Monday, December 30, 2013

World Day of Peace

"And you will all be brothers." [Matthew 23: 8].

I long for peace.

In my home growing up, I suffered black eyes. I went to school with black eyes. I went to a family wedding, wearing a beautiful pink ruffled dress, and black eyes. The real problem as to why I was getting black eyes was never resolved. I was told, "Stop getting black eyes. You are embarrassing us."

I went from violence in the home, to violence in the outside world. I went off to university, and one day a man followed me home. I was assaulted. I almost died that day.

To this day, I cannot stand even a movie showing violence. Part of me knows that the dramatic action is not real. Part of me feels that what I see on this screen is all too real to me.

There is violence at home. There is violence in the neighborhood. There is violence in the world. There is no peace.

World Day Of Peace 2014 is January 1, 2014.

In his World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis writes: "The ever-increasing number of interconnections and communications in today's world makes us powerfully aware of the unity and common destiny of the nations. In the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another. But this vocation is still frequently denied and ignored in a world marked by a "globalization of indifference" which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves. In many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offenses against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom. Alongside overt armed conflicts are the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors, with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses."

Make no mistake, friends, I watch network and cable television, I listen to the radio. I read three newspapers a day. I scan the Internet. I am aware of violence in so many countries.

In this year of 2013-2014, we have seen violence in the following countries:

Afghanistan: suicide bombings continue, as Taliban insurgents battle to regain territory, in light of U.S. withdrawal of troops
America : Mass shootings occurred throughout the country, including in Newtown, CT, Washington D.C. Navy Yard, and Centennial Colorado. Deadly bombings at Boston marathon by former Chechen citizens.
Argentina: violent street crime has risen.
Bangladesh: a pre-election rally turned deadly in Dec. 2013. Garment worker's rally over pay turned violent.
Burma/ Myanmar: religious violence between Buddhist mobs and Muslims.
China: deadly violence between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.Threats of  violence over sovereignty of Senkaku islands, which are in dispute with Japan.
Columbia: Farmers' protests, over impoverishing farm policies, turn violent.
Congo: terrorists attempted a coup on Dec. 30, 2013 to rid President Kabila. A UN report in 2013 catalogued the violence committed by the M23: recruitment of child soldiers, sexual assaults and torture.
Egypt: Violence from clashes between Muslim Brotherhood and their foes. On Dec. 29, 2013, an explosion occurred near military intelligence units.
Guatemala: pervasive poverty promotes violent crimes.
India: Clashes in August 2013 between Hindu and Muslim communities have caused violent attacks.
Indonesia: religious intolerance against Christians, Ahmadiyahs and Shia Muslims is increasingly violent and deadly.
Iran: Despite an accord with the United States to limit the development of nuclear weapons, in Dec. 2013, a rocket attack hit a camp occupied by Mujahideen.
Iraq: The United States entered in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein. Explosions and shootings continue to rock the country from the strife between the Shia and Sunni groups.
Israel: The Gaza continues to see Palestinian/ Israel conflict, with shootings, tanks and airstrikes in the region.
Japan: Japan's military has a five year plan to procure drones, jet fighters and destroyers, over the dispute with China for the Senkaku islands.
Jordan: Massacre in eastern Amman, Dec. 27, 2013 as part of country's tribal rivalries.
Kenya: Post election violence spiked after the election of Kenyatta and his running mate Ruto, both charged with crimes against humanity.
Kosovo: election violence in Nov. 2013 between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.
North Korea: President Kim Jung Un ordered his uncle executed for treason. He has also threatened a nuclear missile attack towards the U.S. and allies.
Lebanon: offshoot of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for Nov. 20, 2013 attack on Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Libya: Militias remaining from the overthrow of Gaddafi continue to plague the country with violence.
Malaysia: tension between Malaysia and Philippines has led to violent clashes.
Nigeria: August, 2013, a Christian town was bombed. Boko Haram group is accused of crimes against humanity, including attacks against schools.
Pakistan: border violence between India and Pakistan. Continuing bombings of Christian churches by Islamist Pakistan Taliban.
Russia: Two suicide bombings since Oct. 2013 on behalf of Chechnya muslim terrorists.
Saudi Arabia: Ethiopian migrant workers have been physically assaulted by security forces, and many killed.
Somalia: Al-Shabab militants control the southern part of the country and are attacking foreign mission workers. Doctors Without Borders exited the country in August, 2013.
South Sudan: The Nuer tribe is battling against the Dinka tribe, and the Dinka President of the country. Thousand of  innocent citizens have died, because of tribal affiliation.
Syria: Civil war rocks Syria. More than 2 million refugees have fled the country. Strong evidence of chemical weapons used in 2013 against citizens. With chemical weapons under watch now, Syria is using barrel bombs packed with shrapnel.
Thailand: Violence rocked the Dec. 27, 2013 election protests.
Turkey: protests against the growing encroachment on secular interests turned violent, as the government used tear gas and water cannons to clear the crowds.
Ukraine: Violence broke out in Dec. 2013 at protests over the government's decision not to join the European Union.
Venezuela: the government in May 2013 sent the military with assault rifles into ghettoes to curb deadly violence.
Vietnam: Facebook organized picnics to gather together bloggers for human rights. Attendees were attacked violently by police, May 2013.
Yemen: Violence killed many in the Northern province as Houthi (Shiites) fought with Salafi (Sunnis).
Zambia: A Cornell Law School study reported in June 2013 shows that sexual violence against girls in schools is extensive.
Zimbabwe: Diamond mines in Marange are mined under violence and slave conditions, according to a human rights group.

