This is my prayer that we live as the Carpenter did; loving justice, doing kindness, and walking humbly with God.
This is my prayer that we be in community as the Carpenter was: knowing we are all Children of God in the Spirit, no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no female or male, no human or animal. That we remember we are all one in the Spirit.
This is my prayer that we remember who we are: the creation of God, partners of God in creation, living as one in creation.
This is my prayer, that we remember we have a history older than what we have been taught. That we remember we are better than what we have become.
This is my Nativity Scene. It was purchased in November, or December, of 1946 by my parents, probably from Woolworths for less than $10. It is the Nativity Scene I have had all my life. As you can see a wise man has gone for a walk, some sheep have wandered off, two camels got tired of waiting for their riders and the angel looks like she was mucking out the cow’s stall. While this cheap, plaster of Paris set, which is chipped and dusty has no monetary value, at 74 years of age it is priceless to me.
My parents used this scene to explain to me what Christmas was all about. Not presents given or received, not Santa, not even joyful celebration. Rather Christmas is about God reminding us that They/Them are one of us. God became a human to remind us that They/Them walks with us, sits with us, listens to us, pray with us, dance and sing with us, cry with us, grieve with us, be disappointed with us, to doubt with us and then, . . . then discover that the Great Divine is right here to comfort us. The Great Divine surrounds us, moves through us, is part of every molecule of the clay vessel we call a body. They/Them is present in every animate and inanimate object of the universe. We cannot escape the presence of the Universal Divine for They/Them are part of every fiber of our being.
Love is recognizing we are here with each other, and the Divine Creator loved us enough to become one of us just to remind us of that. From the beginning we are created to be one with They/Them, She/He, how ever you address the one Universal Presence that came down to us 2000, 1000, 74 years ago, or right this moment.
I do not celebrate Christmas the way most people do, never have and never will. But I offer this prayer to every one of you:
May the love of the Universal Divine come into your hearts. May you remember the Holy is incarnated within you. May the sacred light shine forth from you. May you shine out as bright as the star in the East with Love’s gift of Justice, Kindness, and Peace.
Remember dawns cold light, calves calling, cows munching. Remember white foals, soft hay laced breath. Remember buckets of water, heavy, cold, fresh from the well. Remember fresh eggs still warm from the nest. Remember eggs, pancakes, bacon and hot coco, kept me going ‘till lunch. Remember hot, steaming, metal tubs of water, babies bathing first, poor dad always went last. Remember beginnings, Remember endings, Remember endings that led into beginnings, Remember, Remember, Remember.
Since the beginning of civilization humankind has been willing to delegate their responsibilities to one small portion of the community. That small group became the “elites” who in time thought nothing of using the majority for their own ends, including enslaving them. The elites discovered the best way to further their ends was to use religion (priests were part of that elite group) to control the majority by justifying cruelty, abuse, and war.
Constantine followed the pattern when he realized the potential of Christianity to control and manipulate the population. He and those who followed him used the young catholic church to take the teachings of Jesus, twisting them until they became unrecognizable. The Catholic Church destroyed the simple commandments of the Carpenter from Nazareth to keep their place in the government. For 2000 years the church has taken scripture out of context to justify slavery and other acts of abuse and violence. All because it benefited them by keeping them in power and providing the church, and those they served, with a workforce they didn’t have to care about. They twisted, and simply ignored, the teachings of the Carpenter of Nazareth to define those who were weaker, of different color, or from a culture who didn’t believe as they did as less than human. The Carpenter never taught such rubbish.
When the white Slavic (that’s where we get word slave) peoples was depleted the ruling elites turned to others they could demonize. In 1441 the Portuguese began the African slave trade and it was the Portuguese who developed the idea of racism. In 1492 it was the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere who were enslaved. In 1619 the first African slaves were brought into the Western Hemisphere. All to further the elitist, privileged, so called rights, of white Europeans.
Human slaves were cheap and therefore even a poor white person could “own” a human being and feel superior. Yet those same poor whites abdicated their own rights and privileges to others and so ‘enslaved’ themselves, they just didn’t know it. The sad part is even peoples of color owned slaves, people of their own ethnic groups or groups from other cultures. Slavery has always been part of the culture of human history. This is history, this is the reason we must read history. Without history we can’t understand today or change tomorrow.
