Sunday, May 31, 2015
"LOVE COMES FROM GOD. We love because He loved us first. If anyone says, 'I love God', and [yet] hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love God, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment [to love one another] we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." - [1 John 4:20].
In October 2015, an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family will be held at the Vatican in Rome. The Synod is the assembly or governing body of the Church, which helps to provide theological and practical guidance for the Church on important issues.
This extraordinary assembly will cover issues such as divorced and remarried Catholics, support for families raising children in the Faith, and support for the institution of marriage.
But the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics has been the most hotly contested issue of all.
This past week, Ireland voted to allow same sex marriages. In reaction to this vote, Cardinal Walter Kasper said, "We have to find a new language. We have to overcome [unjust] discrimination which has a long tradition in our culture." On the opposite side of the controversy lies Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of the Springfield Diocese, who held an Rite of Exorcism at a Mass before 500 people; the Bishop saying that it was "intended to call attention to the diabolical influences of the Devil, the move of the Father of Lies who wishes to deceive the children of God."
Where is the Church itself, in this morass of controversy? No less than Pope Francis himself said, early in his papacy, [July, 2013], "Who am I to judge a person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? You can't marginalize these people."
But, in fact, we do marginalize the LGBT community. Over 40% of the homeless teens and young adults in America are LGBT-- and were ostracized and by their families. How can we claim to follow Jesus, and yet turn anyone into a "throwaway"? How can we dare to say, "I love God", yet hate these youths, to the point of casting them out of, not just families, but out of religion and of all hope of the spiritual realm?
How do countless churches dare to sing, "All Are Welcome"-- and yet reject, and even hate others?
Recently, I dared to post on this blog Facebook page, "I don't think that Jesus came to teach us to hate anyone". AND, I got some hateful flak for my stance on Love !
And yet, Jesus "ate with sinners and tax collectors" -[Luke 5: 30]. He was bold enough to touch a leper, a man among the most feared and hated of all people, at the time. -[ Matthew 8.] Jesus, a Jewish man, spoke to a Samaritan woman out in public, something that would have been breathtakingly shocking at the time. Jesus came, not to preserve the status quo, but to radically upend it.
And so, this is the powerful Love Argument. In consonance with that notion of Love, a video was recently released by a group called "Owning Our Faith. The video shows people in the LGBT community seeking the Lord, seeking to be growing, more loving Catholics, attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist. [www.owningourfaith.com]. The most powerful message in the video is that Love does not mean putting people into little boxes. A person CAN be LGBT and take their
Christianity seriously. At the same time, I resent the assumption that, just because I am Catholic, that I hate and ostracize anyone!
There is also the powerful Physiological Argument. Studies have been published, over the years, showing that being LGBT is not necessarily "willful behavior"; that gay men, for example, are wired differently, at the neurological level. I am not a biologist, by any means, but what IF a person is different, not by choice? How can we call this a Sin? Would we call a man born without an arm a Sinner, bar him from church and eject him into homelessness? Jesus dealt with this issue when He excoriated a crowd for labeling a man born blind, as a Sinner. He told the Pharisees that this man had done nothing wrong, and that THEY were the ones who are blind! -[ John 9].
Then, there is the Theological Argument. I was at my Catholic Biblical School class one night, when a student started comparing the sin and judgment at Sodom and Gomorrah to the "scourge of homosexuality." The priest shot back, "How very Old Testament of you!" This Catholic priest went on to say that there is clear law in Leviticus that a man shall not lie with a man, nor a woman with a woman. But, this priest made the compelling point that, JESUS Himself never said a word about homosexuality or same sex relationships. So, the fact is, We do NOT know "what would Jesus do"! In surpassing the Old Testament Law, however, we do know well the first commandment; that is to love one another, as we would love ourselves!
Even Evangelicals, who tend to take Scripture literally, are changing their minds. In his book, "Changing Our Minds", Evangelical pastor David P. Gushee argues that the Bible is a living document; that in Leviticus, the death penalty is to be meted out for disobeying or cursing one's parents, for being a medium or wizard, or for blaspheming the Lord. Would we not agree today that these penalties are extreme? Why would we selectively drop these severe punishments, but keep the one about homosexuality? Anything in Scripture can be used to "prove" any argument, if taken out of context. There are Biblical verses that could be taken out of context to justify even slavery! Reading the Bible selectively can be dangerous.