You notice that I have not spared any country for political reasons. Violence knows no political party or ethnicity. Violence cruelly affects us all, equally.

Fifty years ago, in his book Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " We must pray earnestly  for peace, but we must also work vigorously for disarmament and the suspension of weapon testing." We are now two generations past the day when he wrote these words. Where is Peace?

Pope Francis has even reached out to atheists and agnostics, to work for and demand Peace. He said, "I invite even non-believers to desire peace. Join us with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!"

Pope Francis began his World Day of Peace message by saying,  "The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such, it is the foundation and the first pathway to Peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its Love to the world around it."

May the Peace and Love that come from God spread throughout the world! We must pray for Peace. We also must demand it and work for it!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Feast of the Holy Family

" When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of The Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,        'Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.' Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod. When Herod had died, behold, the angel of  the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ' Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.'  He took the child and his mother to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archaelus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee."  [Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23].

At this point in the biblical story of  Jesus' life, there is talk in the region that a King was born, a Son claiming parentage from God. Herod is fearing for the future of his reign. He determines to hunt down this Baby and eliminate the threat, by killing the baby Jesus.

God, acting through dreams and angels, is protecting the life of His Son. But this forces the family to flee, from Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Israel -- to Galilee.

In sacred terms, this is the Holy Family. In God's sight, this family is perfect, Holy, heaven-sent.

In a secular sense, this family is, essentially, homeless. They are refugees, because the secular world cannot accept them. The Holy Family is chased, by fear of violence, over miles. They are literally running for their lives.

At this holiday time of year, we all long for the "perfect family".

But we ourselves, and our families, are much less than perfect.

In my family, my father worked reliably for almost 40 years in the same field. But every night, he came home, and in his quiet anger and despair, he made himself sloppily drunk. His anger?- -- he took it out on me.

My mother, sensing that her family was out of control, imposed ever harsher rules. She flailed frantically, trying to impose order on her chaotic world. In her own way, she took her anger out on her kids, as well, by insisting that they be perfect. Her perfectly rational rules became perfectly cruel.

I grew up isolated and alone. I thought I was the only one undergoing such suffering in the world.

After I left home and got an education; after I married, and became a mother; I began to lift my head out of my own field of traumas. I began to hear others' stories.