The only way to change, and repent, is to change our culture of one group ruling, dominating, lording it over other groups. Until we begin to see each person as valuable for who they are, not what they can produce for a small group of human’s changes will not happen. Many have tried to change us, to awaken us but we humans don’t listen. Maybe it’s in our DNA now, maybe we will be unable to change.
But unless we figure out how to be a community where the worth of each person is not based on a bottom-line that benefits only a small number of people nothing will change. You can throw all you want at social programs or try to change all kinds of political and social groups all will fail, it always has, and always will. Our culture of elitism must change and until it does nothing will change.
Humanity has been given many opportunities to be the best we can be. Moses told the Hebrews “Choose Life” (Deuteronomy 30:19); Zechariah said not to oppress the widow, the orphan, and the stranger (Zechariah 7:10); Jesus taught what we do to the oppressed we do to him (Matthew 25:35-40); The Prophet Muhammad tells us to care for the strangers, the needy, and our neighbors (Quran Sura 4:36); and the principle of treating others as you want to be treated is part of many other faiths traditions, Buddha and Confucius both taught we are to treat others as we want to be treated. The Indigenous peoples of this Hemisphere also taught how to behave in society. For example the Shawnees taught “Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him, therefore add to his days of happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself.”
Humanity rarely listens to those who come to off a way towards change. We are stubborn and believe only we are right. We are wrong. It is time to change. Civilization will not survive if we do not learn to listen to those who have called us to change. It doesn’t matter if it was 8000, 3000, 2000 years ago, or yesterday we need to listen to them. If we do not learn from those who speak wisdom, those who came to teach us how to treat each other as we each want to be treated. If we do not learn to value each person for who they are regardless of their gifts, their skin color, their social economic status, or their culture then we are a lost people, our civilization will fall, and rightly so. We will not deserve to survive. I only pray we do not take the rest of creation with us.
Yesterday I received my copy of Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets and with some excitement opened the book, to this random page. It took me only a moment to read the few lines of the poem, but a lot longer for the shock to quiet, and the wonder set in. You see there have been more moments in my life than I care to admit that God has offered this prayer for me. This 7-line poem, inspired by Eckhart’s Selected Writings, was an unlooked-for blessing in a moment of need. Because today, you see, I needed to be reminded that God prays for me, that God wants me.
In the hours since I read the poem, I have thought of the many different ways I’ve answered Gods prayer and how many times I’ve ignored it. Over the years I’ve spent time talking to God asking why God would want to be born in me, me, a not so good, not so joyful, not so loving human. A human filled with anger, frustration, confusion and, I’m just going to say this, hate. What would the Divine Being find worthy in me, despite my constantly ignoring the gift?
I’m afraid, even to this day, I haven’t found a whole lot of answers to my questions for God. Unfortunately, God can be quite silent on the reasons why, but persistent in praying. I guess I will have to be satisfied with knowing God wants me to have grace, especially since I remember many of the strange, wonderful, and mystical moments I have experienced. Before I offer a story that illustrates this, let me digress for just a bit.
The idea that God wants the Spirits grace to belong to me, us, that God prays we will want grace given, full abundant grace, without strings attached, has always felt just a little odd. God’s grace is a gift fit for royal/holy beings, and it is being given to you and me! Why wouldn’t any of us want such a gift? As humans we are used to knowing that nothing in this life is free. There are always strings attached, we may not see them, may not even be aware of them, but they are there. Yet here is the Divine just handing it out, for free.
God says the gift of grace is freely, abundantly given and without the necessity of paying back. To me that means in God’s eyes you and I are royal, holy beings, all we have to do is accept the gift. More importantly God wants to be born within us, to become part of us, and that means you and I become part of God. Now that is an offer we cannot turn down, right. Well we can and do turn it down for many reasons such as stubbornness, stupidity, or more likely fear. To be part of God, part of the creator, means we are partners in creation, and that means we are responsible for the care and wellbeing of creation and each other. That means we are to care for the weak, the young, the elderly, the stranger whether they are like us or not. So, yes all of us have turned God down, repeatably. The thing is God keeps asking, God never gives up on us. That is the God I know, a God who keeps trying, and keeps asking no matter how scared, stubborn, or stupid we might be.