The Church has come far since the days of Leviticus. If we can accept that women today are allowed to attend church with men, and even serve as lay ministers, why can we not rethink the role of the LGBT community in the Church?
I urge you to find out more about this issue, before you impose judgment. Watch the Owning Our Faith video with an open mind. Keep the Love in your heart and imagine if a LGBT person were your son or daughter, your best friend, your beloved neighbor. For, we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ!
www.owningourfaith.com -- video, website, Facebook page.
"Changing Our Minds", by David P. Gushee, (c) 2014, Read The Spirit Books.
"The Bible's Yes To Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical's Change of Heart", Mark Achtemeier, (c) 2014, Westminster John Knox Press.
[Related Posting: "The Banquet", Oct. 12, 2014].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
" When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then, there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim." -- [Acts 2: 1-11].
The Feast of Pentecost occurs on the Seventh Sunday after Easter.
Pentecost is generally considered to be the birthday of the Church. In Matthew 28:19, after Jesus' Death and Resurrection, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples (all but Judas) and commissions them. Jesus tells them, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commended you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
At Pentecost, all of US become disciples of Jesus, when Peter makes his speech to all staying in Jerusalem, at Pentecost. Peter addresses "Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism (Gentiles), Cretans and Arabs." Peter's sweeping welcome encompassed just about all of the known world of the time.
And yet, today, Christianity is shrinking. Rather than the birth of a Church, are we witnessing the death of Christianity?
An article in The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2015, entitled "Mideast Christians on the Brink", declares, "The numbers are stark. Almost 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Between the U.S.-led invasion that toppled his regime in 2003 and the rise of Islamic State, three-fourths of the country's Christians are believed to have fled Iraq or died in sectarian conflict. The carnage continues. Of the 300,000 Christians remaining in 2014, some 125,000 have been driven from their homes within the past year."
Meanwhile, in the Western world, more and more often, we are choosing to abandon our attachment to any religion or denomination.
We very rightly mourn the loss, or potential loss, of priceless artifacts in Nimrud, Ramadi and Palmyra. There is a heavy cultural loss in the advancement of ISIS and Al Qaeda. But do we not also mourn the loss of Christianity itself?
When I was a child, I was regularly taken to church. But when I turned 14, my family took church away. Faith and church were forbidden. If I asked to go to church, I was mocked, flatly refused, and given cold stares.
It has taken decades to get my Faith back. I had hidden my Faith so deep inside me that I have been terrified to show it. When I was called to convert a few years ago, I wanted to tell God to go away and leave me alone! Before I could show up for Communion at Sunday Mass after my conversion, I had to practice walking down that long aisle, at several 6:30 a.m. weekday Masses.
Do not tell me that there is no persecution in America. Persecution lies in the cold face of those who hate you because you desire to attend church. Persecution lies in a family's refusal to stand in the receiving line at your wedding, when you marry a Christian man. Persecution lies in a family cutting your Christian spouse out of family vacations and holidays- - and demanding that you choose between your beloved, and your family of origin. Persecution lies in a father, red-faced in anger, poking his finger in his daughter's face and hissing that the Immaculate Conception is a bald lie. Persecution lies in a boss telling a Catholic employee, "YOU are too intelligent to be Catholic!"
We all may cluck our tongues, and wag our index fingers, and wring our hands at the beheadings of Christians in Iraq; at the kidnapping of innocent school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram; and the bulldozing of Christian villages by the Muslim Brotherhood in South Sudan. I do applaud the passion of our global Christian sympathy.
BUT what are WE doing about fanning the flames of Faith here at home? What is worse than someone fighting you over your religion? Someone being proud of their indifference at religion.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "In the end, we will remember not the word of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
I have had a rough road, in recovering from the cruelty of my childhood, from every kind of abuse imaginable. Today, I have no nuclear family. Come to think of it, I was always alone, taking care of myself.
