Saturday, April 25, 2015

The "Lost Shepherd"

" Jesus said, 'I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay my life down for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd." -[John 10: 11-18].

Sometimes, I think that young people think of living life as a Christian, as some kind of "performance art", such as when Julia Powell "attempted to revitalize her marriage, restore her ambition and save her soul by cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking.' " --[ book review of "Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously".]

Some people seem to think that Catholics today are living some kind of a "social experiment", that only the foolhardy will attempt, since it is probably doomed to fail from the start.

There are a lot of arguments, that the "unchurched" and the "de-churched'" make, about the irrelevancy of Christianity today. One of the major arguments is that the complainant does not want to hear anything that a priest says, since priests are "old and white and know nothing about modern living."

These are the same people who would argue that the image of Jesus as the "Good Shepherd" is obsolete. Who knows a shepherd today, let alone a sheep?

I guess what I would ask you, then, is -- What is the replacement for Jesus as the Good Shepherd? If our response is, 'Nothing. No One' -- then how are we really better off?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the secularization of our society. Fewer and fewer of us attend church on a weekly basis. Many Americans say that they are "spiritual but not religious". These are code words for, " I believe there may be a Higher Power, but I am totally done with the church as an institution."

So what substitutes for church? Or for the Good Shepherd?

I have read a lot of ideas recently about what is the "New Church"--

Maybe the "New Church" is the TED Talk, (TED standing for Technology, Entertainment and Design) ?  During a TED talk, which one can attend live or watch on video, an expert gives an inspiring talk about just about anything. If the TED Talk is a local lecture, people stream in as if there is priceless treasure inside. I am not disparaging the sincere pursuit of knowledge, but are we assuming that humans know everything? No, no, we cannot worship at the altar of Human Endeavor. That would make US God.

Maybe the "New Church" is Apple Inc. Plenty of people have already labeled Apple Inc. as a "cult". People line up outside an Apple Store for hours and days, to be the first to snag a new Apple product. Technology has made modern life far easier for us, but are we slaves to technology? Where is the soul in a cold, silvery metallic object with a glowing screen?

Maybe the "New Church" is the football game or baseball game? Billions of dollars are spent on stadiums, uniforms, logos, athletic memorabilia and fans' clothing. Fans in the stadium cheer their team, wave their arms and chant in unison. But in the process, athletes get life-long injuries, and we cheer ever louder as a player gets sacked with a crunch. Sometimes, the mania over sports just reminds me of Daniel and the lions' den.

Maybe the "New Church" is our fascination and even worship of money? We idolize Steve Jobs, and other captains of industry, as more than human. We believe that if we had all that money, we would finally be happy. But, money does not feed the soul. And sometimes, money is made in a soulless way: witness Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Lay of Enron Corp. and Bernard Ebbers of Worldcom/MCI.

Maybe the "New Church" is our idolization of power, as we endlessly watch and dissect the lives of celebrities and famous personalities. There are so many celebrities doing so much good in our world. But, others take drugs, have affairs, neglect their children, verbally abuse their staff, etc. Celebrities are not gods, they are just people like us, whose lives have come under the microscope.

I am feeling like we are going to an awful lot of effort to replace Church and the Good Shepherd. Where is the soul in our so-called replacements? Where is the nurturing and protection? Where is the tender love?

Our priests and pastors ARE largely elderly and white, (except in the African-American churches.) Priests, for a variety of reasons, are no longer seen as relevant, admired or even necessary.

Then, I ask you -- where do we go on a weekly basis for soul nurturance, for instant acceptance, for an inspiring sense of community, for fellowship, for a feeling of Someone larger and more all-encompassing than ourselves?

If we get rid of Church, if we "lose" our Shepherds, will we each be a lone wolf, without a Soul? That is a sad and frightening thought. . . .