I had long thought that if anyone else dared to tell me their story, their story would somehow denigrate my own sufferings. I thought that mine was the worst story ever told. No one else could be in as much pain as I was.

It was a wise woman who told me that you cannot compare pain. For better or worse, our pain is OURS. We own it.

I look around me, and I see a woman who lost her long battle with cancer. She died way too young, leaving behind a young family.

I see another woman who, as a girl, was abused. She went on to marry an abusive man.

I see another woman who was abused by a sibling. She was the only one who was not in tears when the sibling died.

I think of the Lost Boys of Sudan. They had loving families, unlike mine. And yet, after they lost their families to war and violence, the boys faced a sea of traumas, charging antelopes, raging lions , militia with guns, and famine: atrocities that I never faced.

I am so very grateful for the family that I now have:  my husband and my son. But sometimes I wonder--is this family "good enough"?  I mean, none of us is related to each other biologically. I sometimes fear that my family is " patched together" like a crazy quilt. Is my family only second best?

What IS a good-enough family?

Consider the story of Davion Navar Henry Only, 15 years old, who was born in a Florida prison. He has no biological parents left. Unwilling to wait any longer to be adopted, he stood up in his church, wearing a black suit and holding a Bible-- and he asked for a family. He said, "I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either."  He received over 10,000 responses! Is THAT good enough?

Or, consider Jackie Turner, a teen from California, who placed an ad on Craigslist, asking to 'rent' a mom and dad for the holidays-- for $8. Jackie had been in the foster care system all her life, and had been starved and beaten by her foster parents. After placing the Craigslist ad, she held a program at her church where several teens were matched with honorary families. Jackie said, "This season is all about Love."

I am beginning to see that having a family is not all about being biologically related. After all, Mary was not related by blood to Joseph. Nor was Joseph related by blood to Jesus. And Jesus' father was God.

Family is about whom you love, and about who loves you. As Paul says in Colossians 3: 12-21, "Brothers and sisters,-- put on, as God's chosen ones, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. And over all these, put on Love, that is, the bond of perfection."

If Jackie Turner and Davion Navar Henry Only could stand up for Love, no matter what anyone else thought of them, so can YOU!

If Jesus stood against the rulers in Rome, who did not believe in Him and who feared Him so much, they wanted to kill Him, you TOO can stand up for Love. You can ask for Love. You can demand it in our world.

For all the beauty of the Holy Family, standing up for Love is the least that we can do!

[Related Posting: " My Imperfect Christmas", December 20, 2103].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Imperfect Christmas

" Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they had lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to quietly divorce her. But just when he resolved to do this, an angel of The Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins '. .  . . When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of The Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. She bore a son and he named him Jesus." [Matthew 1: 18-25].

Christmas is not as joyous as it could be for me. Every year, I am afraid that I am not going to be ready for Christmas. I tell my family, "Stay out of my way, and don't ask me to do anything extra . I am the one who makes Christmas happen!"

I listen to myself, and what I hear is a frazzled self -- anxious, frustrated, irritated, maybe even a little angry, because, it seems that every year, Christmas has fallen on my shoulders.

I am anxious about the decorations. Is our wreath maybe a little too tired looking? Should we put up little white lights on the outdoor trees, to match the little white lights on the pre-lit wreaths? And what did ever happen to the grapevine reindeer that I thought I had in the attic?

I worry that the candles on my table will be crooked, and that my relative, who thinks she is Martha Stewart, will point out my obvious flaws.

I wonder, if I make a gourmet meal all from scratch, will anyone notice or care if the desserts are bought at a bakery? And what if I served a cheesecake for dessert, and no one wanted to eat it?

I feel sort of sorry for myself, because my parents are gone, my only sibling travels for holidays and my aunts, uncles and cousins live far away. Really, I HAVE no family, except for my borrowed one, in my husband's family.

I totally resent anything interfering with my Christmas plans, including inconvenient winter illnesses, my computer hard-drive crashing, or the invariable mega-snow storm that delays my holiday planning.

