for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Giver of abundant gifts, on this Thanksgiving we celebrate . . . we celebrate. Ah what are we celebrating God? It seems to me that we have nothing to celebrate, nothing to be thankful for, except empty hearts and soulless comments.
Too many children are dying before our eyes on beaches, in stormy seas, in mountain passes, and refugee camps. Too many are blinded by their fears, unable to see the path to your love. I don’t know God, I can’t really think of something to be thankful for this year, you see my eyes are clouded with tears and my heart is screaming in pain for those who are being denied entry into our so called circle of love. By the way if it is a circle of love would there really be boundaries?
God I don’t know how to say this but I do believe we humans have failed you and maybe it is time to pull the plug on this experiment. We are tired, I know I am, so please just let us go and let us be thankful for the too few moments when we recognized your love and shared it with the world. Let some other species give being your priestly people a go at it. That task is very plainly to difficult for us. Dogs would be a good choice they love without condition just by being who they are, yes; Dogs would do a good job of being your treasured people.
So I guess I do have something to be thankful for. I am thankful for your love, for your compassion, your presence in the darkest of times. I am grateful for the times we danced in the sunlight, and sang at the moon. I am grateful for your faith in us when we have no faith in ourselves. I am thankful for the many blessings you have given us, sunrises and sunsets, a newborns smile, oh so many gifts. So if it’s alright with you God I will lay my gratitude down at your feet and if it pleases you Lord, I would like to come back as a Dog. AMEN
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.
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:
“8But 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)
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. 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.”
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):
Does this action support justice or impede justice?
Is this action a loving act?
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.
In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good. Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society. Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be. It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.
Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good. So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.
1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What feelings about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
Respond to the image with prayer for the world. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now. All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain. Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.
God has many ways to speak to us, through relationships, our experience, what we read and in the images we see every day. Visio Divina, Latin for divine seeing, is praying with an image and listening for what God may say to us through that image.
The above image is an entry, a rather nice entry but just an entrance to some place. Spend 2 or 3 minutes just gazing at the image. Does the picture raise any memories, good or bad? Does it look familiar to someplace you’ve been? Would you like to walk down this hallway? Jot down any words that come to you.
Look deeper into the image is there movement, or do you see artwork? From this perspective where might you believe this entryway leads? What lies at the end of the hallway? Who might you meet? Who would you like to see as you round the corner?
Respond to the image in prayer. Does the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you like to offer a prayer of thanksgiving or intercession? Is there someone who needs your forgiveness, or you need there’s waiting for you? Offer a silent prayer offering your sorrow, or giving your forgiveness. Let God carry your hearts message.
Sit quietly and find your quiet center. Breathe deeply; relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this still moment and let God pray in you; remember God prays beyond words, in sighs and warming of the heart.
As you return to the present, let the prayers go with you throughout your day.
The news stories of the last few weeks have broken my heart. Seeing the pictures of wild fires, immigrant children, Palestine, Iraq, and the Ukraine simply overwhelms me with sadness and despair. I think how can one human being do these things to another human being, especially children. I keep asking myself when will this come to an end? I know it seems as if prayer doesn’t makes a difference and so it feels like a waste of time to offer your prayers. But heartfelt prayer often leads us into action and that is prayer indeed.
You see when many people offer prayers they, we, form a community of prayer and as a community we can do much. We can write letters, become involved in interfaith and cross cultural groups standing with those who are victims, or we can help with support first responders of a disaster, or help provide long term assistance in the recovery phase of a disaster. Each action becomes an act prayer offered by each individual and the community they belong to.
Today I am asking you to light a candle and hold the wounded, the lost, the victims, the perpetrators, all who are involved in some way with the violence of this world and the wildfires claiming so many homes. Hold them in your heart and lift them up to GOD. As responses to your prayers become involved in ways that will help promote peace, and well being. Choose the level of involvement that you are most comfortable with, the choice is yours.
Roman 6:1-11 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 10:24-39 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.* 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
For 10 years I was an environmental consultant performing Human Health and Ecological risk assessments for the military and private concerns. One of the uses of my reports was to define what would be the cost of a cleanup of a contaminated site both as risk of exposure and monetary cost of cleanup. The EPA has a basic cleanup target of 1 in 10000 chances of illness or death from exposure to contaminated soil, water, or air. Of course all is negotiable but that is what is desired. The EPA doesn’t really care about cost but companies do and so does the military. Cleanup is not popular with those who own the property. There is a balancing act that goes on at the negotiation table between the EPA and the owners of the property. The property owners want to remove as little as possible to keep cost down and the EPA wants as much removed as possible to keep risk down. When you add in resident and ecological groups to the mix you probably get some idea of how complicated such negotiations can be. But the key word is negotiable.
