Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fishing Manual

" After John [the Baptist] had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, 'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Then they abandoned their nets and followed Him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then He called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat, along with the hired men, and followed Him." --[Mark 1:14-20].

I can see that in Mark's version of the Fishers of Men,  no excuses would be acceptable when the fishermen are called to follow Jesus. James and John literally drop their nets; and they even leave their father behind. One would imagine the bewildered look on Zebedee's face.

I have to say that when I finally went from a believer to choosing a church, I fell hopelessly for the story of Jesus who, "went through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: " -[Luke 8:1-3].

I read this, and I heard this in a homily and I said, "I want to do THAT!"

Bu, having the call, and the will to do this, are one thing. Actually accomplishing it is another.

I quickly realized that God can call you, unceasingly, to follow His Son. His call can be irresistible. But once we accept the call, we realize that no one has issued an Owner's Manual for becoming a Fisher of Men (and women).

Oh, sure, many pastors have insisted that the Owner's Manual is the Bible. Okay, now I am totally intimidated. The Bible is about 900 pages long!

During conversion and afterwards, I did decide to begin studying the Bible.  But, the more I learn, I realize, the less I know. Somehow, I have to find the balance between knowing about the Bible and being out in the world with people.

I was so excited about my conversion and following Jesus, that I told all my friends. Then, I noticed that I lost friends. Some friends dropped me like a hot stone.  Others argued with me, that you can be a good person, and not believe in God. After my conversion, that argument about being holy without God, just did not do it for me any longer.

 I am  learning to put this rejection into perspective. Even Jesus' own village rejected Him. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth to preach, "they took offense at Him. And He did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief."-[Matthew 13:57].  I once heard a priest comment that this is the saddest story in the Bible because Jesus' power was dimmed by rejection in his  hometown!

Jesus' own family rejected Him at first, believing that He had gone insane. In Mark 3:21, the story is told, "When His relatives heard of [His preaching], they tried to seize Him, saying, 'He is deranged.' "

There is this sense that you do not "waste" your sacred energies on those who will never believe you anyway.  Jesus explained about the parables that He told: "I speak to them in parables, because 'they look but do not see and hear but do not listen and understand.' " -[Matthew 13: 13]. In other words, only those who are ready will hear Him.

I wish I had known this, regarding my own unbelieving mother and father and sibling. I have no regrets about loving them, or ministering to them with all my heart and mind and strength and soul. I have no regrets about modeling Love and Peace and Joy. But I do wish that I had harbored no illusions about converting them.

It it is awfully hard to leave aside one's own family, in their unbelief. Jesus left behind those who rejected Him, or would not listen. In fact, He gave this advice to His apostles: "If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet, as a testimony against them."-[Mark 6: 11].

Jesus' behavior here proves the old saying, that God will never force Himself on you. Neither did Jesus force His beliefs on anyone. Nor should we, as Christians, force our beliefs on anyone.

The deacon who teaches my class in Biblical School said, "God must respect the choice of an individual to reject all loving. Therefore, damnation must be possible." In other words, as much as you may want to save everyone, even Jesus could not. A world of  Free Will allows sin.

I feel like a huge cost of my Christianity has been losing my family. My family of origin never "got' my Faith. But, I am learning that "family" comes in unexpected places.   Jesus Himself said,  " 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? '. . . .stretching out His hand towards His disciples, He said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.' " -[Matthew 12:48-50].

How to become a Fisher of Men? Expand your concept of family. Even if your family of origin, or your neighbor, or best friend do not accept you, there is a world of Christian seekers, or believers ready to become your family! They might even walk right up and flop into your boat!

[Related Posting, "Fishers of Men", Jan, 21, 2012; "The Lord is Calling", Jan. 20, 2015].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Lord Is Calling

"Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. The Lord called to Samuel, who answered, 'Here I am.' Samuel ran to Eli and said, 'Here I am. You called me.' 'I did not call you,' Eli said. 'Go back to sleep.' So he went back to sleep. Again, the Lord called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. 'Here I am,' he said. 'You called me.' But Eli answered, 'I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.'  At that time, Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to  him as yet. The Lord called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, 'Here I am. You called me.' Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the youth. So he said to Samuel, 'Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.' When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the Lord came and revealed His presence, calling out as before, 'Samuel, Samuel!' Samuel answered, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.' - [1 Samuel 3: 3B-10, 19].

