Monday, December 26, 2016
" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and thenWord was God. He [Jesus] was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him [God], and without Him, nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to what was His own, but His own people did not accept Him. But to those who did accept Him, He gave the power to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name . . . And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His Glory, the Glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and Truth. -- [John 1:1-18].
Sometimes, as blind human beings, we wonder where Jesus came from? We understand that Jesus was part- human, part- Divine. We celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmastime. And we celebrate His return to His Father at His Easter Resurrection.
We forget, however, that Jesus was there all along, "in the beginning" with God, even all the way back to Creation.
This is clearly the meaning of " As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end."
Each year, as we enter the Christmas season, and as the current year wanes, we human beings -- blind and frail -- often fear that the world is coming to an end. Recently, a friend said to me, "I no longer recognize our world today."
We debate whether today's persecution of Christians is worse than it was, than even in the early days of the Church. Pope Francis himself has stated that today's persecutions are far worse than in Biblical times. The Knights of Columbus this year successfully lobbied to designate current Christian persecutions as a "genocide".
Despite the birth, at this time of year, of "the Light of the human race", are we really plunged into darkness?
What I have to focus on these days is that "the light shines in the darkness", and, "the darkness has not overcome it." And, if anyone speaks against the Source of this Light, then perhaps it is because "the world did not know Him."
I see around me plenty of people who misperceive Christianity. Public figures who say that the Christian "backward" thinking must be abolished and that we Christians must be "re-educated". ["Deep-seated religious beliefs have to be changed."]
I have come to the point where I am not sure if the phrase "Catholic haters" means "Catholics who hate", or "people who hate Catholics".
If people want to deconstruct and denigrate Christianity, the least they can do is to get it right.
I dream of a day when the whole world understands that Christianity is all about Love, not hate. . . when we realize that the First Commandment is to love one's neighbor as oneself. And that violent actions in the name of Religion, do not arise from God; because War is not Love.
I dream of a day when we truly live out the Scriptural admonition that "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, but Christ is in all of us." People who misunderstand Christianity see only division. But Christians have always understood that human unity, in, with and through God, is what we work so hard, our whole lives, to achieve.
I dream of a day when, as Pope Francis said, we Christians are not engaged in those gotcha moments, when we gloat in catching another's transgressions. Christians believe that we need to "first take the plank our of our own eye, as we fail to see the speck in our brother's eye." -[Mt. 7:5].
I dream of a day when the world sees that, as Mother Teresa said, "God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful." The lure of this world's extravagant riches is, to a Christian, worthless and even, disgusting. We need wealth to live, we do not need to live for wealth.
I dream of a day when the world understands that Christians are not "status quo" but actually anti-establishment -- seeking Peace where there is war; ministering to the poor, when the world seems to idolize wealth; working to end divisions, rather than conspiring to multiply them; worshipping God and His Plan, rather than worshipping human celebrity.
I pray that in our world today, the Logos (the Word), the Wisdom, the Prince of Peace, our Wise Counselor, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, and our Teacher may truly come to save us all.
[Related Posting: "Myths About Christianity", 11/15/16; "Got Faith?", 11/28/12].
Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.' " --[Matthew 1: 18-24].
The Immaculate Conception. . . . Many Christians take this miracle on Faith. But then, there are also many who cannot get past this seemingly "impossible" event; they go on to reject Christianity entirely.
Mary herself, when the angel Gabriel comes to her, questions: "How can this be? I'm a virgin." The angel Gabriel replies, "Nothing will be impossible with God." --[ Luke 1: 26-38].
There is a huge suspension of disbelief, which we must enter, for us to accept this story as Truth. That suspension of disbelief is called Faith.
Many times, we humans cannot readily make such a huge leap.
Where to begin?
I start with my own life. . . I have had many things, that seemed "impossible", occur in my lifetime. For one, my parents met, only because my mother visited the place where my father grew up "by accident". This was a vacation which my mother did not want to take, but her family was going there anyway, so she had to go.
My mother came very close to dying, as she was giving birth to me. I almost never made it out of the womb.
I suffered many traumas in my early life, about one major trauma for each year of my life -- fire in my grandparents' home when I was three; near-drowning when I was about four; having to put myself down for naps and find food at age five because of neglect in the home; being diagnosed with severe asthma at age six to seven; constant bullying by a sibling and by kids in the neighborhood; the death of my only loving relative when I was ten, at which I largely stopped speaking; the suicide of a relative in my extended family, when I was 14; finally confronting serious parental abuse when I was 18; becoming a victim of a major crime during which I came close to dying, when I was 22.
A person who has confronted so much abuse and trauma are 12 times more likely be suicidal. But, I am not.
A person who has endured sibling abuse and bullying is 67% less likely to get married. I am happily married. For over 30 years.
A person who has been abused throughout childhood is much more likely to abuse their own child. I am a loving mother.
A person with a lifetime of trauma is seven times more likely to be alcoholic and ten times more likely to abuse alcohol. I am substance free.
A person with so much past trauma is much more likely to be in jail or have criminal tendencies. I am gentle and loving. I have never committed a crime.
I have been called "a miracle". A statistical impossibility.
I challenge you: Before you say that Christ's birth, as God's only Son, to a young peasant woman, as a result of Immaculate Conception through the Holy Spirit is "impossible" -- then you MUST confront the "impossible" in your own life. . .
When you discover the "impossible" in your own life, then you are confronting "the God of the Possible".
If you are open to the Possible, then you are becoming open to God.
I AM a miracle! And if God can work these seemingly "impossible" blessings in MY life-- and in your own life-- then who is to say that Mary's birth to the Lord's Son is so unbelievable?
This Advent season, I pray that we may ALL open our hearts to the Possible. And to God.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, December 12, 2016
" When John the Baptist heard in prison, of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples 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 to good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.' " -- [Matthew 11: 2-11].
Somehow, I cannot get over the fact that-- despite all of John the Baptist's roving the countryside, preaching, 'Prepare the way of the Lord', and teaching, 'the One who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.' -- that in the end, when Jesus came, John did not at first recognize Him.
And we see this, in the Apostles' slow, all-too-human dawning realizations, about who Jesus really is.
In Matthew 16: 22, Jesus tells His disciples that "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders. . and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Peter's reaction is, essentially, 'THIS cannot be!' A man who is to be murdered like a common criminal cannot BE the Messiah.
At the time when Jesus began His ministry, the Israelites expected a great military leader, a ruler/warrior who acted also as a judge, someone like Moses. Or, they expected perhaps a prophet, such as Isaiah. Or, perhaps a King, such as David or Solomon.
At one point, even Jesus' disciples vied amongst each other for who among them would be called the greatest. Clearly, the disciples themselves were expecting an exalted leader. Instead, Jesus rebuked them: "The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." --[Matthew 23:11].
The issue then, is HOW do we recognize God?
I think that these Scriptural passages must give us great Hope! God is too mysterious and too huge for our feeble human brains to fully comprehend. So very often, we just don't get it. IF God is present, we often do not even realize He is there.
I always have in mind that I need to work on recognizing God in my life. But, I also MUST teach this to my son!
It is very hard for me to discern God at times. Growing up, my family and I attended church faithfully each Sunday. I went to Sunday School; I was baptized, Confirmed and received my First Communion.
But, when I was 14, abruptly we ceased attending church. When I asked about it, I was told, "We don't do that any longer." From my family's talk, they seemed to "not believe in that stuff" any longer.
I was confused. Very.
I started hearing their gossip at the dinner table. Their bitterness-- they seemed to covet more and more, when we seemed to have so much already. Their racism and disparagement of the poor. Their supercilious attitude, convinced that we were superior to the poor or the marginalized.
All this I somehow knew in my heart to be wrong. For, " the desire for God is written upon the human heart."
Only in the last several years, as an adult, have I even owned a Bible. And then, I came across the great "Shema" the Old Testament Commandment that Moses gave to his people: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Recite [these Commands] to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you arise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead. . ." -[Deuteronomy 7: 2]. The Old Testament Shema became the New Testament "greatest Commandment".