I honestly do not know what I would do without my "church family". They have watched me mourn, cry, grieve, then come to God and Jesus, then come to action. They have told me that they have watched me transform before their very eyes. The agent of my rebirth has been --- LOVE.
When we give up our religion and our Faith, we give up on Love. We give up on each other!
WE are the church! Church is not just a building, a Rosary, a Mary Statue, a beautiful hymn, a Rectory garden. Faith and church are US.
We have not only the Right, but the obligation, to speak the Word, to love other Christians. And, I truly believe, to attend Mass in the stead of those who cannot.
We need to ask : Is the Church failing us? Or are WE failing the Church--- when we cannot even stand up, come to Mass, and be counted?
[Related Postings: "Pentecost", June 13, 2011; "He Calls Me Friend", May 10, 2015; "The 'Lost Shepherd' ", April 25, 2105.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
" Lifting up His eye to heaven, Jesus prayed saying, ' When I was with them, I protected them in Your name. But now I am coming to You. I speak this in the world so that [the Apostles] may share my joy completely. I gave them Your Word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. Consecrate them in the Truth. Your Word is Truth. As You sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they may also be consecrated in Truth.' " -- [John 17:11B-19.]
I read this Scripture, and I wonder if anyone even knows what it means today?
First, I wonder if anyone knows what the word, "Consecrate" means? I myself had to look that one up! It means, "Make holy."
Then, I read the word "Holy" -- and I ask, 'Is there anything Sacred today?'
Is a priest "holy" and sacred any longer? Or, do we scoff at what he says, and accuse him of being an "old white man?" An anachronism. Irrelevant to ordinary life.
Is even motherhood sacred? Or do too many women see creating life as messy, inconvenient and simply a burden of drudgery?
And the Truth? What passes for the Truth is only so much Spin. Pro-Choice? Commentators, who have said that Pro-Choice means Pro-Death, have been silenced, excoriated. We talk of "Surgical Strikes", "Drone Operations". By any other word, these are in Truth, war.
For decades, the Truth has been relative. Individualism trumps any sort of enduring Truth. We live in a world of Truth as concocted by humans. If anyone dares to say, "This is the Truth", others accuse the truth-seekers of dogmatism or worse. Our Truth is as varied as the human speaking it.
I lived in a household, as a child, where Lies were Truth; and Truth was a pack of Lies. I was told every day that I was ugly. In detail, I was told that my teeth were ugly, my nose was too long, my skin was too blemished, I wore glasses, my hair was too curly/too straight -[pick one].
I was told that I was a failure. [I was an A student].
I was told that I was a fool to believe in God. That Christians are losers.
I was told that any other ethnic group, but for ours, was inferior and worthless.
I was told that other people were stupid and common.
I was told that people who have a lot of money are superior and deserve more.
I was told not to give to charity, why waste your money on "those people".
AND yet, we called ourselves Christian!
After I left home, I met a lovely friend who actually talked to me kindly and cared about me. I told her how I thought I was ugly. She urged me to find a picture of myself as a child. I rummaged around and found some photos. I could not believe my eyes. I had been a beautiful child. "Hollywood beautiful" I was told, by another who glimpsed the photos. My friend told me that being called ugly was a Lie.
So I ran through the list with my friend-- "I am a failure"; my friend said, "A Lie. "There is no God"; a Lie. "Christians are losers"; a Lie. "Others unlike me are inferior"; a Lie. "People are all stupid and common"; a Lie. "The wealthy are superior"; a Lie. "Giving to charity is a waste of money"; a Lie.
"ALL LIES", my friend said. She said, "Whoever says, 'I love God', but hates another is a liar." -[1 John: 4:20].
I KNEW these were all lies. I had known this for years. The more these lies were drummed into me, the worse I felt about myself. Once I heard the Truth, from a trusted friend, though, I felt immense relief, as if an unearthly burden had been mercifully lifted off my shoulders.
After awhile, I didn't even know what the Truth was any longer. What a horrible, traumatic way to live! Because, if up is down and black is white, and there is no Truth, there is no Reality, then the world becomes a House of Mirrors. Confusion and desperation set in. There is no floor and no ceiling, we are all just free-falling in a bleak world of utter darkness. Surrounded by Lies, we cannot even trust the person next to us!