This story of Samuel begins with his mother Hannah, who is barren and who prays to the Lord that if she is able to bear a male child, she will "set him before You until the day of his death." -[ 1Samuel 1: 11].

And so, Samuel, as soon as he is weaned, is presented to Eli in the temple of the Lord. And Samuel becomes a great priest and prophet.

I read this story and I am kind of amazed that Samuel, who lives with a priest in a temple, cannot even recognize God!

But then, I think of my own development as a Christian. My journey in seeking God, recognizing Him, understanding His call and finally possessing the courage to respond, was a long, arduous journey, filled with detours and missteps. (You know that non this space, I do not spare myself when it comes to my mistakes in life!)

The first time that I think I looked heavenward, and sought God, was the day when I turned 13 and my mother told me that I almost died, before I had fully entered this world.

My parents were non-believers. We attended church until I was 14, because this is "what the good families do." Church was where we met the "right people" and learned how to behave in a civilized society. At about that time, I was cynical enough to think to myself, 'If that's what my family thinks about God, wouldn't it be sufficient to just take a class in etiquette, and another class in ballroom dancing?'

Then, my mother told me the story about how I almost died before I even was born. Before, I knew it. I was realizing that all my mother's talk about how she didn't believe in all that "God-stuff" had evaporated lie a thin fog. I looked heavenward and said to myself: the fact that I WAS born is proof that God went to a lot of trouble for me to come into this world. SO, there IS a God and somehow, I have a purpose.

For the next several decades, I spent my life seeking my purpose. I did not know what my purpose was? But surely, it was not the graduate program in business law that my family forced me to endure. I figured, if I could just get through that, then maybe I could go out into the real world and find my Purpose.

It was during those days, at that university that I hated, that God made His presence known. Only I was too confused about my life, too separated from any church, because of my family's unbelief-- to even know what this Presence was?

This experience happened in my graduate school apartment, one evening, when I was studying for finals. At the end of a long night, I was preparing for bed when I felt the most peaceful, strong Presence that I had ever encountered. This Presence filled the room, filled my apartment and spilled out into the whole world. It was an experience that, even to this day, I cannot express in any human language.

But this was so huge and bewildering an experience, I dismissed it at the time, as intense stress, or something akin to a hallucination. It was only decades later, when I began to spend time in prayer and reflection in preparation for my Conversion, that I recognized God for who He was.

And so, I do not blame Samuel at all for not, at first, recognizing God; even after many calls from the Lord. To this day, it is startling and otherworldly to hear the call of God. It feels like a mystical, divine intrusion. Often I am too busy with my secular life, accomplishing things that I believe are OH, so important, when God enters. He is trying to shift me to to His realm, to call me to what He deems more important right now.

Decades later, I heard the call to convert, and as I tried to dismiss this notion, the calls became more and more insistent. I "heard": "Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed." That is the call to the Eucharist.  I "heard" God urgently calling me closer to Him. This time, I KNEW it was God, only I had huge issues with His timing.

I went to the priest in residence. I talked about Conversion. At that point, I think he was a lot more excited than I was. I asked him, at the end of our meeting, "How do you know your Purpose?" The priest said, "Oh, you don't need to worry about that, God will find you!" THAT is what I was afraid of!

The priest told me to go talk to God. In the small chapel at my parish, I said, "Not now, God, Your timing is terrible."

Like Moses, I tried to hide my face. ["Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.' - Exodus 3:6]. The priest told me, "You can run, but you cannot hide." That is not what I wanted to hear.

Like Moses, I said, "Who am I, that I should go?"  But God answered, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that I have sent you." -[Exodus 3: 11-12].

I went back to the priest. I said, 'After all the cruel things I have been through in my life, nothing I had to experience makes any sense unless I can help others.' The priest said, thoughtfully, "God is using you."

After my conversion, I began writing this blog. Sitting before the blank computer screen, I remembered full well that I had stopped speaking as a child. I began by saying, "Who am I to write this?" Like Moses, I said, "O, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past or even now; but I am slow of speech." But God said to Moses, "I will be your mouth and teach you what to speak." -[Exodus 4: 10-11.]