And yet, today, over 70% of Millenials say that they have "no religion" at all. This is a shame, a crime.
I teach my son that he must have a Compass for God. IF God is not in it, don't do it. Always do the loving thing. IF it is not Love, it cannot be God.
I also teach my son that Jesus and God are the Great Healers. They comfort the poor and the sick, they help the lame to walk and the blind to see.
IF what my son is doing is NOT loving and healing, then he is NOT the face of God.
I also teach my son that the Dark Side loves-- and thrives upon-- division, hatred, violence and chaos.
If my son is NOT against division, hatred, violence and chaos, then my son is part of the problem, and he is encouraging, if not participating in, Evil.
I would like to see a world where we are not afraid to say that Evil is real. I would like to see a world where we name what the Evil IS. We cannot even begin to fight Evil, if we cannot even name it.
Somewhere along the line, Christians have become "the enemy". We Christians are asked, "You are NOT Christian? Are you?' Pope Francis has said, "The encroachment on [Christianity] in the West is a 'polite persecution' disguised as 'culture and progress.' "
Evil has become tantalizing, dazzling, even attractive. Bad has become "good". The Light in Christianity, in Jesus, has become laughable -- or, even worse, irrelevant.
If we do not recognize God, let alone live a life dedicated to Him, how can we hope to defeat the Dark Forces all around us? For, by not living by the Light, we invite the Darkness in.
[Related Posting: "The Voice of One", 12/5/16; "The Armor of Light", 11/28/16.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, December 5, 2016
"John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
' A voice of one, crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight His paths.'
John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
He said, ' One who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.' " -[Matthew 3: 1-12].
In Advent, we are called to "Prepare the way for the Lord." Who among us does not greet a newborn baby with absolute Joy? These are the happy and memorable preparations for Christmas Day, setting out the creche, giving gifts to loved ones, as the Magi gave precious gifts to the infant Jesus.
But, John the Baptist calls his followers, even before Christ, to "make straight His paths." Our pathway to Jesus entails so much more than glittery ornaments, bows and Christmas goodies. There are so many individual obstacles along the path to Jesus!
Not long ago, Pope Francis spoke about the obstacles to true personal intimacy with God, saying that when we put up barriers to that relationship, then we actually "sadden the Holy Spirit." -[ Ephesians 4:30].
Those personal obstacles to God are, obviously, lack of belief, feeling no need for Jesus in our life. But it is more complicated than that!
Paul talks about "putting away our former way of life, our old self, corrupt and deluded by lusts. . . putting away falsehood, stealing, evil talk, bitterness, wrath and anger and wrangling and slander and all malice." --[Ephesians 4: 22-31].
In my house growing up, I witnessed greed-- the refusal to share our bounty with those less fortunate. I heard "evil talk" -- judgmentalism of those who could not help their poor situation. There was gossip over the dinner table; there was bitterness that, as abundant as our fortunes were, we did not gather in for ourselves even more. There was wrangling, so that father revenged his hurts by taking his anger out on his daughter, and so that mother took her jealousy out on daughter by slandering her and blackmailing her; and brother sensed the daughter was the 'favorite' since she was the battleground, so brother hated sister.
It used to pain me as a child that we were not Believers. It seemed that we needed that Peace in the house, above all.
It did not occur to me that the gossip, judgement, bitterness, wrangling and jealousy were enormous barriers to the Peace that we so sorely needed.
It also pained me that I was so very different from my other family members. Didn't they see what I saw? -- that all the material possessions, power and "domineering talk" in the world were worth as nothing compared to Peace -- and Love?
Which is precisely the point of how seemingly "odd" John the Baptist was. His clothing was made of camel hair. Other people's clothing at the time was made of linen. John ate locusts and honey. Other people at the time probably ate fish, or bread.
John the Baptist was out preaching to crowds. But, he was IN society, not OF society. Like Jesus, He was humble, even derided by some.
This is often what it is to be a Christian, even today. What passes for "entertainment" or even news, is falsehood, gossip, snarky comments, anger, one-up-manship, and constant out-maneuvering.
I am reminded of my teen son, who refuses to engage in social media -- no public gmail account, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook page. He has seen his schoolmates take embarrassing or even risqué photos of classmates, and then forward them around to everyone. Social media has become vindictive weaponry.
He has heard of kids in other town schools who have been suspended from school for "sexting". He wants no part of it.
He is IN school but not OF school. If anything slanderous, bitter, gossipy or angry plays out, my son walks away. The kids seem to like him. But, for him, it is all too easy to be "alone in the crowd."
Sometimes, as a Christian mom, I feel like a salmon, swimming upstream. But, I know no other way to raise my son.
What he loses in this world-- closer friendships, "popularity", inside jokes, being "in" with the gossip--- he gains in a straighter path to the Lord.
This Advent, what is YOUR path?
[Related Postings: "Prepare the Way", 12/10/12].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, November 28, 2016
" Brothers and sisters. . . 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].
We live in a dark, chaotic time. . .
But it was ever thus. Today, we see Christians beheaded in the Middle East. In Jesus' time, the Romans crucified Christians-- so many innocents, that Rome ran out of crosses.
We see poverty and violence. In Leonardo daVinci's time (1452-1519), he created beautiful, even sacred art, but he also invented ten barrel cannons, and other instruments of war. Da Vinci called war, "a brutal insanity."
What is our response to drunkenness, rivalry, jealously, judgment, violence, greed and so forth?
One response could be to grab as much for ourselves, before others do.
Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out Hate; only Love can do that."
Way before I even knew that King said this, I was practicing this kind of Love.
My brother would hit me. I knitted him a sweater. He called me ugly. I tutored him in English and French and History.
My father took his anger out on me. I sewed him a silk tie. I painted the family room, so he did not have to.
My mother refused to hear my cries about the abuse. I weeded her garden and did all the family mending.
Yes, to protect myself, I walked away as soon as I was old enough to live on my own-- at about age 18.
But, I never hated them back. Hate would have destroyed me.
Today, I live in a rambling, vintage house-- the kind that I always dreamed of. On my front porch is a trestle table that my husband and I bought at a yard sale. I think we paid about $30 for it. We were hoping that, when we stripped off the many layers of paint, the wood would be fine and well-grained. Instead, it showed itself to be made of lowly pine.
So, I painted the table a green, to match the trim on our house. That Green Table has become "The Giving Table".
People drop off yarn, sometimes from a wife, a sister-in-law or a friend who has passed away. I knit the yarn into hats and scarves for the local shelter. Or, I donate the yarn to knitting groups at the Senior Center, or at the local Middle School. Some hats and scarves have gone to an isolated village in Pakistan, via a friend who runs an international mission. A bundle of baby hats has gone to Haiti.
People drop off empty plastic flower pots. I donate those to a community garden.
People drop off school supplies. I donate those to a city magnet school. Or, these go to a remote village in Africa.
People drop off personal CD players. I donate these to the local hospice.
Once, someone gave me a lighted make-up mirror. But, I rarely wear make-up. So, I donated it to the city shelter, for women learning to apply make-up in preparation for job interviews.
I NEVER know what will show up on the Green Table. And, I never know what requests I will get.
This summer, I simultaneously received a request for children' books for the Little Free Library, AND a request to help distribute some children' books that a local church was getting rid of.
Truthfully, there is something mystical going on with this Green Table -- because often, I get a request for something, that is "coincidentally" being donated at that very same time!
A friend tells me that I am "a Light to many".
But this does not make me all that special. All I do is to match bounty with need. This process is FREE.
But, to me, it is essentially Love.
Anyone can do this! Make everything you do an act of Love -- getting up early to (cheerfully) drive your child to school; calling a neighbor to check in with them; assisting someone in the supermarket if they cannot reach an item; smiling even if you feel like frowning; sharing some cookies with someone who does not bake; starting a coupon exchange; mentoring a child; serving coffee after church; attending the concert of a neighbor's child, if their grandparents live far away; shoveling away the snow a little bit past your property line, just because; tossing a newspaper onto a homeowner's porch . . .
These are small things. But taken together, if we all did this, we could light up the World!
