Ms. Armstrong proposes that the reptilian brain and limbic system are dominant within power systems that manipulate and control others.  The limbic system extended the actions of the reptilian brain to include family or a community unity but, still, this drive for power and control of others for territory and resources requires violence.  It wasn’t until about 20,000 years ago when the neocortex evolved did the idea of standing back and evaluating actions was there any question about the use of violence. Humanity really didn’t have a chance of becoming a reality until after the evolution of the neocortex and we have yet to learn how to  use the “new brain” to begin to evolve into who we are meant to be.  By this I mean most of us haven’t learned to overcome the impulses of the reptilian brain and limbic system and use our neocortex to evaluate our surroundings or our actions.  In general we humans are “subject to conflicting impulses of [our] three distinct brains.” (pg. 5)

Fortunately there is hope for us all.  A few of us are developing our neocortex’s and discovering what it means to be truly human.  I was listening to NPR this past Sunday morning when a story about Dr. Kent Brantly was broadcast. Dr. Brantly was one of the American Doctors who contracted Ebola last year and survived.  He was asked to deliver the graduating speech to the 2015 graduating class of the Indiana University School of Medicine.  What he says about compassion is important for all of us to hear (italics are mine):

“In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn’t make me feel like a failure as a physician because I had learned that there’s a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn’t even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.”[2]

Compassion isn’t offering help, it is being with the suffering of others, it is living the suffering, walking together down a road you may or may not know where it leads.  That is what Jesus did.  He entered into the suffering of others, he walk the road to where ever they were headed, that is one, maybe the first, step to becoming human.  Dr. Brantly has taken a step on a road most of us are afraid to even look at let along step onto.  The Prophet Micah tells us “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, sounds easy does it not?  Ask Dr. Brantly how easy it was for him and he will tell you it is the hardest road you will ever walk, but if we wish to be the humans God has always wanted us to be it is a road we must walk.

This week my spiritual practice is more of a spiritual way of life.  I would like to invite you on a journey with me to become the “human” God wants us all to be.  To look at our actions by taking a step back and asking ourselves the following questions (I am sure there are more than these and please let me know what you would ask):

  1. Does this action support justice or impede justice?
  2. Is this action a loving act?
  3. Does that action move me closer to God or does it separate me from God?

Simple questions, but, sometimes hard to answer.  Our lives are filled with gray areas and we will need to determine how those gray, in between, spaces fit into our lives and either nurture or kill the life we want with God. This is not an easy practice or an easy way to live but I believe, at least for myself, a profitable one.  I know I will stumble and so will you.  That’s OK, just pick yourself up and start over again.  Failure is a lesson in how not to do something.  Loving life as God meant it to be was and is never easy.  Just remember you are not alone.

Ruth Jewell ©May 19, 2015

[1] Armstrong, Karen’ Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence, The Bodley Head, London, UK, 2014.

[2] National Public Radio: Rachel Martin interview Dr. Kent Brantly, May 17, 2015, All Things Considered Sunday Edition.

Hope

Sermon Given at Lake Washington Christian Church
February 22, 2015


rainbow-landskape

Genesis 9:12-17  12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Psalm 25:5-6 5Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 6Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

1 Peter 3:21  21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Mathew 1:15-15 14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Awhile back a friend asked me what was my favorite scripture and without hesitation I said Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Then she asked the question … Why? I had to think about that for awhile.  I could have said that it was how my Father ended all of our dinner prayers and hearing it always brings back wonderful memories.  Or, I might have told her my Disciples tradition has based its mission and vision statement on it and those statements have opened the door to a witness in social justice and peace in the greater world.  But while each of those reasons are truth the real reason is this one verse from Hebrew scripture gives me Hope.

It is the hope of the rainbow that symbolizes the covenant between God, one-another and all creation.  It is the cry of the Psalmist who says “O, Lord, Teach me your paths, Lead me in your truth and teach me,” and the voice of the Gospel writer of Mark who writes “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

In our world today hope seems to be too little and too late.  We watch the news and it’s filled with killing, greed, anger, hate, and very little that would give us hope for a better world.  Killing, whether of the body or spirit, disrupts God’s purpose for our lives. To kill a human being  made in the divine image is to subvert our lives which were purposely created to be lived in mutuality, support and respect, to live in right relationship with each other, God, and creation.  Killing for greed, hate, and anger is to kill a little of ourselves and build a wall, brick by terrible brick, between us and God.

So what does the word “Hope” mean for us then? Those who define words say it is to expect with confidence.  For others it means to expect things will get better, not only to get us through the difficult times in our lives, but also for our world, we will have a place of peace and justice for all creation, not tomorrow, or sometime in the far future but NOW, today.  We in all of our faith communities across the globe are called to seek justice, offer kindness, and be examples of living in peace to the world, to be a living hope.

God promised the descendants of Noah, and all creation that God would no longer destroy the world.  As a covenantal symbol of God’s own self-limiting, God’s disarmament, God placed a rainbow in the sky. In Noah’s time bows were symbols of violence just as guns are for us today.  So God laid down his weapon of mass destruction and placed it in the sky and said ‘I will no longer destroy what I have created.’  I wonder what God would place in the sky today, a nuclear bomb maybe?