I have even said to God, like Moses did, "O, my Lord, please send someone else." -[Exodus 4: 13].
I have said, 'WHY would you pick ME? I am so lowly and anonymous. I am really a Nobody. Do You really want ME?!'

For me, it takes faithfully spending time with God, in "conversation"and in prayer, so that when God DOES call my name, it is not such a startling experience. I need to make my sacred life with God bigger and more equal in time with my secular life. Then, when God's call does come, it will not seem like such an intrusion on my "real life." In fact, God's call will become my "real life."

For me, I need to focus on the realization that God needs US to do His work.  He needs our hands, our hearts, our ears to listen, our eyes to see. Who can say No to God, when He needs us?

Gradually, as God calls, I have become bolder and stronger. Today, there are things I could never have imagined that I would do. But for God, I will do it!

[Related Posting: "Here I am, Lord",  Jan. 5, 2012].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Prophet: Martin Luther King

" I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the State of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." -- [Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963]

I was talking to some friends in my Bible Study and Biblical School classes recently, and they were saying that there are no modern-day Prophets. If that were to be the case, the world would be in big trouble. We need Prophets, Truth-sayers, now more than ever!

They challenged me, 'Okay, then WHO is a modern-day Prophet?!' I blurted out, Martin Luther King, Jr.!

I DO believe that there are modern day Prophets.  In his seminal book, "The Prophet", Abraham J. Heschel declares, "The prophet is not only a prophet. He is also poet, preacher, patriot, statesman, social critic, moralist. The Prophet's eye is directed to the contemporary scene; the society and its conduct are the main theme of his speeches." In my eye, this describes Martin Luther King perfectly.

There are those who would totally abandon the achievements of Martin Luther King, because of the FBI recordings of his affairs with other women. Believe me, I am as disappointed as anyone regarding these considerable transgressions

But, being a Prophet is not inconsistent with sin and grave mistakes. A Prophet is fully human!

And being fully human, the Prophet "is able to perceive 'the silent sigh' of human anguish." - [Heschel.]  The author Heschel goes on, "The Prophet's ear is attuned to a cry imperceptible to others." Then, Heschel quotes Exodus 3, when God says, "I have seen the affliction of My people, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters."

In his "I Have A Dream Speech, King shows his deeply-felt empathy when he says, "I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of fresh trials and tribulation. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution, and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veteran of creative suffering."

Author Heschel writes that "the Prophets take us to the slums."  In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King said, "We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one."

Heschel writes, "The Prophet's use of emotional and imaginative language, concrete in diction, rhythmical in movement, artistic in form, marks his style as poetic.  Far from reflecting a state of inner harmony or poise, its style is charged with agitation, anguish, and a spirit of non-acceptance." Now, how can we forget not only King's stirring language, but his inspiring delivery?

Heschel also poignantly writes, " The Prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded of man, that priests themselves had committed perjury by bearing false witness, condoning violence, tolerating hatred, calling for ceremonies instead of bursting forth with wrath and indignation, cruelty, deceit, idolatry and violence." Is it any wonder that King called out the white churches for their silence at the time of the Civil Rights movement, saying, " The church must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority."

According to Heschel, "The Prophet has a vision of an end. . . He 'lives on the summit.' "  King himself is famous for his words on the night before he died; "Well, I don't know what will happen now. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain."

It is absolutely no surprise to me, then, that Abraham Heschel himself marched with Martin Luther King in Selma.

Heschel's daughter Susannah writes in the Introduction to her father's book: "The Prophets were not simply Biblical figures my father studied, but models for his life. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is the Saturday night my father left home to join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery. I remember kissing him goodbye and wondering if I would ever see him again.  Alabama was a horror: I saw its vicious sheriffs on TV beating black demonstrators, turning German Shepherds and water cannons against black children. Even the police were on the side of evil. The greatness of that Selma march continues to reverberate because it was not simply a political event, but an extraordinary moral and religious event as well. For my father, the march was a deeply spiritual occasion. When he came home, he said, 'I felt my legs were praying.' "

This Martin Luther King Day, let us all walk the walk together. May all of our legs be praying!