I desperately need to find the Truth, and to try to live by the Truth, no matter how hard that may be. Otherwise, as Cole Porter said, in "Anything Goes", "Now, God knows, anything goes. Good authors who once knew better words, now only use four letter words, writing prose. If me undressed you like, why, nobody will oppose. When every night the set that's smart is intruding at nudist parties in studios, anything goes. The world has gone mad today, and good's bad today, and black's white today, and day's night today. Anything goes."
AND SO -- What is the Truth? The Truth is God's Word. To Love one another as oneself. To seek the Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance [tolerance, patience], Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness and Self-Control. If we are not guided by the Spirit of Truth, we descend into immorality, impurity, idolatry, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outburst of fury, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness.
The Truth is a whole lot more than simply not lying. It is all that is RIGHT about the world!
"I believe that unarmed [peaceful] Truth and unconditional Love will have the final word in Reality. That is why Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger that Evil." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
" Jesus said to His disciples, 'As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. I have told you this, so that my joy may be complete in you and your joy might be complete. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you. This I command you: Love one another.' " -- [John 15: 9-17].
When I was growing up, I had no one.
Yes, I lived with my mother, father and brother.
But my brother called me ugly every day. He rounded up the kids in the neighborhood to taunt me as well. He was not my friend. He made sure that I had no other friends. He booby-trapped my room with raw eggs, and cups of water perched precariously. He laughed at me if I tripped off those traps.
I would go to my mother in desperation. I would tell her, "Please, make him stop!" My mother would always say, "You are too sensitive". My mother was not my ally. she did not defend me from these assaults.
My father took his anger out on me. If I would not eat the days' old food put in front of me to eat, he would tell my mother, "Do NOT cook her anything else. Do NOT feed her!" My father was not my ally.
I shut down against the world in those days. I was not going to let anyone in. In about third grade, my teacher noticed that I had no little friend to walk with, to Recess or to Art class. She assigned me a friend.
I was somewhat ashamed that the teacher had to assign me a friend. But, oh how wonderful it was! I could easily walk or bike to Louise's house. Her mom helped us make candy apples in the fall. She let us make a total mess in the kitchen, baking cookies. She let me play dress-up with her old prom dress. Usually, I ended up putting the dress on backwards. She pointed that out gently, but let me wear it that way anyway. I felt like a princess!
Still, the lack of love and kindness has taken its toll. I am prone to anxiety, and periods of deep darkness. I let others say hello first. I don't trust easily. I get hyper-vigiliant in groups. I can panic in crowds. I believe that I am at least insignificant, if not fairly invisible.
And yet, everyone needs a friend! We all long for love, for kindness, a hug, a gentle word, an ally to defend us, a special someone to share our joys with!
If we do not have any loving human contact- simply put- we die! Something in me died, in that harsh environment. It is extremely difficult to revive those dead parts of the soul.
WHO would wish to live without human contact? And yet, in our virtual- reality world, increasingly, we do!
Teens and children today use their thumbs to "communicate". One study, that required college students to give up their cell phones for a week, resulted in the participants reporting feelings of anxiety and even fear. They did not know how to approach another person to talk. If the other person said something upsetting or emotional, the student did not know how to react. The students reported that they did not know how to contend with free-flowing conversations.
Young children today in the U.S. are being placed in support groups, in order to learn how to make a friend and to be a friend. What used to happen naturally, in the neighborhood and at the playground, has to be intentionally taught.
Young adults today are being medicated, at unprecedented levels, with anti-anxiety and anti- depressant drugs. Too many students who arrive at college, have a laptop, a dorm room, a syllabus -- and a therapist.
In this Scripture from John, Jesus assumes that everyone knows what it means to be a friend. To have a friend. What it means to love.
It was shocking, at the time, for God's Son to call His disciples, "Friend"-- as if we and Jesus could EVER be equal.
Today, it is amazing to call anyone, "Friend"-- at all. Our lives are structured. Scripted. Maniacally busy. Friends? No one has any time. It can take me 6 months to find a date for when another woman and I can get together for coffee. For one hour. . . .