Then, I re-read the True Christmas story, and I think -- I must be crazy!

I do not have the perfect family. But Mary and Joseph did not exactly make the "perfect family"
either --- not in the secular sense. Joseph was a lowly carpenter, not at all "high society".  Mary was a young girl of about 14, probably illiterate, pregnant before Joseph married her.

Joseph wanted to quietly walk away from this 'problem'. But God intervened and talked Joseph out of his plans to exit this situation.

I used to bemoan the fact that all I have now is my own nuclear family, cobbled together over the years. But Mary and Joseph are not biologically related. There is no mention at all in the Bible of Joseph's father or siblings. And Jesus is, essentially, "adopted."

I am embarrassed about the violence in my past, and have a hard time accepting that I was meant to be born into this crazy world. But Jesus was born at a time when King Herod was out to find Him and kill Him, all for the rumor that Jesus was preordained to be the one True King. Jesus's birth was, literally, marked by violence.

I worry about whether my home and my decorations will be good enough for friends and extended family to visit. But Joseph and Mary had no place to stay in Bethlehem. They rested in a manger, where Jesus was born among the lowly cattle and sheep.

I may feel deprived that I have only my husband and son, but the fact is --- Mary and Joseph and Jesus are the most miraculous and holy family of three, ever to be created by God, and united as one!

Joseph and Mary and Jesus made the lowly manger the most sacred place associated with Christmas, for all year, and for all time.

I may worry about whether I have found the perfect gifts for friends and family. But I need to keep repeating to myself that it is JESUS, who is the one perfect Gift.

It is incongruous to celebrate the humble beginnings of Joseph, Mary and Jesus; and then go about putting ourselves into a frenzy, vainly trying to create an extravagant tableau for our own Christmas.

 By today's secular standards, the conditions surrounding Jesus' birth may seem like one awful, irrational "mistake."

I am learning that when things do not go perfectly, that is when an opening occurs, for God to enter.

This Christmas, I want to celebrate that the humblest events are truly the most joyous, the most holy, the most glory-filled, and the most miraculous of events EVER witnessed on earth.

May the workings of the Spirit this Christmas, in ways mysterious and unexpected, become your most miraculous moments this year.

[Related Posting: " Christmas In My Heart",  December 14, 2011]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Be The Message

 " When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his followers to Jesus with this question, "Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?" Jesus said to them in reply, ' Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.' As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, 'What did you go out to the desert to see? To see a prophet? This is the one about whom it is written: 'Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.' " [Matthew 11: 2-11].

Jesus is coming. Every Advent, we celebrate this blessed event again.

Imagine what it was like for the people of Jesus' time to confront Him and to determine who He really was?

John the Baptist had come along before the Christ, cleansing those who would follow Him, by baptism in the river Jordan. People were asking John the Baptist, was HE the Christ?  But John replied, " I am baptizing you with water, but the One who will comes after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals." [Matthew 3: 1-12].

Sometimes,  people wonder whom to believe?

Prophets speak and people listen. But Jesus reveals His true place as the Christ, by the miraculous changes that can be seen and felt and heard in His followers.

In Isaiah 35: 1-6A, 10, we are told, " Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine
recompense He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be
cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. "

Remember, dear friends, that as a young child, I was so downcast by the cruelties of my family, by the severe traumas and their utter lack of compassion, that I stopped speaking.

I was fed only intermittently. I began To tell myself that I was not hungry anyway.

I was told that there was no God. I took my Faith underground, because I was afraid that they could take my Faith away. After a time, I became blind to God, because I half -feared, and half -believed, that God did not exist.

I hid in my room and determined to make no sudden moves. I learned to walk noiselessly. Maybe that way, I would be safe. After a time, a sibling would sometimes lock me in my room. I was a prisoner in my own room.

My family controlled what I would eat, what colors I would wear, what I would believe, what I would study in school, who my friends were. I was oppressed in my own family.