[Related Postings: "Martin Luther King", January 17, 2011; "Remembering Martin Luther King", January 16, 2012; "The Need For Martin Luther King", January 16, 2013; "Martin Luther King's Dream", January 15, 2014].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Relevance of Baptism

" It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized in the Jordan by John [the Baptist]. On coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him. And a voice came from the Heavens, 'You are my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.' " -[Mark 1: 7-11].

With this Reading, we mark the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

As I consume various media--- print newspapers and magazines, on-line news sources, television and cable news- -- I am acutely aware of how very secular we have become.

Charles Murray, in his 2012 book, "The New American Divide" points out that secularism is up over 30 percentage points since the early 1970's. Secularism is defined as "people who profess no religion or who attend a worship service no more than once a year."

Murray also contends that there is more disunity in America today, because of the lack of "shared values." Increasingly, we do not 'mostly all' profess a religion or attend church; we do not 'mostly all' watch the same network television shows; we do not ' mostly all' get married and have children within marriage.

In an article in The Wall Street Journal, entitled, "Secular and Proud of It", Naomi Schaefer Riley writes, "The vast majority of unaffiliated are not atheists as such. They are simply disaffected and indifferent, and many are uneducated about religious doctrine. They have no biblical literacy and embrace the shallow postmodern notion that good behavior is "relative" and that being "judgmental"is the [biggest] problem in life." -[WSJ, 1/5/15]. How sad, that the next generation does not so much not believe, as not understand.

Does anyone attend regular Mass or church services any longer? Does anyone even care? Does anyone recognize the relevance of Baptism today?

I contend that Baptism was meant to set us apart as Christians, but also to bring us together as a community.

Pope Francis has said, about Baptism, that "Under the Holy Spirit, our Baptismal mission is to find the apostolic courage necessary to overcome the easy, worldly accommodations."

In other words, in our Baptism, we put on the mantle of Christ. The Catholic Catechism says, "Baptism is "the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit." From the very beginning days of the church, St. Peter baptized Christians by saying, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Indeed, "the baptized have 'put on Christ.' " -[ Catechism 1227].

And what is that Spirit? 1 John 5 says, "The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is Truth." It is the Spirit which opens our heart to the Truth, just as the heavens opened up when Jesus was baptized, and He became closer to God.

In John 14, Jesus tells His disciples, just before His death, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. . . I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. . .The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name [my stead], will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said."

In  a practical sense, what can this possibly mean?

I grew up in a cruel and harsh family. I was sometimes not fed, even though we had food. I was hit, and called ugly every day. I began to believe those words. I would go to school with black eyes. I stopped feeling any emotions when I was eight. I stopped speaking when I was ten. I have been told by medical experts that I should be-- suicidal; harming myself; dead; in jail; abusive to my child; addicted to drugs or alcohol; in an abusive relationship; despairing that there even IS a God.

Instead, I am peaceful, gentle, joyful, kind, generous, patient, faith-filled, and free from anger. Many would say that, if you do not come from a family like that, you cannot possibly "learn" how to love, make peace, practice patience, find your faith, etc.

I am living proof that these things are not learned from any human source, but come from the Spirit. And I received the Spirit by my Baptism in a Christian church!! From my Baptism, I learned the Truth about my life.

 I have no other explanation for how I "knew" to offer Love where there was Hate, Peace where there was Strife. In fact, no one in my family ever said hugged me, or said, "I love you," The only touch I ever received was either No Touch, or Bad Touch. I certainly did not learn Love from any humans in my life.

The Spirit protected me in other ways, in the community. When I was hungry, a  neighbor saw my hunger, and gave me a glass of milk and a piece of bread with butter. I did to go to bed hungry.

When I was called ugly every day, a school librarian told me that I ought to smile more, because my smile made me beautiful.

When I had stopped speaking, nevertheless, I was required to recite a poem in school. My knees were knocking, as I haltingly read the poem. Then, when I had finished, I faced that dreadful silence alone. But before I knew it, the entire class was clapping for me.

The Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit -- Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faith, generosity, gentleness and temperate demeanor- are very healing to the wounded among us. How would I have lived without the comfort of them?