Pride can be both a good and a bad trait, unfortunately for me pride is not always the best trait to have. Thirty or so years ago I thought I knew it all, I didn’t need God in my life, I didn’t need anyone, and, in my arrogance, I chose to do some things I’m now not very proud of. I didn’t break the law, but I hurt people who had trusted me. When I came to my senses, I realized somethings had to change but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Life can be funny sometimes and in one of those moments I had an experience that changed how I saw myself, my relationship with the Divine, and my relationship with the rest of creation. So, here is the first time I found God’s grace freely given.
As a graduate student at the University of Houston School of Public Health I often had the opportunity to go along with the biologists on bird banding trips in the Gulf of Mexico. We would band baby gulls and terns in the morning and then spend a couple of hours swimming in the gulf before returning to school. On this occasion I was floating along, I don’t swim so I was simply bobbing along while wearing a life vest, I was enjoying the warm water and the sun when I felt something brush against my leg. I looked down into the water and couldn’t see anything, so I thought I was imagining it when I felt it again. My friend called from the boat and told me to be very still and hold my hand out at the surface of the water. I didn’t know why I should, but I did.
To my amazement a fin appeared under my hand and a dolphin rose up and pulled me along in the water. I looked into the water and there were 3 or 4 dolphins swimming around me. At first, they moved me away from the boat and just let me “ride” against them. I could hear clicks and squeaks and they seemed to want to talk to me. So, I talked to them, I was told later for about 15 to 20 minutes, which seemed to pass like seconds. For some unknown reason I told them about my fears, how confused I was, and how unkind I’d been. Amazingly they moved in closer and seemed to “hug” me, the air around me took on a golden color and I felt something within I had never felt before. Slowly they guided me back to our boat and sank into the gulf. Before I knew it, I was being pulled from the water. My friends told me they had never seen anything like it before. I, on the hand, seemed to be in this bubble of serenity. For the rest of the trip friends told me I had this rather goofy smile on my face.
I can’t say that everything was wonderful following that experience but, inside I felt a wall come down and the Divine stepping in. Life is still life, and not all events are perfect, but I found that letting go and letting someone else lead me gave me a new perspective on how to live my life. God’s prayer that I would want the grace given, that I would welcome the birth of God within had been answered that day. There have been other moments when I have forgotten the God within. But after going my own way and needing to be reminded as to who I am, who I belonged to, I would renew my relationship with God. I have found this is an ongoing process for me and suspect it is for everyone. But that moment in the Gulf of Mexico was the first time, and a special moment that has helped me recognize God’s presence, and God’s reminders.
When I opened
my copy of this book of poems and saw this prayer it made me smile, it made my
memories smile, it made me open my arms and once again welcome God. If nothing
else this little prayer has made the whole book worthwhile. I desired God’s
grace. I opened my heart and God has moved in. I am part of God, God is part of
me, I am God’s partner in this amazing creative universe. I pray I am a good
part (at least most of the time). Now my prayer for you:
May you desire God’s grace, grace freely, abundantly, given, so that God will be born within you. Amen
I wonder if one of religions biggest difficulty is that we
cannot respond to joy. We remember and celebrate our failures but do not
remember or celebrate our successes. In the Hebrew bible it is the battles that
are recorded not the moments of peace. In the Christian New Testament, it is
the pain and sorrow that is highlighted not the holding of a child or the
details of the wedding. We live a
Yes, there are moments in scripture where joy can be found
but if you stack them up against the moments of violence you will discover that
violence tips the scale. In Christianity
the most important holiday is Easter, the resurrection, but it is Maundy
Thursday, and “Good” Friday that receives the press. The return of
Jesus must have been incredibly wonderful, people must have been overjoyed. But
that is not what we hear.
Why are the happy
times, the good times not news? Today the only things on news shows of any kind
are who killed who, who challenges who for power, who hates who. That is not the world I want to live in, but
it appears that is the world we have created from the very beginning.