But God sent people into my life to help me. These were Christians, who loved peace and who believed in helping strangers. Eventually, I met the Catholic man who would become my husband.

Nowadays, you can see that I no longer have to be anxious about where my next meal is coming from. " The Lord gives food to the hungry." [ Psalm 146: 6-7].

After I married, I started wearing a cross around my neck openly, and attending church. I began to understand that no one can take my Faith away. " The Lord keeps Faith forever." [ Psalm 146: 6-7].

As I moved away from my unjust childhood home, I was treated as a precious daughter by my husband's family.  "The Lord secures justice for the oppressed." [ Psalm 136: 6-7].

I escaped those times of being confined to my room. "The Lord sets captives free." [Psalm 146: 6-7].

I studied the Bible and began to really see the hand of Jesus, and the Grace of God, everywhere in my life.  "The Lord gives sight to the blind." [Psalm 146: 8-9].

I began to be less depressed, and more serene and even joyful. "The Lord raises up those who were bowed down." [Psalm 146: 8-9].

A friend has watched me go through all this. She says that I am being transformed before her very eyes.

I am speaking again! I am speaking the Word of God now. I embody the miraculous transformations, that you can see and feel and hear and touch. I was once a Ghost, someone who did not eat or speak or feel or sleep or make any audible noise or occupy space. I am a human being who was once lost, and is now saved.

In this space, I am nameless and faceless. I give you neither my name nor my photo.

It does not matter who I am. I am only the messenger for God. I speak for Him, and for His awesome power in my life. There is One so much greater than I am.

You cannot see Jesus directly. But you can see Him in the face of everyone who believes in Him and who speaks His praise and His Word.

I am the voice of one, crying out for The Lord.

I am the messenger.

By my transformation, I AM the message!

[Related Posting: " I Will Not Be Silent", January 23, 2013; " I Speak The Lord"s Name", February 19, 2013.]      

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shop Like A Christian

" Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body and what you will wear. Is the body not more than clothing? And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. Will God not much more clothe you -- you of little faith?" --[ Matthew 6: 25- 30].

When my son was a little boy, he asked me why almost all of his toys said "China", on the underside?
I explained that most things sold in the United States are made, and shipped here, from China.

He asked, " Why?" I said, " In China, it is cheaper to make things. But some people say that Americans should buy more things made in the U.S., because the people who work in China are sometimes very young and they are paid very little."

He replied, " The people in China need to make money, too. But they should be paid more, if they don't have enough money to live." My son was a little choked up when he said this.

Sometimes, the wisest things are said by our children, if we take the time to listen.

I think a lot about these matters, as I am now in full Christmas shopping mode. I think about what is on my shopping list, and what stores or websites I will shop from. Increasingly, I am thinking about where the items on my shopping list are coming from?

I have had this on my mind since the recent news reports about factory conditions in Bangladesh, where so many of the clothes sold in America are made.

I recently attended a lecture given by Elizabeth Cline, author of the book, "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion." According to Ms. Cline, the average wages in clothing factories in the United States are $10.58 per hour. In China, wages in clothing factories are $1.26 per hour. In Vietnam, wages are $0.53. In Cambodia, wages are $0.45. In Bangladesh, wages are $0.35.

Obviously, these wages are the reason why the clothes that Americans buy are made overseas.

But, in a word, why should we care?

Remember the factory collapse in Bangladesh in April, 2013? A young woman named Mahinur Akhter was trapped in the rubble for over 8 hours. Her ordeal made international headlines.

Mahinur was 15 or 16 at the time. She has no birth certificate, so she is not even sure of how old she is.

An article in The Wall Street Journal, on June 22, 2103, detailed her plight:  She was able to easily obtain working papers claiming that she is 20 years old. She works for $90- $100 per month. She works from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., but when there is a big deadline, she works until 3:00 a.m. or even 6:00 a.m., but is then required to be back at work by 8:00 a.m. She is required to finish a piece every 30 seconds. Workers are subject to verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and physical abuse for mistakes or failure to meet quota.