No, our Baptism is not just an empty ritual with trickling water. Our Baptism in the Spirit is a powerful weapon for survival. It is an eternal bond that unites communities, and the whole world.

Why baptize?

I honestly don't think I would have survived without it.

[ Related Postings: "The Baptism of the Lord", Jan. 7, 2011; "Baptized With the Holy Spirit",  Jan. 11, 2013; " Anointed With the Spirit",  Jan. 13, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Epiphany of The Lord

"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the new born king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ  was to be born. They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judah. . . and you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.' Then, Herod called the Magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ' Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found Him, bring me word, so that I too may go and do Him homage.' After their audience with the king, they set out. And behold, the star they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star,  and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way." -[Matthew 2: 1-12].

There are two alternate versions of the first sightings of the baby Jesus. One occurs in this account from Matthew. Another occurs in the account of Luke 2: 8-20, when "shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night,  encounter an angel of the Lord who announces the birth of a Savior, "born to you; He is the Messiah."

I don't think that the ordinary, modern person can fully appreciate what an extraordinary event it was, that it was shepherds and Magi who first paid homage to the baby Jesus. And yet, meanwhile, the King with the most power, Herod, reacted with fear and violence, as he plotted to kill the King of the Jews.

The Magi were Kings from the East, yes. Only -- they were not only foreigners, but pagans. As non-Jews, the Magi would have been eyed in Judah with suspicion. The Magi could not have been pure, they were not among God's Chosen People. In fact, they practiced astrology.

And the shepherds were Jewish, but were outliers. They were nomads, living outside in the fields, keeping watch over fires by night. They would have been about as welcome in organized society at the time, as a homeless person is today.

I ponder these images, of the First Witnesses to Jesus' birth. And I recall the devout young man who is facing the next step in his Faith Formation. He balks at the reflection required, the reading and writing. When asked about his hesitation, he replies, "I don't think I am pure enough, to take this next step."

Or, I think about the woman who was born and raised Catholic. And every time she hears the Eucharistic Prayer, she almost stays glued to her seat. Because the call to Eucharist says, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the Word, and I shall be healed." This lifelong Catholic is afraid that she will NEVER be worthy enough of Jesus, to approach Him at the altar and receive Him.

I think of myself, at a critical point in my life, longing to become closer to God. But, I was refusing to approach Him when He called. I said, "Who-- me, Lord?" I was frozen in time and space. I asked the parish priest, "What would God want with ME? I am only a woman. Only a wife. Only a mother." The priest replied, "So was Mary."

This Epiphany,  I want to hold close to my heart, that if the Magi-- pagans, astrologers, foreigners, were worthy enough to sit at the feet of Jesus, then I can be too.

I want to revel in the irony that it was homeless shepherds, nomads who cared for sheep, and probably reeked of sheep, who were approached by an angel of the Lord, first announcing the birth of the Messiah.

Does anyone remember Pope Francis on Holy Thursday 2014, washing the feet of prisoners-- And the feet of female inmates and of two Muslims, at that? Let no one believe that this was a provocative act. It was straight out of Matthew 2, and Luke 2!

I also ponder the great lengths to which the Magi went to see Jesus. They traveled from afar. They came, at tremendous cost to themselves, both physically, and monetarily, They came bearing expensive gifts. I wonder how much effort that we modern-day followers are willing to expend to find Jesus?

I want to take in the utter joy that the Magi felt upon seeing the tender Babe for the first time. I wonder, how often do I resent Christmas? Or become irritated at the demands of being a Christian? Or --can I simply bask in the Joy?

I want to take on that hurried urgency of the shepherds, who heard the angelic proclamation of Jesus' birth, and who shook off all fear and confusion, and made haste to the manger.

Finally, I think of the determination with which the Magi evaded Herod and his evil plot to kill Jesus. I would like to think, on this Epiphany, that I have the discernment to understand who it is who is a fundamental threat to Jesus.

I would hope that, as I draw closer to Jesus, that I would fight the powers who would kill Him. I would hope that I would count myself worthy to travel far and wide, declaring the Good News of His Name.

[Related Postings: ""Epiphany",  January 6, 2011; "The Magi",  January 19, 2012; "My Epiphany", January 5, 2013;  "The Worship of the Magi", January 14, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New World

"For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world." --[1 John 5:4].