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
" Brothers and sisters: Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him were created all things in Heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things, He himself might be preeminent. For in Him, all the fulness was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things to Him." --[Colossians 1: 12-20]'
Americans are rattled after the Presidential Election of 2016. Many Americans feel out of control, and don't know whom or what to trust any longer.
Some commentators have ascertained that the election of Donald Trump was not a vote FOR or AGAINST the Democratic or Republican party, but a stunning rejection of both. The election of Trump is being seen as a desperate vote for a savior-man, outside the bounds of government. Apart from the hair-raising belief that a single human being can save us all, this is also a shocking rejection of the machinery of democracy as we know it.
I believe that, if you could find out what or whom a man holds onto in times of trouble, then you can discover the measure of that man (or woman).
In a lengthy piece on CNN.com (Friday, November 18, 2016), Andre Spicer talks about his new book, with Carl Cederstrom, "The Wellness Syndrome".
The authors argue that in times of political uncertainty, our obsession with self-improvement surges. We "start to become fascinated with esoteric religion, alternative health treatments and social actualization." But while self-nurturance is good, in the extreme it can lead to a "culture of narcissism" (Christopher Lasch)-- as well as intolerance, isolation, anxiety and even depression.
That is all because, we are after all, human and we are never as perfect as we would like to be. It is also because we humans, by our very nature, are social beings. As we "cocoon" to the max, we end up isolating ourselves to the point of depression.
With the pervasive use of technology in our society, it is an easy temptation to just stay home and stay alone. We can stream movies, order in food with the touch of a button, order clothes, gadgets and so forth, and never encounter another human being.
But Martin Luther King said that, "Shattered dreams are a hallmark of our mortal life." In order to conquer our fears, reach our dreams, and achieve a better life, we cannot hide in the darkness.
Because what, after all are the alternatives? Martin Luther King writes [in Strength to Love] about the man who "distills all of his frustrations into a core of bitterness and resentment."
"Because he cannot corner God or life, he releases his pent-up vindictiveness in hostility to other people. In short, meanness becomes his dominating characteristic. He loves no one and requires love from no one."
Or, King writes, "Another common reaction is to withdraw completely into themselves. No one is permitted to enter into their lives, and they refuse to enter into the lives of others. They are neither dead nor alive; they merely exist."
Friends: I had parents like this! These were the sad, bitter people who raised me. I feel immense compassion for such folks as these. But I refuse to emulate them!
And so what, then, do we hold onto in times of trouble? Being neither haters, nor shriveled souls, where do we place our trust?
King writes about how we have placed our Hope in Science. But he calls this "our attempt to substitute a man-centered universe for a God-centered universe." In worshipping Science, we find out that "we have genuflected before the god of Science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb."
Or, what about self-fulfillment and pleasure? King writes, "We have worshiped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived."
Or, what about Money? My family worshiped at the altar of a man-centered world of Achievement, and at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. But, King writes, "We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that Money cannot buy. In a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity."
Friends, I have been at a place in my past, where I had no friends, no money, no pleasure, no human Love, no family standing beside me. I have been in a place where no Science could save me from the cruelty and from the demons that haunted me.
What I was left with was God. Many would say, 'How sad. That was the only One you could cling to?'
But when we strip away all of the flimsy things that we cling to in our lives, what we are left with, at our very core, is that Jesus is the King of the Universe. Not Money. Not pleasure. Not human power. Not Science. Not isolation from the world, no matter how imperfect our world may be.
God, through His Son, has given us "a share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." He reconciles all things to Himself.
And that is (more than) good enough for me!
[Related posting: "King of the Universe", 11/26/12.]
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
"Brothers and sisters: You know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. . . . In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should one eat. We hear that some are . . not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food." --[ 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12].
When St. Paul was writing and preaching to the Thessalonians, it was a time when early Christians believed that Jesus' Second Coming was imminent. Anticipating that the End would be here soon, some Christians figured that drudgery and toil would be futile. This meant that some began relying on others for food.
In this Scripture, St. Paul urges his Christian community to "work quietly and to eat their own food."
Over two thousand years of God's Word in the Bible, and we humans still have a hard time grasping what it means to be a Christian.
My own parents, who called themselves "Christian", used to whisper that the Christians in our village were relying on God's intervention, rather than relying on themselves. My family fully believed that expecting God to provide, with absolutely no effort of one's own, was a central tenet of Christianity. And so, to my family, Christians were either "moochers" or fools.
Certainly, Jesus was misunderstood in His time. But Christianity, even today, after over two thousand years of Scriptural study, is routinely misinterpreted and misconstrued.
A priest who gave a talk to a Biblical Study Group I attended said, "If people are going to argue with us, they should at least understand what we are really about."
And so-- No, we Christians are NOT a lazy lot, expecting everything to magically come to us from God, the Great Provider. In fact, St. Paul urges us, "in toil and drudgery" [to] work, so as not to burden any of you."
And, in fact, St. Paul sees all Christians as the eyes, the ears, the hands of one body, each part or gift indispensable to the whole. -[1 Corinthians 12]. We are "apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, leaders. . ." And we are to use our gifts for the common good.
And YET, it has come to this, in this American Election year, that people have come to see Christians as judgmental, the arbiters of Christian morals and Christian law. We Christians have come to be seen as "Haters."
BUT--- this is a twisted and wholly false version of Christianity!
A Christians' first and most important commandment is to "love our neighbor as ourselves." -[Mark 12:31].
We are also taught quite clearly not to judge others: In Matthew 7:5, Jesus teaches, "You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eyes."
And, we Christians do not believe that we can get away with any sin, just because God forgives all. God's Mercy is not a "free pass" for criminal or otherwise egregious behavior.
Nor are we called to overlook others' bad actions, just because we are called to forgive. We are called to "rebuke each other little by little", just as God does. [ Wisdom 11: 22- 12:2].
Forgiveness does not mean that what the other person did was perfectly fine. Instead, we are called to forgive others' transgressions (i.e. grant mercy to the offender ), because God forgives us, when we do wrong. But first, we must admit what we did wrong, and call our error for what it is.
In re-reading some Scriptural passages, I see that the Pharisees confront Jesus, saying, "He eats with tax collectors and sinners" -- as if the sin of these people could somehow taint Jesus!
In contrast today, I see that Christians are accused of isolating ourselves as "too holy" to be around others. When in fact, we are called to meet people where they are, just as Jesus did.
This means, perhaps, breaking bread with a gay relative; hugging a woman who has had an abortion; ministering to a person who is addicted to drugs or who is in prison. We do not have to like what they have done. But, our distaste cannot and does not eliminate our Love.
For Jesus, and for us as Christians, there are no "deplorables", no "untouchables". There are no objects of Hate. As Jesus did not quarantine nor hate anyone-- nor must we.
Which is why I do not at all understand people labelling us Christians as "Conservative". Because we do NOT seek to conserve or to maintain the status quo. We Christians are radical in our Love. We can hate the Sin but love the sinner-- because we are ALL sinners.
Yes, friends, let us work together to learn what being truly Christian is all about. Misunderstandings lead to persecution and to Hate. But what the world needs now is a whole lot more of Love.
[Related postings: "Got Faith?", 11/28/12; "LBGT and Christian", 5/31/15].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, November 7, 2016
" Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying:
' Teacher, Moses wrote for us, 'If someone's brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.' Now, there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless, the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection, whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.'
Jesus said to them, 'The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and the the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given to marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are children of God because they are the ones who will rise.' " -[Luke 20:27-38].
A man married his Love, and they had several children together. Tragically, she passed away, after the children had grown and married and moved away. Her passing left the children very sad.
Her passing left the man very sad as well, but also very alone.
One day, a few years after the passing of his wife, he met another woman. They realized that they loved each other, and so they married. She had also lost a previous husband to illness and death.
The day came when the man's second wife passed away. The man knew that he would never marry again. But he believed in Heaven.
The man left instructions that he be cremated and buried, half with his first wife and half with his second wife. But his children never realized his wishes. They buried him with his first wife.
And so, the very real question arises: was an awful error committed by not honoring the man's final wishes?