[Related Postings: "Where Is My Flock?", April 29, 2012; "His Flock", May 16, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Peace Be With You

"The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the [road to Emmaus], and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were still speaking about this, He stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then He said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in our hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself' . . . And as He said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. . . They were incredulous for joy and were amazed." -[Luke 24: 35-48].

"Peace be with you." Christians say this phrase of Peace to each other before approaching the altar to receive Communion. We say goodbye to each other in everyday encounters, by saying "Peace be with you!" We sign our notes and e-mails to each other with "Peace". Even in my own house, if things get too raucous, I hold up two fingers and say, "Peace! I need Peace in this house!"

Peace is one of the most important qualities in a Christian. 'But the greatest commandment is Love' -[Matthew 22: 36-40].

I think of Peace and Love, the most often, at this time of Easter. The irony is that Jesus "proves" his Peace and Love, by showing His disciples -- and us -- His wounds! Jesus tells His disciples that they should not be troubled, then He shows them His wounded hands and feet.

I have spoken before in this space about how Jesus' final sacrifice should have, by right, taken away all the sins of this world. In fact, our Jewish brothers and sisters do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, because God's Only Son should not have died violently and humiliatingly, as a criminal; but, more than that, the sins of the world did NOT actually end with Jesus' death. [Related posting, "This Ends With Me", April 13, 2015].

It is a harsh irony that even today's violence begets more violence and hopelessness. [Jesus said, "For all who take the sword shall perish with the sword."- Matthew 26:52. ]

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Hate begets Hate; violence begets violence. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. . . . adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."

King was so very wise! This theological statement, so beautiful expressed, is now being proven by Science.

In 1995, a small group of physicians inaugurated the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, [ACES Quiz], which tested patients on the number of traumatic or abusive incidences that they had experienced in their lives. What they found startled them-- as the number of adverse childhood experiences rose, the serious effects on adult health rose as well.

The type of adverse experiences are: parental humiliation of the child; childhood fear of physical injury; actual visible injuries such as bruises; sexual abuse; feeling of lack of love; neglect such as lack of food, clothing, medical care; abandonment such as through death or divorce; parental substance abuse; domestic violence; parental mental illness or suicide; a household member in prison.
[Take the ACES quiz by accessing, Division of Violence Prevention.]

In a ground-breaking book, "Scared Sick", published in 2012, authors Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley explore the very real physical costs of violence in our culture. The authors state: "Unrecognized, the now-silenced cry of the child takes the form of physical dysregulation in key systems that regulate health. " The authors also cite physicians who say that "more than 80% of the time, [medical] diagnosis comes out of the [patient's] history." In other words, heart disease, diabetes and cancer have a clear connection to early trauma.

The book also cites a McGill study that found that "adverse childhood childhood experiences such as child abuse leave epigenetic marks on DNA. . . This research documents that how children are treated registers at the cellular level."

These findings have multiple levels of significance. For me, personally, I experienced 8 out of ten of these Adverse Childhood Experiences, before I reached the age of 18. I am paying for this in my adult health! This ill health prevents me from certain sports or activities that I would enjoy, it prevents me from entering the workforce, and it isolates me socially, to the extent that I need to recover for months at a time before I can be active again.

I get down when people act like I "want to be this sick", like it is all psychosomatic. But if it is at the cellular level, it is not "all my fault!" In fact, I hate my ill health, because it is an all-too present reminder of the trauma that I thought I had escaped forever.

These findings also bring harsh light on those who would judge the homeless or the mentally ill. The book, "Scared Sick", pointedly states that they are "the castoff remnants of emotional trauma."

BUT there is Hope for me, and for all those wounded children in adult-form among us. The authors tout meditation, mindfulness and social support as powerful tools of healing. To me, this begins to look a lot like Christianity . . . .

Jesus was right, we need Peace among us! Let us recognize the now-silenced cry of of the child. Despite His wounds -- or maybe because of them -- "Peace be with you!"