Another New Year is here. Everywhere, I am bombarded with Year In Review reports on television, on the Internet, on social media. We seem to be obsessively cataloguing our losses-- the amazing people who died this year; the stresses on the world economy; the global violence and conflicts.

Honestly, all this Loss Review makes me depressed. On New Year's Eve, I just want to go to bed at my regular hour and pretend it is just another day. On New Year's Day, I just want to stay in bed with the blankets over my head, because I feel like I cannot face the world - or my new day.

New Year's makes me feel guilty. And why? Because I was not able to brilliantly transform myself into perfection, according to some impossible standards? Because I do a mental global survey, and I find that the world is in worse shape than a year ago?

I am not alone in my global assessment. In a WSJ article, Nov. 14, 2012, Bret Stephens writes, "The U.S. finds itself today in a post-Cold War global order under immense strain, even in partial collapse. Four Arab States have unraveled since 2011. The European Union stumbles from recession to recession, with each downturn calling into question the future of the common currency and even the union itself. In Asia, China has proved to be, by turns, assertive, reckless, and insecure. Russia seeks to dominate its neighbors through local proxies, dirty tricks, and even outright conquest. North Korea's nuclear arsenal and Iran's effort to develop one tempt their neighbors to start nuclear programs of their own. And, even as he core of al Qaeda fades in importance, its jihadist offshoots, including Islamic State, are metastasizing elsewhere. The old guarantees of the post-war Pax Americana no longer seem as secure as they once were."

Thin about it-- when was the last time that America won a war, without destroying the entire country it invaded? [Former General Colin Powell famously warned, "If you break Iraq, you own it." Not getting anywhere with this line of thinking, he retired.]

Then, there is global warming. Science? Or Science Fiction? I don't know, but those videos of whole sheets of glaciers tumbling into the ocean totally terrifies me!

The oil market has collapsed, the ruble has collapsed. Young people are not, not ---- going to church; buying cars; marrying; buying houses; having children.

No doubt, we are undergoing a world transformation. The deacon, who teaches my New Testament class at Biblical School, discussed this recently. He said that we are undergoing a huge shift in the world order. The old paradigm does not work any longer.

There is always pain and suffering when that happens. Consider the Crucifixion of Christ. Unimaginable pain, but out of that, a new age of unimaginable Hope. As a Christian, I am fully aware of how difficult and even painful life is.  But IF I do not believe in a God who works always to our ultimate benefit, then is life even worth it? Certainly, without God, our life here on earth is unexplainable, unbearable.

I guess what I am looking for is to control the Peace and Love in my own life. Mother Teresa said that Peace begins at home. If I am not in harmony with my loved ones in my own home, how do I dare criticize all the hate and violence out in the larger world?

I imagine sitting at my computer, zooming in on Google Earth. I zoom all the way in, to my home. I try to make peace there. Then, I zoom out to my neighborhood, to my town, to my region, to my State, to my country. To my world. How large a sphere of influence can I create?

You have heard of the phrase "zero carbon footprint"?  Well, I am looking to create a Zero Harm Footprint. As St. Paul says, " Love does no harm to a neighbor." -- Romans 13:10. "Do not repay evil with evil." - Romans 12:17. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." -Romans 12:21.

Even better than that, I want to contribute to the good in the world. Yet, I sometimes fear that all of my small efforts will not add up to a thimble-full of Hope, in an ocean of evil.

But, then there is the "Broken Window" theory, explored in a study based on the experiments of psychologist Philip Zimbardo. In an article in Atlantic Monthly, authors George Kelling and James Q. Wilson conclude, "One un-repaired window [in an otherwise well-kept neighborhood] is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing."

NOW, I want to fix all the little hurts in my path, to repair the "broken windows" in my line of sight. The world simply cannot believe that no one cares-- Or, we really have lost everything.

"When something happens to upset you and you are discouraged, try to feel that life's difficulties and troubles are not intended to arrest your progress in the spiritual life, but to test your strength and to increase your determination to keep going. What ever it is that must be met, you are either to overcome it, or use it. God's strength will always be there, waiting for you to use it." --Author

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