As human beings, we do argue about such things. These issues have even been known to divide families.
At a time not so long ago, when I had lost several dear ones, in the span of two years -- family friend, father, best friend, mother-in-law, mother-- I decided to join a Grief Group.
The Grief Group sometimes mused, sometimes even argued, over the afterlife and last wishes, and what Heaven must be like. One woman even suggested that there may be a "Smoking Section" in Heaven. To which another woman replied, in horror, ' Ohhh!! Nooo !!! That would mean that my mother and my mother-in-law are in the same section, and they HATED each other!'
In this Scripture, we see the Sadducees, who do not believe in resurrection, mocking the afterlife by asking which spouses live together in Heaven?
But Jesus makes clear that we are asking the wrong questions. We marry and remarry in THIS age. We are concerned only in this life, with who sits with whom at the banquet, and which spouse takes the greater honor in burial-- the first spouse, the second one and so forth.
But, the ones who "attain to the coming age" are not alive in the physical, earthly sense; and they can no longer die, because they are like angels.
When we argue about where to bury our deceased, we are delving deep into the matters of this Life. But, in the Next Life, it is as if the angels are "nowhere", and so therefore, they are Everywhere.
And so, it is not an egregious error where a person's body is buried or not buried-- for, the person's soul will take its place wherever, in God's view, the soul belongs.
Furthermore-- I have never believed that our ignorance about Heaven is an argument that the afterlife does not exist. In fact, I believe it is a good thing to wonder and perhaps to argue about the afterlife. That means we are intensely interested in the Next Life.
These arguments may be uncomfortable. They may even be somewhat humorous. But our arguments, and the mystery, presume one irrefutable belief -- In our Hope for, and our joyful expectation of Heaven.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, October 31, 2016
"At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see Him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When He reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, 'Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.' And he came down quickly and received Him with joy. All who saw this began to grumble, saying, 'He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, 'Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today, salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.' " --- [Luke 19: 1-10].
Sometimes, we read these stories in the Bible and we wonder, Are they REAL?
I can tell you that for me, the story of Zacchaeus IS real. . .
My teen son was Confirmed in our church this past spring. The preparation took two years. . . He had weekly homework; weekly Biblical readings; community service requirements; films to view, such as "God is NOT Dead"; essays to write; retreats to attend; books to read and review.
AND, he had to select a Saint's name. After some long and hard thought, my son came to me and said that he had selected the name "Matthew". I asked him why? He said, "Matthew was a tax collector who extorted money from people. I have learned that Money is just paper."
During the long and sometimes difficult process, my son often became discouraged and frustrated. We talked about how, after Confirmation, he would become an adult member of our church. I reminded him that what is taught in the Bible is not just "a dress rehearsal", a myth, or "performance art." We are supposed to live it. Every day. . .
His eyes widened. He blurted out, "THAT is so HARD!"
There were times he was resistant to completing the homework. I asked him about this. He said, 'Maybe I am afraid that I am not good enough to be a Christian.' I said, "We all feel this way, but God forgives us always. You are His son, too."
Then, my son started trying to bargain with me. "Well, I will do the work, but I don't want to put on a red robe, and walk down the aisle with everyone looking at me." I said, "I know how you feel. BUT, are you arguing with the Archbishop, or the Pope, on the order of the Confirmation sacrament?"
There were times when our son said that he did not believe he could do this. I cried over this. My husband shed tears, too. Would our son become lost and lose his way?
Finally, his Big Day came. Our son had completed his work. We drove to the church and told him to go inside. He had to be there early, to put his robe on and to line up.
When we parked in the church lot, however, I did not think he would get out of the car! I began to pray.
Our son told my husband and me, "Maybe I need to do this alone." I was crushed. I had been imagining his Confirmation, ever since we had had him christened as an infant. But I had to let him go. If he was going to be an adult in the church, I had to let him be a man.
My husband and I sat quietly in the car, not knowing what to do next. A few minutes later, our son unexpectedly appeared, like a vision in his glowing red robe. Our son said, "I changed my mind. I want you to be there."
I said to my husband, "Quick! Take his picture! By that tree, right next to our car." --[I was thinking, we need to capture this moment of awesome Conversion, for posterity !]
My husband said, "That is an awfully funny-looking tree. Is it dead? It's losing all its bark!"
I cried out, "O. My. God. THAT is a sycamore tree!" I told my son, "Remember the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector? And your Confirmation name is Matthew, the tax collector?" My son beamed. He knew that story, from all of his Scriptural studies.
I am sure that Zaccheus had gone through many of the things that my son had experienced in his own Confirmation/Conversion -- self- doubt, frustration, fatigue, resistance, even bargaining with God.
But God forgives all of our missteps, in our walk towards Him. For God, in His Mercy, sent His Son, to seek and to save what is lost.
And THAT is how my son went from his place beside the sycamore tree, to his place at the altar; where he saw and received Jesus.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, October 24, 2016
"Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. ' Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, and adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will he exalted.' " --[Luke 18: 9-14].
I grew up in a family, whose nightly dinner table conversation mirrored that of the Pharisee. -- "We are NOT like the other families, we are so much better than they are."
My father would say, " Our race [ethnicity] is far superior than any other on earth." When my sibling and I laughed out loud at him, our dad would chide us, "I am deadly serious! Why are you laughing?"
The nightly conversation would go on and on. . . " great unwashed immigrants, who cannot afford the meat such as we have on our table." -- "The immense amount of taxes we pay, enough alone to raise a family." -- "They cannot even afford to send their kids to better schools."
You notice that in this Scripture, the Pharisee speaks his prayer to himself. My family certainly preached at the altar of Human Achievement. It was "All About Me"-- "my" achievements, "my" material wealth, "my" position in society.
A lot of this kind of talk has been dominating the 2016 Presidential Election -- and not to the betterment of our country.
One candidate speaks as if only HE can fix our Nation's ills. When confronted with accusations of adultery, he protests, "But it was never as bad as THAT guy!"
The other candidate speaks highly disparagingly of Christians in general, and of Catholics in particular. She hints that Christians must not be very bright to believe all that stuff. She calls those who disagree with her values, "a basket of deplorables."
We have gone through decades of history in which the character of a man did not seem to matter, as long as he possessed the technical skills for the job. Now, we have reaped what we have sown, with leaders who build themselves up by tearing others down. . .
This Scripture hammers home that character DOES count. Our society will not be a better place if we simply pay lip service to the rules, all the while narcissistically offering up the Religion of Self.
Specifically, Humility counts.
Humility means that we are ALL Sinners. In secular terms, if you will, we ALL make mistakes and we are all flawed. We ALL need to learn to make apologies, not excuses.. .
Even more, Humility means that all that we have and all that we are-- are dependent on God.
I am not superior, if I have more money than you, a nicer car, more votes, more Facebook likes, a tonier zip code, more fabulous vacations or a higher tax bracket.
All of these pluses on my side of Life's Ledger do not make me a more valuable person, and certainly do not mean that I have all of Life's answers.
Because, as with my life-- at one moment, one can have nothing to eat, at another moment, one can have plenty to eat. At one moment, one can worry about how to be able to pay all the bills, at another moment, one can have enough money to be generous to others.
I have had Everything in Life. I have had Everything taken away. I have gone from top of the world, to the lowest low.
The one constant in life is God, our Creator, our Nurturer, Our Redeemer. If we are humble enough to cry out, 'God! Be merciful to me for I am faulty and weak.' -- then we earn a place in His Heart.
[Related Posting: "Way Better Than You", 10/27/13.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, October 17, 2016
" Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, 'There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' For a long time, the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her, lest she finally strike me.'
The Lord said, 'Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of His Chosen Ones who call out to him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? I tell you, He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But, when the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on earth?' " -[Luke 18: 1-8].
Prayer. . . . .It seems like such an antique, outmoded practice.
In his new book, "Getting Religion", Kenneth L. Woodward says that "Americans now journey toward adulthood, not through relationships formed by families, neighbors, teachers and pastors, but through the effort of discovering an inwardly derived, original and authentic self, one autonomous from institutionally structured relationships."