Violence seems to be hardwired into who we are. Our earliest
ancestors survived on meat killed by their own hand or by other predators. I
get that, I understand the need to eat and feed our families, but there is
always a but isn’t there, the vast majority of humans don’t need to kill to
eat. Most of us can go down to the local market and get what we need. Yes, food inequality exists, and it does so
because we have people who feel they are the only ones and “hoard”
resources. There are enough resources on
this planet to feed every man, woman, and child without letting anyone suffer,
or go hungry.
We have that inequality because we have people who claim
ownership to more than they need and we have others who will fight, even kill,
to get their share. Not a pretty picture of humanity, the supposed children of
God. The prophets, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad all tried to change us from
petty, hording, selfish people. We haven’t listened, we continue to be selfish,
we continue to champion and celebrate hate and violence, and we continue to
destroy the planet we live on for our selfish, violent ends.
But, again with the but, If, just if, we imagined a world
where violence didn’t exist what would it look like? What if we celebrated the
joy of life lived with each other, what if we celebrated the joy of living on a
planet that is amazingly beautiful and filled with joy? How would that world
look like, what would we look like? What would our communities look like? You
know I can’t imagine it because I have no words for that kind of joy, that kind
of celebration, that kind of love. Imagination doesn’t need a written word, but
it does need visual ones and within our human existence there are no words,
visual or written, that can describe that kind of life. That makes me sad, very
So much of our lives are made up of survival, of protecting
ourselves from what is outside our door that we have forgotten life in the “Garden”
where fear and hate and struggle were unknown.
I hope we never make it to the stars or find people on other planets
because we in our infinitely violent, stupid, selfish ways would destroy them.
All of this doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing
suffering and be modern day Pollyanna’s. No that isn’t what this all about,
rather it’s about ignoring the good in this world, pushing it aside to revel in
sorrow, in violence, in pain, and in hate.
When we push joy aside and only focus on the non-joy (is that a word?)
we make our lives smaller and we choose to live lives that are less significant.
We are approaching what should be a time of great joy in the
Church calendar. Advent and Christmas should be a time filled with joy of
anticipation of new life. We should be celebrating what will come from
welcoming the joy of the Eternal Holy Spirits gifts. We won’t though will we? I
have grown to hate Advent and Christmas because I see too much selfishness, a
selfishness that locks out most of the world’s poor from a share in that joy. At
this time of the year we share with those less privileged and then forget about
them for the rest of the year. At this time of the year we give, often
abundantly, not as an act of grace, but to clean our souls. Jesus taught the
joy of giving from our abundance was supposed to happen all year long, every
day, every hour. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that.
We humans are the youngest of the species on this planet and
unless we change how we view the world we will not survive to be the oldest,
and we will take the rest of creation with us.
I hope that will not be the legacy of the sad, strange species called Homo
sapiens, sapiens, my fear is it will be.
In the struggles we choose and the Crises we don’t,
we offer prayers for those who stand against the darkness. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
It is right to remember those who gave us the freedom
to choose to live our lives in safety and comfort.
It is right to offer prayers for those who chose to give their lives for us. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
We share a history with those lives,
those who risk their lives to protect our homes,
rescue us from disaster, care for us when injured: for all First Responders we pray:
Law Enforcement, Fire, Search and Rescue teams, and Medical and Support teams. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
On land, on sea, and in the air
our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters
our wives and husbands risked all, are risking all, and will continue to risk all;
for those who served and serve still, we offer prayers.
For the men and women of the Army, National Guard, Coast Guard,
Navy, Marines, and Air Force we pray. God in your mercy, hear our prayers
They may be gone, but they are with us still.
The lives they lived give us the strength to carry on.
Their words remind us that freedom isn’t free,
we, the living, carry these brave souls with us,
their voices call to us to continue the fight,
to care for the wounded, to protect the innocent,
and defend the defenseless. God in your mercy, Hear our prayers
They call us to reject those who would deny the freedom to
live with dignity, to worship as they choose, to be who God has called them to be.
It is our loving duty, our responsibility, to never fail those who did not fail us.
We, oh Lord, accept the challenge to continue to stand
with those who stood for us. God in your mercy, Hear our prayer
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.