[Related Postings: "The Truth of His Wounds", April 13, 2012; "The Legacy of Abuse:, April 24, 2104; "Warning Signs of Abuse", May 10, 2013; "STOP Abuse", April 4, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 13, 2015

This Ends With Me

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When He had said this, he showed them His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' " -[John 20: 19-22].

In this Scripture, the disciples are overjoyed to see Jesus again. But, even though Jesus displays to them His bloody hands and side, He says, 'Peace be with you.'

How can there be any Peace, when the disciples see that Jesus' wounds are all too real? Where is their Peace, when Jesus says to them, 'So, I send you' ---when, there are persecutors waiting to crucify them, too?

I have to say that personally, Holy Week is gut-wrenching to me. I really cannot handle my emotions,
as an angry crowd yells, 'Crucify Him!'; as Pilate hands Jesus over to the mob; as the crowd torments Jesus, allowing Him to be flogged and mocked, as "King of the Jews." To say that all this "hurts my feelings" is a gross understatement.

I used to think that there was something wrong with me for feeling so overwhelmed. But, my Bible School instructor says, 'How can we not be moved, and even transformed, by Jesus' Crucifixion?'

I am beginning to see that this is what God wanted to happen to my soul, all along.

The changes can begin slowly-- such as, I have a very hard time watching violent movies. I also certainly hate the greed and materialism in Western culture. The fixation on money seems so pointless and sad, when you think of the message sent by Jesus' Crucifixion. And I certainly cannot ever watch any terrorist videos.

But it goes far beyond what kind of culture we consume. If we allow Jesus' death FOR us to really seep into our souls, His radical Love begins to change who we are and how we live.

I remember many years ago now, when I suffered violence at the hands of a stranger. I was in my twenties, so young. The attacker had a knife. Swiftly, I was down on the ground before I knew it. The man wielded the knife and lay it across my neck.

My mind raced. I knew that I had to get that knife away from my neck. I wrestled with the attacker. Amazingly, I was able to grab the knife from him!

I had only a few seconds to think, since the guy was scrambling to take the knife out of my hand again. I thought back to my graduate school classes in the law. This would be self-defense, if I slashed at him with the knife, right? I almost had to laugh at myself: who had time for legal arguments at a time like this?!

Next I thought, I would have to really disable the guy with the knife, or he would come back at me. I would have to stab him hard.

When it came right down to it, I realized that I would not be able to stab the guy. It had nothing to do with my physical strength. What I was facing was no less than another human being, created by God. An awfully disturbed human being, who wanted to do me harm. But-- I had this horrifying vision of spilling his blood. What would happen if I did to HIM, what he had planned to do to ME? Would I become him?

So, I somehow freed my arm enough to throw the knife away from me. I thought that the guy would  try to retrieve the knife, giving me time to escape. I thought wrong. The guy forgot all about the knife and began physically attacking me.

I could see that I was getting nowhere on my own with this. So I prayed to God to save me. Suddenly, the guy ceased attacking me! He asked for valuables. Then, he left.

I suppose that the world would say that I was a coward? I would call myself a Christian. If Christians take the Crucifixion of Jesus seriously, we say that He died for US. That means that His death was meant as a final repudiation of evil.

In essence, whatever was done to Jesus-- false witnesses, power-mongering, charges that were really lies, torment, mocking, whipping, and the agony of His death -- Jesus proclaimed by His very Resurrection:  'All of THAT ends with Me!'

Recently in Biblical School, our instructor told us the story of the movie, "Kitty: Return to Auschwitz". In this story, Kitty remembers her time in the concentration  camp at Auschwitz. Once released, she found herself holed up in a village basement with some Germans. In her pocket, she had hidden away a sword, that she had stolen from some Nazi SS in the camps. All of the hatred and anger that she bore against the Germans bubbled to the surface. She found herself contemplating using the sword to kill the Germans. But, she froze. She realized that if she took this opportunity to kill the Germans, then she would be no different than the Nazis who had done such evil to her.