In his review of this book, D.G. Hart says, "Young Americans today don't have teachers or pastors to shape their belief. They think of religions as a solo quest for an authentic self." -[NY Times, 10/4/16].
So--- to whom do we pray ? The Power of Self? At its extreme, this world view means that everything is relative, and that nothing has intrinsic value or integrity.
How vastly different is our view of spirituality today, than in this Scripture, where Jesus tells His disciples of the necessity to pray always, to God.
Today, we think that if we could just create the most amazing "Vision Board", with images of all our hopes and dreams, if we could just imagine and strive and be our best self, then, the Universe just has to cooperate and bless us with whatever WE propose for our lives.
Uhhh. It doesn't work that way. We have largely given up on the power of Prayer. In its place is the untethered, wholly deified power of Self.
My experience in the last few months with Prayer has been humbling, however.
Recently, I have befriended two former "Lost Boys of Sudan." They have prevailed upon me to help them start a foundation to rebuild their village in South Sudan.
We spent this past summer designing a logo, building a Facebook page, creating an email account, and flyers. All of this was meant to get word around about our effort.
We were going to launch all of this in the Fall, when folks had returned from summer vacation. I prayed over the summer, 'I hope our social media efforts will result in fruitful fundraising.' I thought, we really need at least $5,000 to meet just one of our first-year goals for the village.
While still on vacation, I received word that an anonymous donor had granted us $5,000!! And that was well before our Fall launch became a reality!
After my initial meeting with the two Lost Boys, one came to me, worried: 'We really need more people on our team." I fretted and prayed, 'God, if you really want me to do this, please send help. A doctor is needed to advise on medical issues. And a builder would be good, since I know nothing about building a school in Africa.'
By our first Board Meeting this Fall-- you guessed it! . . . . A doctor had agreed to join the team. And, the doctor mentioned that a friend of his wanted to join the effort. As we waited in a conference room to start our meeting, in walks the doctor's friend. Oh-- and by the way, this friend IS a builder!
At our meeting, we had decided to collect ballpoint pens for the older students in the village. I am not sure how many older students will need pens, but I calculated roughly ---- if there are 1,000 students in the village, maybe half would need a pen. So, I prayed, 'God? Where am I going to get 500 pens?' I had not put out the donation bins yet for our collection. I was worried that the bins were too small, or the flyer not colorful enough, or the posters not creative enough.
The night that I dropped off the bins and posters, I got a note from a team member: her place of business had donated some pens. EXACTLY 500 of them! They filled the trunk of her car.
Now I ask you, What efforts had I made in all this? I had contacted no human being about my needs for this village. I had made a lot of effort -- logo design, social media, flyers, posters, donation bins.
But, that effort had yielded nothing. Everything came before we launched a thing. . .
This experience has left me humbled and in awe. Persistence is steadfastness in Faith. If we did not believe, we would not keep asking God.
Like the widow, we are frail, imperfect human beings; and our physical and psychic strength may not be enough to allow us to find justice.
But, if we pray always without becoming weary, our God will not be slow to answer.
I will never be ashamed of my Faith, nor weary in Prayer. . . because I do not want to contemplate a world devoid of Faith.
[Related Postings: "The Persistent Widow", 10/20/13.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
"As Jesus was entering a village, ten lepers met Him. They stood at a distance from Him and raised their voices, saying, 'Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!' And when He saw them, He said, 'Go show yourselves to the priests.' As they were going, they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice. . . He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, 'Ten were cleaned, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?' Then He said to him, ' Stand up and go. Your Faith has saved you.' " --[Luke 17: 11-19].
During Biblical times, leprosy was highly contagious and had devastating outcomes. If a person became infected with leprosy, he had to isolate himself, and he could not return until he proved to the priest that he was clean.
But this story is about so much more than the miraculous healing delivered by Jesus. This parable is also about Gratitude.
It is telling in this story that the outsider, the Samaritan, is the one who recognizes the true miracle of this moment, and who returns to thank Jesus.
I had a poignant conversation with my son a few months ago. I was asking him to sort through his old school books. Literally, when school started up again, there would be no room on his bookshelf for his new textbooks.
As he stacked up the great riches of books, he asked me about the Mission that I am involved in to help a village in South Sudan. He said, "Do the children in the village have books?" I said, "Well. No."
He asked, "Do they have a school?" I said, "They do, but it is not big enough. Some students have to learn outside, under a tree; and when it rains, they cannot go to school."
On and on our conversation went --"Do they have pencils?" I said, "No. Not until the Mission sent pencils. And when the children heard that there were pencils, they ran from all directions, and lined up." My son said, "For a PENCIL?" I told him, softly, " Next Mission, we are sending pens."
We talked further. I said, "No desks, they sit on the ground. No library. No calculators. No school nurse or doctor. No pharmacy to go get aspirin, if you have a headache. No bandages, if you get a cut. No clean water, until the Mission donated a well a couple of years ago. Not enough food; if there is a food shortage, the men who work the fields eat first; women and children and elderly may go hungry. No electricity. They have a generator, but no gasoline. No cars, they walk everywhere. No asphalt roads, just dirt roads in the village. No jobs or stores."
I concluded, "And, you don't want to do your Math homework. Do you know how blessed you are?"
My son was shocked.
He finished stacking the books. Then, he said, "I want you to give these books to someone who does not have any books."
This son of mine was a kid who used to break a pencil in frustration and slam it on the floor. Then, he would tell me, "I want another pencil." He would lose his school books, his fall jacket, his boots, his mittens.
He would argue over doing Math homework. He would grumble over reading and homework.
After our talk, my son does his homework with little to no complaint. He doesn't snap his pencils. He is even helping me to create flyers for our Mission, and to take photos for the Mission Facebook page.
I am working on correcting my own lapses of Gratitude. . . like the time only recently when I was very irritated that the sweater I was trying to order was out of stock. Then I scolded myself -- I have so many sweaters, how can I DARE complain?
It took "Outsiders"-- the villagers with their lives in this tiny African village-- to totally change my perspective.
Gratitude is elastic. The more I have, the more I covet what I really don't need. The more I have, the more I take for granted. But in this little village in South Sudan, the children are overjoyed to be given a simple pencil.
Anytime I am dissatisfied, or pity myself just a little bit, God shows me a person who has SO much less than I do. THEN, He goes further, and asks me to help them!
We can learn so much from our humble brothers and sisters, who are grateful for the brilliant stars, when we long for expensive diamonds; who eagerly eat a piece of bread, when our food markets throw food away daily; who have no books, when we put books by the side of the road, hoping a passerby would take them.
We can learn so much!
[Related Posting: "Gratitude", November 16, 2011.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
"How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the Lord answered me and said: 'Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his Faith, shall live.' " --
[Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2:2-4].
Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet in Judah, or Southern Israel, at the time when Babylon was growing in absolutist power and would soon overwhelm Judah by force. The Book of Habakkuk is estimated to have been written between 612 and 588 B.C.
And yet how very modern are its words. Habakkuk 2: 6-10 continues, "Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on? Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim, because you have plundered many nations. Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high. You have plotted the ruin of many people."
We experience the very same lament today. . . The few become extremely rich by child labor, bribery, corruption, and greed. Nations are plunged into violence and civil war, their mighty leaders raining down bombs and chemicals on its citizens, in the name of absolute power.
Habakkuk cries out, "How long, O Lord, must this go on?"
This Book is short but very interesting to read, because it is a conversation between a prophet, and his God.
God's answer is hard to take in our secular world, when we are impatient for answers and for Peace. God says, "For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment; if it delays, wait for it."
It is extremely difficult to wait, when all around us is chaos. But, this is the very strategy that I adopted in the tumultuous house where I grew up. . . I bided my time, and I waited.
At night, I waited and watched until everyone went to sleep, and until when it was safe for me to go to sleep.
If I was not fed dinner, I waited until daybreak, when perhaps I could find a neighbor who would feed me.
I sometimes went to school with a black eye, so I hid in my room and played music. Or, I sat under a majestic pine tree, on her bed of sweet-smelling needles. I watched and I waited.