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t forgotten all of the killing done in the name of God in Scripture.  And, I must admit I have difficulty with the genocidal practices of Joshua when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  But I also know that just because a practice is in the Bible doesn’t make it an acceptable practice for today.  And, that is the reason I so firmly believe in God’s promises of hope.

You see God’s covenant of the rainbow means that we, you and I, all humans, are in a covenantal relationship with God, each other, and creation and that means that all life matters, my life, your life, white, black, yellow and brown life, furred and feathered life and (much to my discomfort) insect and spider life.  The Psalmist makes a claim of hope and trust in God and tells us that God’s protection flows from the mouths of those who have no hope or trust in systems of violence, injustice, and oppression. Not just overt physical acts of injustice but injustice and violence and oppression brought about by attitudes, social structures, and any other “isms” that threatens the peace and justice of God’s Kingdom.

God’s rainbow of hope spoken in the Good News of the Gospels goes beyond a “me-centered” interpretation of the world. God’s hope reaches out across our selfish desires to those who need hope, justice, and mercy. Where do you find God’s hope? It is placed where there is justice and peace and there you will find Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the Good News of hope. Hopeful news that leads not only to the salvation of those who accept the gift freely given, but is also the promise of something more, a new and different life for those who are the most victimized.  All faith communities are called to be participants in our own salvation by working for justice, now, in the context of our present world, thereby helping to bring the good news to those who need it, where ever and whenever it is needed.

We as believing members of our faith communities are to point the way to the kingdom breaking into our world right now. The kingdom of God isn’t a future event it is happening right now. Every time we offer a helping hand to someone who is hungry, or cold, or afraid the door to God’s Kingdom opens just a bit more.  Every time we stand up to those who would harm one of God’s children, the kingdom shines a bit brighter.  Every time we stand between victims of injustice and the perpetrators God let’s a little more light out of the door.   Every time we speak out when we see an injustice God smiles and sends another rainbow.

You know the Irish tell us that there is gold at the end of the rainbow, and I believe that is true.  Because I believe that God’s kingdom is that golden treasure and we are to seek it just as the man who sought out the pearl of great price.  What could be more beautiful than walking across the rainbow into the Golden Kingdom?

Yes, on the first Sunday in Lent, all of the Lectionary scriptures are about hope.  Whether you read Genesis, Psalm 25, 1 Peter, or Mark each of them has an element of hope for dark times, in a dark world.  Each one offers a ray of light to bring us out of darkness. The light calls us, bright and shinning, multicolored, and golden with hope and promise.  God first gave the rainbow as a promise that She would never forget any of her children.  The Psalmist tells us that God will always be there to sustain us.  And, Jesus, rekindled the hope in the hopeless that a better life was there for them.  Jesus reminds all of us that God will sustain us as we work to be the witness’ against injustice, violence and oppression.

God said, “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  How does Micah fit into this, well Micah reminds us which path we are to take, “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  We are called to be living communities of hope, of God’s promise in every moment of our individual and communal lives.

AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©February 23, 2015

Looking Forward – Looking Back – Prayerful Tuesday

Micah 6: 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Happy New Year 2015 A

Well the New Year is almost upon us and it has been an eventful, but mostly violent, one.  In 2014 it seems we have had more violence than peace, despite the efforts of many.  We have seen hate take over our streets and increase in our government.  Peace on Earth just doesn’t seem to be in our hearts for this baby New Year.

This last year we have seen too many senseless deaths, demonstrations, hateful rhetoric, and downright meanness.  There has been little peace in our world of late.  But this small online community has been a refuge for some. We have offered moments of personal stillness in the rush of our daily lives.  Yet in the face of so much violence prayer doesn’t always seem adequate does it.

But, every time we take a moment to offer a pray for our own peace and for the peace of others we change a piece of our hearts.  Those changes add up and become the change we see around us. We just celebrated the birth of love breaking into the world.  A love that gives out of its abundance, works for justice for all, and walks a path that honors the world we live in. In the light of that love we too can become love expressed in the world, with every prayer we offer and with every prayer action we take, the light of Love shines just a little brighter.  Yes it may seem inadequate but remember you can’t have a beach with one grain of sand.

So my prayer request for each of you this week, as you contemplate the year past and look forward to the year to come, is to offer a prayer for our community that we will find solace in our hearts and compassion and justice in our actions.  Pray for each other.  Pray for local, national, and international governments.  Pray for the children, elderly, and the sick and disabled who are most affected by hate speech and actions.  Let your prayers spill over into the way you act in the world around you.  Remember others are praying as well, you are not alone.  Let every act you do in the coming year be an act of prayer, and offering to the God or Force that guides your path.  Let this be your New Year’s resolution that you will “do justice, and … love kindness, and … walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NRSV).

It is my prayer that, we as a people, will change the world by being the Force in the world for compassion, justice, and love.  Let us learn to walk humbly with whatever Divine Energy each of calls to in the dark.  May each of us this year light a candle of hope each day and let our light shine.

Happy New Year Everyone and may the Love of the Divine be with you in the coming year.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 30, 2014