When Jesus was crucified in sacrifice for us, He told His disciples, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." That means Jesus sends ME. And YOU. . . to proclaim the ultimate sacrifice against evil.

So I ask myself, if Jesus' death means so much to me, am I willing to live by the maxim, that evil stops, not just with Jesus, but with ME?

[Related Postings: "Thou Shalt Not Kill", March 10, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

We Walk By Faith

" On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 'They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put Him.' So Peter and the other disciple ran faster that Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead." -- [John 20: 1-9].

In the stories of Jesus' life, we encounter His disciples, who follow Jesus over many miles and years. But, yet, who do not fully understand what He is about, even until the very end, when Jesus is crucified -- and then disappears, only to rise in three days, as He had promised.

As I have embraced my Christianity, there is perhaps no one more surprised than I am, at how foggy-brained and incredulous and mystified His disciples were!

When Jesus calms a storm that suddenly sweeps the lake, Jesus says to His disciples, "Where is your Faith?" The disciples are "afraid and amazed, and say to one another, "Who then IS this, that He commands even the winds and the water and they obey Him?"

Jesus foretells His death many times in front of the disciples, but "they did not understand this saying;  . . . and they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask Him about this saying." - [Luke 9:46].

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays with a sorrowful heart.  In this dark moment, the disciples fall asleep! Jesus says to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting?! Enough! The hour has come." -[Mark 14: 41].

Although we can almost laugh at how clueless the disciples appear, in a way, their state of confusion is enormously comforting to me. . . .

I have made so many youthful mistakes and undergone so many misperceptions in my Faith walk over the years!

My parents stopped allowing me to go to church when I was 14.  I was told, "We don't do that any longer."  In my child's logic, I had this monumental assumption that if someone takes church away, then they can take your Faith away. It was not until decades later that I found out that God is Love, and that our desire for God is imprinted upon the human heart! And, that is a gift that no one can steal from you.

When I was in my early twenties, I had a profound experience of the Presence of God. This was a Presence that filled the room, and then spilled over and out into the world, into infiniteness. This was the strongest, yet most peaceful Presence that I had ever felt. At the time, I was so anxious and stressed, I dismissed this as something akin to a hallucination! Here was God tapping on my shoulder and I didn't even recognize Him!

I finally did begin to attend church again. Week after week, I heard that Jesus died for us. These were beautiful words, but they made no practical sense to me. Why did God's only Son have to die--- for ME?! [Similarly, a former pastor at my church says he used to fantasize that Jesus could simply have walked down from the Cross!] Week after week, I read in church:  "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me."

Then, one horrible day, my best friend died of cancer. My only comfort was that I could hope to see her again in Heaven. Then, at her son's Rite of First Communion, it hit me like a lightning bolt!- It was possible to see my friend again in Heaven, ONLY because Jesus had gone there first, FOR US!

Our walk in Faith is a gradual one. I used to blame myself for all the things I could not see. But as Paul said, "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man I did away with childish things.  . . For now I see in a mirror dimly, . . . now I know in part, but then [in my next life], I will know fully." - [1 Corinthians 13:11-12].

When I look at the disciples and at how they lived life WITH Jesus, but only slowly came to fathom what had truly happened-- I say that there is hope for the rest of us!

Now, I see my walk in Faith as like the unfolding of a beautiful flower. One gorgeous petal at a time, the sacred Truths gradually become clearer to me!

"We walk by faith, and not by sight;
No gracious words we hear
of Him who spoke as none e'er spoke,
but we believe Him near.

Help, then O Lord, our unbelief,
and may our Faith abound;
to call on You when You are near,
and seek where You are found.

Then, when our life of Faith is done
in realms of clearer light
We may behold you as you are
in full and endless sight."

Hymn: Alford & Wilson

[Related Postings: " Roll Away the Stone", April 17, 2014; "Easter Redemption", April 7, 2012; "Easter Joy!", April 23, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.