I knew that I had to get my education, if I were going to leave home and support myself, as soon as I was no longer a minor. Much of my childhood, I spent in my room, studying; or when studying was done, reading everything I could get my hands on. I needed to know as much as possible to make it in the world on my own.
I took odd jobs as a young girl, babysitting, pet sitting, at $1 per hour. I saved every penny; I built a nest egg for when I could safely leave.
I left an escape kit at a girlfriend's house, in case things got too much for me to take and I had to leave suddenly.
But I also had a clear vision.
I would also lie in the grass, flat on my back, watching the clouds scudding by, and I would daydream. I was crafting a dream, about how my life could be, in the future.
I would meet my soul mate. Then, it would be through him, that I would gain another family. He would understand me completely, and would love me unconditionally.
I thought I would meet him in High School. No. . . . I thought I would meet him in college. No. . . . I thought I would meet him in Graduate school. No. . . . I had to wait for him many years.
I thought he would be blond and have blue eyes. I fancied his name would be Paul. I met my husband, and he was all that. Oh, and his Confirmation name was Paul.
I dreamed of a vintage home, filled with antique furniture and my own needlework, with a bit of land and gardens of beautiful flowers. We did find that home, but we waited and waited-- it happened half a dozen years after we got married.
I thought our child would be a boy, blond and blue-eyed, fun-loving and healthy. I had to wait for him, too -- we waited 15 years. He obviously did not show up when we expected him. But, when he finally arrived, he was just as I had pictured, and he was perfect for us.
We do not know what Habakkuk wrote on that tablet for his vision. I can only guess that he longed for Peace. For justice. To be finally free of the violence. For a safe and comfortable home. For a chance to use his gifts to make his world better.
As our world spins seemingly out-of-control, with the beheadings, the maiming and killing of children, the hunger both physical and spiritual, and the egotism of our world leaders, we feel out-of-control, too.
But God tells us to write down our vision. To wait for it.
We CAN reach for our own vision, a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven, right here on earth. IF we have Faith, that is --an unerring belief in the power of Ultimate Love-- we can spread our vision beyond the four walls of our homes. We can take that Love wherever we go.
And we can take comfort that God is in control, as we await His Divine Vision.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
" Jesus said to the Pharisees: 'There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld where he was in torment, he cried out. . . 'Have pity on me, for I am suffering in these flames.'
Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good in your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us a great chasm [in the next life] is established to prevent anyone from crossing.' "- [Luke 16: 19-31].
I live in a largely white, upper class suburb. Only a few miles from my home, there exists a great chasm -- a broad avenue, that divides my town from the city.
You can even tell immediately when you have crossed that chasm. The roads on the city side are rutted with potholes. There is no beautified median strip, planted with seasonal flowers. Buildings appear less well-maintained on the city side -- faded paint, dirty windows, sometimes graffiti.
Then, there are the schools. There is a dirty little secret in America-- the urban schools are in serious decay.
In many urban schools, rats roam the hallways. Roof leaks have buckled the gym floors, and it is not safe to play outside. So, there can be no physical education. Walls are crumbling, there is sometimes no heat in the winter, teachers lack basic supplies, and the school library has few books -- let alone computers. Some urban school districts lack the funds to supply school buses; the students rely on sometimes unreliable public transportation. In one school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, almost half the students are homeless; they come to school one day, and disappear the next.
Urban school teachers are not only scrambling for pencils and notebooks; they are handing out toothbrushes and shoes; they are teaching kids how to use a fork and spoon, so the kids don't eat with their hands. In some urban schools, students enter fifth grade, reading at a kindergarten level.
Music teacher Christopher Hartel of Bassick High School in Bridgeport, CT, calls this "fishing without a net."
In contrast, in suburban schools, there are gardening committees who beautify the garden beds by the front door. Wealthy parents hold galas and silent auctions, to raise money for technology, such as an iPad for each student and a smart board in every classroom. One elementary school near me has a kitchen in every classroom. Another school has its own Nature Trail.
We want to think that the Bible is ancient history, but this story of Lazarus is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. Today, suburban families have every privilege at their hands, while remaining blissfully ignorant of the inner city students, who have shockingly little.
In Hartford, CT, a group of parents from both city and suburban schools actually filed a lawsuit in 1989, arguing that this kind of inequality is unconstitutional. And they won the case . . .
Meanwhile, as the court case wended its way through countless witness testimonies, delays and appeals, a remarkable woman-- Norma Neumann-Johnson was already starting a magnet school in Hartford. In 1991, there was no funding, there was no school building, there was not even a classroom. No, the first Magnet School was begun in a corner of a school hallway.
It was only after the court case was finally decided, that the CT law on charter and magnet schools was solidified, requiring that the state pay for funding of magnet schools.
I spoke recently to Norma Neumann-Johnson, founder of Breakthrough Magnet Schools.
Norma is a determined woman, who readily demonstrates her passion for equal education for all students. Her Breakthrough Magnet School was named the #1 Magnet School in 2015 by the Magnet Schools of America.
One of her magnet schools teaches students Character Education -- in the use of Emotional Intelligence, students become aware of their own emotions, aware of others' feelings and responsibility for one's own reactions.
She bases her schools on the acronym B.R.I.C.K.-- teaching her kids to turn their Breakdowns into Breakthroughs; expecting Responsibility for self; promoting Integrity and the importance of keeping one's word; requiring Contribution of community service; and emphasizing academic Knowledge.
To those who say, magnet schools siphon off the best students-- the truth is, that is not possible. Matriculation is determined by a lottery available to all urban and suburban students who want to apply. The magnet schools are composed of 50% urban students and 50% suburban students, so that there is guaranteed diversity.
To those who say, "We cannot afford these magnet schools." -- I say, "These are our Children. We cannot afford not to build them."
On September 7, 2016, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of the Hartford Superior Court, in a 90-page opinion, ruled that the current educational system in CT is unconstitutional. He said, "It has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder, [making] a mockery of the state's constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students."
We need MORE magnet schools, not fewer. Or, will we be like the rich man, not knowing, not caring how much the poor suffer?
[Related Posting: "Education in America -- Suburban", Aug. 28, 2016].
(c) Spiritual Devotional. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, September 19, 2016
" Jesus said to His disciples, ' The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to an other, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.' " --[Luke 16: 10-13].
In this parable in Luke, a rich man praises his dishonest manager for managing his money in a cunning and fraudulent way. The story is a perfect example of how the lure of money can trap us into dishonesty and corruption. The temptation becomes so bright and alluring, that we lose sight of the people we are trampling along the way.
When I was at university, I studied law and business. Right away, I got a job working for a financial services firm. My subway stop was -- you guessed it-- on Wall Street. I was starry-eyed. I had made it -- to Wall Street.
This was the heady 1980's. Everybody on the Street knew the name Lou Ranieri of Solomon Brothers, the working-class kid who had dropped out of college and started out in the mail room at Solomon Brothers. By the 1970's, Ranieri had invented the private mortgage-backed security. By the 1980's when I arrived on Wall Street, Ranieri was regarded with awe, as if he were some kind of a god.
At first, as I was learning this Wall Street business, I tried to tell myself that my work, financing public projects, was an important and civic stewardship. As the years passed, however, I began to see dark clouds on the horizon.
My unease was about far more than the fact that, as a woman in a man's field, I was required by my employer to wear heels, stockings, and a skirt, never pants. Even my silk blouse, with the floppy tie at the neck, felt like a fraud.
The argument for the mortgage-backed security was lofty: that, investors buying up mortgage securities from the banks, would free up capital for others and would support the housing market. Good for everyone, right?
But, the beginning of the end came when I was at a conference on securitization, and listened to talks on the securitization of home loans, car loans, boat loans, student loans, and even foreclosed tax receipts. The message was -- if it moves, if it has an income stream, securitize it!
One speaker tellingly said that, the only downfall was that, as demand for loans increased, quality could go down; in which case, everything would collapse.
Another "beginning of the end" came for me, when an investment banker pitched a bond security collateralized by junk bonds. He reassured us that the security was perfectly safe, because it was 110% collateralized.