The day before the factory collapse, workers heard the walls cracking. The next day, workers were threatened with a penalty of a month's salary, if they did not re-enter the factory.

Most of what Mahinur makes goes to pay for her two brothers' school tuition. She is quoted in the Wall Street Journal article as saying, "People my age should be in school."

And so we ask, what about inspecting these factories, to be sure that they are clean and safe? An article in The New York Times dated September 2, 2103 reports that oftentimes, the factory that is made available for inspection is a perfect, model factory. The piles of new clothing there are actually made in substandard factories, elsewhere.

Then, we ask, what about limiting the workers' hours? A Wall Street Journal article dated September 20, 2013 reports that some factory owners keep two sets of books so that excessive labor cannot be detected.

Dear readers, Mahinur could be my daughter, my niece. She could be your sister or cousin. We are ALL the adopted children of Christ. "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; [but] if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy." [1 Corinthians 12: 26].

I cannot, in good conscience, buy clothes from Bangladesh, without thinking of Mahinur and her co-workers, laboring in slave-like conditions. Is a fashionista's drive to have 15 cheap T-shirts, in every single color they make, really worth the life of a young girl like Mahinur?

Elizabeth Cline, at her lecture, asked her audience to become more aware of where our clothes come from. She also asked that we simply buy less. Or, buy clothes from American factories, where we are more sure of working standards.

And she challenged us to stop thinking of clothes as disposable items. "In the old days," she said, "we used to mend clothes."

The story of Mahinur reminds me of the stories in the documentary "Girl Rising". We can watch that powerful film, we can applaud, we can even advocate education for girls, or donate a few dollars to the cause.

But in the end, what are we really DOING to help the situation of girls like Minuhar?

I like what Elizabeth Cline said at the end of her lecture. She said that, from traveling and researching for her book, she learned something. She learned "the power of individuals to change institutions."  

The only way I could say that better is to say, Let us learn of our own collective power to change our brothers' and sisters' lives around the world.

Shop like a Christian.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Peace On Earth

" If you want Peace, work for Justice." --- Pope Paul VI

" On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and of awe of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. . . .  Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his lips. Then, the wolf shall be guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like an ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord." [Isaiah 11: 1-10].

Re-reading this Scripture passage, I was moved once again by the beautiful image of Peace, so all-encompassing, that even mortal enemies amongst the animals shall lay down together.

These images remind me of the lowly beasts, such as the donkey and oxen and sheep, who pay homage to the newborn baby Jesus. This image has been the subject of countless Christmas cards and precious works of art.

And yet, where IS that Peace in all the world? 

A few years ago, I was talking to my son about how certain countries have hated each other for centuries. He was barely in grade school then, so sensitive that he started to cry at the prospect of warring nations.

He wanted to know more about these countries who are sworn enemies? I told him that because of atrocities during World War II, Japan and China hate each other. Even today, they are sparring over a string of uninhabited islands in the East China sea, named "Senkaku" by Japan and "Diaoyu" by China. A recent article on is entitled, "Why a Pacific War Is Possible: The Dangerous Hatred Between China and Japan."

There are other examples of long-standing national hatred: Turkey and Greece; France and England; England and Ireland; Israel and Palestine.

In this conversation with my son, I was pathetically accepting of this state of affairs.

But, my son would not accept this as status quo. He asked, "But, WHY?" Then, he told me firmly, "I am going to become a diplomat and I am going to talk to all these countries and MAKE them get along!"  My reaction: HOW did I get so jaded as to say, 'Well, that's just the way it is' ?

I learned that day, that the first step to Peace is to NOT accept it as inevitable. Re-read this Scripture and transform your vision of what is possible. There is a pure innocence about this Scripture that is poetic and awe-inspiring. I hope that everyone can refuse to dismiss this vision as mere fantasy.

Many years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " It is  no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and non-violence. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools."