Matthew writes in this passage what the cost of discipleship will be for those who follow in the path of Jesus. He tells his community what the risks are when you commit to following Jesus’ teaching and he doesn’t mince any words and the cost is not negotiable. For those who are faithful to God and Christ will face criticism, be misunderstood, run out town, and face death at the hands of the Romans just as Jesus did. How is that for a recruiting statement? I can hear the thought of a potential follower now. “Ok, my family will disown me, I will most likely be run out of town on rail, I will have my words twisted around to mean something other than what I said, and the Romans are going to kill me, tell me again why I should sign up for this.” If a follower of the WAY ever thought about the risks they wouldn’t sign up. I mean would you give up everything to go out and teach others about the WAY of Jesus. Would you give up the king-size bed, the running water, the clean clothes, or 3 meals a day? What is amazing to me is that anyone actually did and I am grateful to those who had, and have, the courage to walk that difficult path.
Matthew wanted his community to understand those risks while having the courage to choose a way of life that would be difficult but result in a life lived within God as found in the life of Jesus. Matthew’s words challenge us to stand up for injustice just as Jesus did. To use our voice to speak for those who are silenced. To live a life of compassion and peace towards everyone no matter how different they may be from us; from a different culture or socio-economic class, differently abled, or differently gendered, or (and this is the hard part) even if they have done harm to us or someone we love. Matthew says we are called to right injustice even at the expense of our own comfort, reputation, relationships, financial security, or even our lives. That is a hard decision to make and I know I (as a risk assessor and a seminary student) that discernment before that decision to be baptized and commit to that life is often very difficult. And let’s face it the reasons to proceed are not all that well laid out. So where do we find some answers.
Well before Matthew wrote his Gospel Paul wrote a letter of introduction to the Roman community and in that letter we have this short passage that summarizes reasons for following the WAY and those reasons are just as valid today as they were in the 1st century. Following the WAY was dangerous and even Paul doesn’t deny that but the benefit is a life lived into love.
Paul tells the Romans, and us, that when we commit ourselves to being baptized we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Christ died to sin and lives to God we are to recognize our baptism as dying to sin and living into God. Notice I didn’t say Christ died FOR our sins, Paul did not believe Jesus died because God wanted a sacrifice for our sins. No, Jesus death on the cross saves us because God overcame and said No to sin through his resurrection of Christ. God’s message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to reconcile those who are separated from God back into those loving arms. Called Atonement, or better still “at-one-ment,” reconciliation is the means of re-membering those who have spent their lives lost in a wilderness far from God back into the body of God through Christ.
When Paul writes “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” he is talking about saying no to sin and moving toward God as experienced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book Meeting Paul open the verse 6:3-4 to a new insight
“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
We are graced with newness of life that includes a transformed way we see our world. A commitment leading to the ritual sacrament of Baptism results in a “renewing of [our] minds.” We being to see the world differently, living our lives into a richer and fuller life in love. We no longer see the world as other and different from ourselves but rather we see ourselves and the world as part of the body of God and Christ.
For Matthew, for Paul and for us these changes and commitments have political implications. It means we as followers of the WAY are to stand against the “wisdom of this world” as it is known today. We are to refuse to follow a path that results in harm, injustice, or death for anyone, whether we agree with them or not.
That is hard to do, I know it is hard for me. I too have watched the news and read the papers about mass shootings, people who demonize the poor and needy and I get angry. Sometimes I say things I might regret because I want them punished; you see I also forget they are part of God’s body. As a consultant I tried to tell the truth as I calculated it and saw it but I dealt with people who had very different agendas from mine. I grew frustrated and angry at people who only looked at the “bottom line” or a single unachievable number instead of considering how what they had done, and will do, affects those who live in the area, human and ecological. I wanted things to change and it wasn’t until I realized that the change must begin with me that I knew what I would do. I had to stop seeing the world with a “bottom line” perspective because all of creation, human and non-human are simply too important..
In Matthew Jesus says “Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The life I lost is the one that holds tight to the world I see in the news reports while the life I gain is a life lived in relationship with God. While I often forget that I try to remember, what all of us need to remember are these words of Jesus’ “Do not be afraid … I am with you always, to the end of the age.”