A friend and I, sitting in this meeting, looked at each other and could hardly keep ourselves from bursting out laughing. After all, 110% of nothing is STILL nothing.
I was noticing that the Rating Agencies were being pressed to assign high ratings to securities that they did not even understand. Auditors would come in and have no idea how to analyze the structure of the securities.
Investment bankers were bundling their junk asset-backed securities, and giving them fancy alphabet soup names-- Were the investment bankers just trying to wrap their wares in shiny paper, to get the faulty loans off their books?
My "epiphany" came when I realized that behind all these loans were REAL people-- with real loans, real debt, real homes. I finally saw the human fallout that happens when we marry Wall Street greed with people's personal lives. With a gasp of breath, I said to myself, 'They cannot DO that to people.'
It could be a melt-down. A disaster. There would be foreclosures, bankruptcies, suicides, homelessness, divorce, child abuse, depression, substance abuse -- you name it.
I could not reconcile what I was even tangentially involved in as a banker, with my identity as a Christian. How could I ignore how this fraudulent stewardship was destroying people's lives-- while at the same time claiming that as a Christian, I deserved God's riches both here and in His Kingdom? I could not serve both God and money.
I told my Division Head about my concerns. Even if he possessed little concern about the ordinary citizen, being involved with this kind of product could easily destroy the bank's reputation. But, I was accused of "concocting doomsday scenarios."
So, in 2001 I got out. I became a stay-at-home mom. Co-workers thought I was crazy. Why would I throw all this away? I cried when I told my boss I was leaving. I had worked feverishly to become Vice President in my department. The division manager was furious with me. I could hear her bad-mouthing me on the phone to Head Office, venting about my "shocking disloyalty".
I put raising a son and caring for my family FIRST. Nurturing. Making meals. Tucking my baby in at night. Reading bedtime stories. Raking leaves. Running errands. Making morning coffee for my husband. Dusting. Weeding the garden.
It all felt so right. But, in 2008, as I watched the financial crisis unfold, it was all as shocking and tragic and inhumane as I thought it would be.
Suddenly, all over again, I did not want to be right.
I have learned that if you are not trustworthy with the dishonest wealth of this world, which often compounds exponentially off the backs of the poor and the struggling; THEN, how can you even dare make a claim for a place in the Kingdom of Heaven, where "the foundations of the city are made of jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst; the twelve gates made of pearl; and the street of the city paved in gold?" -[Revelation 21:21].
HOW would I even dare?
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, September 12, 2016
" The tax collectors and sinners were all gathered around Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.' Jesus said, 'Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.' " --[ Luke 15: 8-10].
If you have ever lost something of value, you know that panicked, gut-wrenching feeling in your heart, as you frantically tear the house apart, searching for it. Life stops in suspended time, as you fear that what is missing, is presumed gone forever.
Perhaps we would think that the woman is foolish to light her lamp and sweep the house, when she still has nine other coins of similar value? But all she can think of is that one lost coin.
During Biblical times, Palestinian women were given ten silver coins upon their wedding. These coins were as precious at the time, as our wedding rings are today.
Not too long ago, I lost a wedding band that had belonged to my Nana.
I have wonderful, vivid memories of my Nana, but only hazy memories of my grandfather. You see, my grandparents lived in the "Old Country" where my father had been born and raised. My grandfather died when I was about four. My father was the only one in his family to move away to the States.
After my grandfather died, we suddenly stopped returning for annual trips to my visit my father's family. Years later, as a grown woman, I did the math, and confronted my father ---
" We never visited Nana, for a decade or more after your father died. You went back there for the funeral, you taught her how to drive, you taught her how to write a check, then you left and did not return. How did she cope? Did she have to go back to her own relatives !?"-- My father just blinked, swallowed, and replied, "I guess so."
For years, I could never understand how he had abandoned his own mother, alone in her house.
Decades later, after my father died, my mother gave me Nana's wedding band. It is thin and simple, with diamonds all along the band, but they are tiny chips. The marcasite settings were more brilliant than the stones. Really, it looked like nothing special.
But it is precious to me. I took to wearing it alongside my own wedding band, as if I were carrying a torch for the grandmother I was named after. . . the one who was abandoned by her own son; the one who-- according to my cousin-- died of a broken heart.
One evening before bed, I was taking the ring off and I dropped it. I froze and gasped. I never heard it drop onto the wooden floor. So, I searched the carpet, hoping for a soft-bounce. . I searched the basket of clean laundry right next to me. I tore the room apart. My husband begged me to go to bed. Finally, exhausted, I gave up.
The next morning, I searched again. Nothing. So, I sent an email to all the women in my prayer group. Pray! Just Pray!
I started to fear that, IF Nana's ring was lost forever, was SHE lost forever again? I had promised to keep her by my side always.
Later that day, I checked the laundry basket AGAIN. Something prompted me to check the folded-up cuff of my twill cargo pants. And THERE IT WAS! --- Utter Joy!
Like the woman who found her lost coin, I called all my friends and neighbors! I told them, I have found my lost ring! -- Pandemonium ensued. Messages of Joy. Expressions of tears and gladness.
For years, I almost hated my father for abandoning his own mother. I wore her ring-- as if by keeping her ring on me at all times, as an emblem of loyalty, I could unilaterally fix that !
For years, my Nana waited for the day when her son would return home to her. Towards the end of Nana's life, we did return to see her. She never expressed any bitterness. She was overjoyed.
I am beginning to realize that this ring is about not just the loss of my Nana. It is also about Nana's loss of her son.
And maybe, just maybe, it is about the Loss of my father to ME. . . because of all those decades I spent, blaming and judging HIM for abandoning his mother.
After I found Nana's ring, it dawned upon me -- the loss of Nana's ring was NOT all about the Loss and the grieving. But, it IS all about forgiving and welcoming back.
You see, when I put my Nana's ring right back on my finger; I welcomed her back after a wrenching 24 hours of grieving. But I was no longer wearing the ring AGAINST my father.
I was beginning to see that, IF God could forgive the tax collectors and the sinners, He could forgive my father for abandoning his own mother.
Not only could God forgive my father, God is also very capable of tears of Joy at my father's return to Him. And, if God is capable of so very much Love, how could I possible hate -- my own father? How could I turn my back upon HIM?
Just WHO is the abandoner here?
So, now I pray for God's Mercy upon my father. May my father, once lost-- be found with God!
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, September 5, 2016
" I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you [Philemon], on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on our behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did to want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever, no longer a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So, if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me." --[Philemon 9-10, 12-17].
This Scripture is in the form of a letter from Paul to a wealthy friend, Philemon, a convert to Christianity under Paul's preaching. Onesimus, a slave belonging to Philemon, had apparently stolen from his master, and then run away to Rome.
Onesimus met Paul in Rome, where Paul was under house arrest "in imprisonment for the Gospel." From Onesimus' ministry to Paul, came the slave's Conversion; and ultimately his Freedom in Christ.
Many have written that Paul implicitly sanctions Roman slavery, by sending Onesimus back to his master. Others have even suggested that Paul's letter to Philemon is a clear justification for slavery.
But, NOTHING could be further from the Truth! Paul tells Philemon quite clearly that Onesimus is "[his] own heart"; that Onesimus is his own child; that he is Onesimus' 'father'; that Onesimus "is no longer a slave, but a brother, beyond beloved especially to me." In closing, Paul exhorts Philemon to "welcome him as you would me."
This passage shows me that, clearly, going from slavery to Freedom is not an all-at-once, instantaneous, lightning-bolt moment. No, it is a journey -- a long walk of trauma, struggles, and hope following-- sometimes wanely --on the heels of despair. And, it is a journey of Conversion, as we tread closer and closer to God.
In her new book, "Troubled Refuge: Struggling For Freedom in the Civil War", Chandra Manning writes about how, during the Civil War, slaves would run away from their former Confederate masters, to Union military camps. In so-called Contraband Camps (under the Confiscation Acts of 1861-2), former slaves were declared the contraband property of the Confederacy, and thereby freed to the Union.