In other words, we must fully face the urgency of this matter.  In matters of seeking Peace, there is no tomorrow; because by tomorrow, even more human beings will be sacrificed on the altar of hatred and war.

Ironic, that this Reading comes up this very week, in which the world lost a great leader for Peace, Nelson Mandela. He not only recognized the need for urgency and tireless commitment to Peace, he knew that his quest for Peace was one for Justice.

He was even willing to die in the fight for equality. He said, " But if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his activism. In prison, he contracted tuberculosis, and ultimately he has died of complications from lung disease.

Martin Luther King himself said, " Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement."  He also said, " Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself."

I pray that the world will see a vision of Peace that is possible. I pray that the world will see, once again, another visionary, a man or woman who is willing to urgently and faithfully work for a lasting Peace.

[Related Posting: "The Prince of Peace", December 20, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Throw Off The Darkness

" For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh." [ Romans 13: 11-14].

In this Scripture, Paul is speaking at a time after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Paul tells his followers that their salvation is nearer than ever. This is because Jesus has already died and been resurrected, and ascended into heaven for us. And so, we are ever closer to the End  of Time, when Christ will come again.

We cannot know when the End of Time will come, when Christ will come to be among us again. But we are called to be ready anyway. This is why the Gospel for this week says, "Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. So, you must be prepared." [ Matthew 24: 37-44].

All of this sounds awfully apocalyptic to our modern ears. Who talks seriously like this today?

But, today's Christian life does still embody the call to be ready, always.

All of which leads us to the concept of freedom of choice. Going all the way back to the Old Testament, Moses explained to his people: " See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments.

 My own family mocked Christians, and especially Catholics, as gullible followers, who blindly follow the Rules. Their chief criticism was that "Christians cannot think for themselves". They had this misperception that Catholics are some kind of spiritual robots, who unquestioningly do what the Pope says.

Or, my family would cast judgment on Christians for being hypocritical, when they stumble over the Rules and fall, and yet still claim to be Christian.

I do not think that anyone could get away with the excuse that they do not know the Ten Commandments. Even a small child has heard of the Ten Commandments.

My parents DID know the Ten Commandments. They were raised in Christian families. They just refused to follow the Ten Commandments, and they mocked those who did.

Sometimes I wonder how I could possibly have become a Christian? Well,  I learned how to make all the right choices, precisely by watching all of my parents' awful mistakes.

My parents never hugged me or said, "I love you." From this deep hole in my heart, I learned to love everyone. I learned that Love is the greatest Commandment.

From my father's bigotry, I learned to "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

From my family's material greed, I learned not to covet what others had. The more they tried to
control my behavior with bribery, the more that money became irrelevant to me, and the more I hated any abusive wielding of power. I learned never to make false idols out of money or power.

My family's verbal abuse truly wounded my soul. From this, I learned that hate is murder. I speak gently always, and I try to radiate kindness.

I grew up believing that I am ugly and worthless, because of how I was treated. A dear friend explained to me that they told me lies. From this, I learned to detest falsehoods.

Out of my parents' dysfunctional marriage, came jealousy and rivalry. I became the battle ground. If my father drank, his behavior towards me became possessive and dangerous. I learned to avoid alcohol and jealousy, a potent and toxic brew.

I have come so far today! I am exiting the darkness, and reaching for the Light. This is hard work, harder than I ever imagined.

Paul tells us exactly how to reach for the Light, though. He tells us in Romans 13 to "put on the armor of Light, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ."

This does not mean only to try to emulate Him. It means to cloak ourselves in Him .

It also means to throw off the darkness. That is a very powerful image at this time of year..

It is Advent, after all! Light some candles on the Advent wreath. Light the Christmas tree.

But above all, put on the Armor of God: " Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in His mighty power. Put on the full Armor of God, so that you can take your stand against [the darkness]. [ Ephesians 6: 10-18].  We never battle alone!!

Vow to BE the light, to counter any darkness you meet with Light! The darkness can fight, but it can never win. . . .

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.