In John 15, Jesus practically begs to be His disciples' friend. He commands us, "Love one another." He talks about complete joy, simply from remaining in His Love. Do we even remember what Joy is?
Before we ask, 'Why are our churches empty?', we need to ask the real question. We need to ask, 'Where is the human interaction? AND, where is the Love?'
Because, if we cannot call anyone, "Friend", then how can we even get to Jesus?
[Related posting, "Where Is Your Joy", March 30, 2013; "What is This Joy?", October 1, 2014.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, May 3, 2015
" Jesus said to His disciples, 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. . . Remain in me as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on it own, unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. . . without me, you can do nothing." -[John 15: 1-8].
The world is watching the riots, and their aftermath, unfold in Baltimore. The world wants to know : "What is going on?"
The last time that Baltimore erupted in riots so severe was between April 6, and April 14, 1968, in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of the buildings destroyed in 1968 have yet to be rebuilt. . . .
Riots have been no stranger to America-- in 1965, riots spread through the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles for about a week. History shows that the Watts riots occurred mainly because of police brutality and unemployment. Sadly, these familiar issues are still raging strong in too many of our inner cities.
In Detroit, there are an estimated 78,000 abandoned buildings. These include not only homes and factories, but skyscrapers and a 100 year old railroad station. There is even an Urban Decay Tour, for those fascinated by the death of one of America's most incomparable cities.
In Chicago, in 2012, more were killed from gang violence than U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.
A chilling piece in the NY Times, April 21, 2015, declared that in America, there are 1.5 million black men missing. They are either in jail, or dead.
You may ask how the death of one man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody in Baltimore, could possibly have set off such a firestorm?
In part, the answer lies in the human brain. In the human brain, there resides a Loss Center, designed to hold all of our losses, big and small. That explains why, after all of the memories of my past trauma came back to me, like a massive data dump, even misplacing my pen or my keys seemed like the end of the world. Any loss, no matter how tiny, explodes into a fireball, because the misplacement of a small pen triggers a reliving of ALL losses.
And, as we know, Loss is grief. And grief can be expressed as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression (anger turned inward), Resignation, and Acceptance (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). Sometimes, we get stuck - In depression, in anger. Riots are a globalized expression of Anger.
With urban communities, we often see a layering on of traumas and losses. One could imagine that a person could barely get through one cycle of grief, before another trauma occurred.
In my own experience, when the traumas came flooding back, I could not stop the storm. What I "saw" before my eyes was a scene, as if out of a tornado: a house destroyed, china smashed, papers strewn, wooden beams splintered, glass shattered, the roof shingles 100 feet away. I was left to pick through the rubble, and try to determine what was left of value and what I would have to let go of?
In many ways, the riots are a re-enactment of that scene. With black men, who are disenfranchised, disaffected, belonging to nothing and to no one, they have nothing left to lose. And so, they destroy everything in plain sight, in front of the whole world.
In many ways, we are still fighting the Civil War in America. I had a friend in graduate school who was pulled over by police for no reason except that she was "driving black". When they discovered that her driver's license was expired because she had not been home in 5 months, they handcuffed her and arrested her. Why- because she is black. A white woman would have gotten a warning or a fine.We can pass all the laws that we want against discrimination and brutality, but we cannot legislate attitudes.
When you realize that you have lost everything-- like I had, like these black men in America-- you face some stark choices. In my mind, you either IMPLODE, destroying yourself through substance abuse, suicide, etc.; you EXPLODE, destroying the world around you. OR you find GOD.
But, where is our God in a world like this? ? ? --- It is in all of US.
If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, then we are ALL connected. The men raging in our inner cities, destroying everything including themselves? --they have become disengaged from the vine. They are rootless and abandoned.
It helps no one to say to them, "Get off the streets, get a job." We would not say that to a traumatized military veteran, so why do we say that to the men who have been through their own kind of Hell, on the city streets?
Martin Luther King knew that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. - [1 Corinthians 12]. He said, "We may have come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now." He also said, "The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."
Ours is not to judge. But to Love.
[Related Postings: "The Need For Martin Luther King", Jan. 6, 2013].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.