But, as reviewer Mark Smith [ History Professor, U. of South Carolina] writes, in the Contraband Camps, those freed were "leaving slavery and becoming something other than 'unfree' ". --[WSJ, 8/27-8, 2016]. Smith writes, "How complicated was the destruction of slavery and how circuitous the path to freedom."
The former slaves did not know what it was to be free-- they had to learn it. As Harriet Tubman said, "I grew up like a neglected weed -- ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it."
I grew up like that, walling myself off from the abuses and cruelties in my childhood home. By the time I was five, I was in survival mode, and in the habit of raising myself up -- putting myself down for naps and finding food on my own. My family was by turns neglectful and rejecting; but then, at times so controlling that I had no choice as to what color to wear, what courses to take in school, how to wear my hair, what friends to be with, what job to accept and so forth.
I took to performing extra chores and extra acts of kindness for my family-- weeding my mother's garden, knitting my sibling a sweater, sewing my father a new tie, or doing some painting around the house, all as a child. But, this was not a free kind of Love, since I performed these kind acts out of Fear. Could I "buy" my family's Love, or at least be left unharmed by them, if I did these things?
As I grew into adulthood, I did what Onesimus did, I "ran away". I saw my family only for holidays. I finished school, got married, became a mother, built my own life in another state.
One spring day, when I was an adult, my father woke up, had a cup of coffee and suddenly perished. When I received that phone call, I knew instantly that I would be confronted once again with my relationship with my family-- which I had never resolved.
When I went to my church to pray, I realized that confronting my frail, overwhelmed mother, whom I still feared, but who needed me so desperately back in her life -- would be a monumental task. One I could never tackle alone.
And so, dear friends, I converted. And yes, I did take my mother back, despite all that had gone on between us for my entire life.
I think that my mother could never quite believe it. She thanked me every day. She was amazed at my Love and kindness to her. I saw her almost every day, until the day she died.
As for me, I was performing these acts of Love -- finally -- out of Freedom. I was no longer bound to her as a scared child, as her puppet or her slave. It had taken my Conversion for me to see that I could Love out of Joy, not out of constricted bonds. I had become a daughter of God. My Love was freely given.
I am still learning what it is to be Free. I no longer have to worry about where I am going to find food. I am safe in my bed. I try to wear color more often, instead of the more reticent black and gray which I usually wear as a sort of armor. Sometimes, I am startled when someone notices me and says hello -- it is still feels safer to believe that I am invisible. If someone tells me that she missed me or she loves me, I am trying to trust the Truth in that. I am developing my own opinions and am finding my voice to speak them, even if these beliefs are not always too popular.
Out of ignorance of Liberty, I am learning what it is to be Free!
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone, it is the same God at work." -- [ 1 Corinthians 12].
THIS IS a two-part series on Education in America.
It is the end of August. Students in America will be returning to school within a matter of days. Some have already returned to school.
The public educational system in America has always been, academically, largely a state-based system. Each state has historically set the standards of academics for its schools. The states test their students on academic compliance regularly.
The public educational system in America has always been, financially, largely a community-based system. Each town taxes its residents on the value of the homes that the residents own. These taxes are the main source of educational budgets in every town and city.
That there is a disparity in tax revenues, in wealthier suburban towns vs. poorer urban cities, is fairly obvious.
Parents vie to buy homes or rent residences in wealthier suburbs, so that their children can receive the best possible education.
I know of suburban schools that boast a kitchen in each classroom. A nature trail. A smart-board in each classroom. Tablets for each student in Math class. High-tech Science labs.
But we have to ask if all those bells and whistles lead to a better result for the students?
As a Christian parent, I value a work-life balance. Even Jesus took time off from his busy ministry to go off into the hills for rest and reflection. I also live by St. Paul's words above -- each of us has a unique set of gifts given by God, distributed by the Spirit. I truly believe that "There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone, it is the same God at work."
I am not the only parent out there who is tremendously stressed and distressed over how grueling my child's schedule is. Each weekday, nine months of the year, I have to decide to either wake my son a bit earlier so he can eat breakfast before school, or let him get the rest that he so sorely needs.
If my son is to get the 11-12 hours of sleep that American doctors recommend for teens, he would have to go to bed at 7:30 a.m. With mandatory after-school sports, his days run from 12 to 15 hours! That leaves no time for family, or friends, let alone for homework or community service.
My son has homework, seven days a week. He has homework over Thanksgiving break, over Christmas break, over Spring break and over the summer.
There is not a whole lot of time in his schedule for eating, either. Happy thoughts of Jesus hanging out with His disciples, imparting His precious wisdom, and roasting fish on the shoreline, are modern-day impossibilities. My son and his peers are given five minutes between classes. There is no eating IN class, and no time to eat between classes. The students are given 30 minutes for lunch. By the time my son gets to the head of the line, he has time to get the food, but not to eat it -- that is, IF there is any food left at the counter.
My son's tutor, and his doctor advise, both with straight faces, that he consume liquid protein replacement meals for breakfast, for lunch and before athletic practices . . . That would mean going 24 hours with no solid food. . . .
I find that my son is busier in High School, than I was in college. He takes 6 classes, plus sports. I took 4 classes per semester in college.
This is the first generation I have seen that is being taught NOT to take care of themselves, but to continue working at all costs. Ironically, while this generations' parents are eating organic food, exquisitely balanced for one's genetic predisposition, for hitting all healthy food groups and for reaching maximum metabolic efficiency-- this generation is being told to consume a liquid diet, and to keep going without stopping.
We, as parents, count our thousands of steps each day, we practice yoga, we obsessively count and analyze our sleep patterns. But, our kids are being taught that school work trumps all -- sleep, a healthy diet, even play.
We seem to have decided that play is no longer worthwhile. If we do allow play, it is all structured by adult rules-- swim lessons, music lessons, soccer or basketball, chess club. But free-play helps kids of all ages-- pre-school to teen-- to relax, to encounter people different than themselves, to problem-solve, to be creative.
Academically, students in suburbia are subjected to pages upon pages of rote learning. This kind of assignment promotes the belief that there is only one answer to a question.
OR, in college preparatory schools, they are receiving assignments that are overly complex and probably not appropriate to the brain development stages of a typical teen-- such as requiring them to design their own home, calculating square footage, cost of various floor coverings not to exceed a certain budget, and writing a sales proposal with at least two comparable listings -- all for one Geometry unit on surface area.
Many suburban students are also not-so-subtly expected to get A's in every subject. If a student does not receive at least a B, he is handed back the test or essay and told to correct it. Not only does this dilute the valuable lesson of doing one's best the first time; it also teaches the student that nothing he does is ever good enough.
This kind of academic environment has meant that more and more of the younger generation is on anti-psychotic or anti-depressant medications. Instead of a parent asking, 'What is wrong with how we raise and educate our children', the schools ask, 'What is wrong with your child?' If a student cannot keep up with the 12- 15 hour days, or the academic quantity or quality of work, the schools send the student to a therapist or suggest medication.
This system is also creating a generation at much higher risk of illness and disease. Early childhood stress may be a harbinger of artery risk. We have this zeal to give them a super-enriched environment of education, music, sports, when what our children REALLY need is love and nurturing, and time to explore, to make mistakes and to play. . -- If we schedule every minute of our child's life, our child may conclude that they have to grow up very fast, and take care of themselves because no adult will. This could mean that our kids adopt a "live fast and die young" mentality. [Source: Alison Gopnik, WSJ 3/26/16].
It is undoubtedly very difficult to be a Christian parent today. I want to teach my son that he might not receive A's in every subject. That it is okay to have a few special God-given gifts, but that he may have other areas where he may struggle. That there are different kinds of working but the same Lord. That the most important thing is to do his best.
In fact, studies show that the most successful people in life are the ones with integrity -- responsibility, honesty, patience, perseverance, compassion. The most successful people are NOT the ones with the most impressive resume but with no Soul.
I very much want my son to know that his value as a human being is summed up by far more than just his grades in school. That his sense of humor, his compassion, his gentleness, his knack for seeking and promoting peace and justice, are worth far more to the world than his "A" in Algebra or how many words he memorized for the vocabulary quiz.
I do NOT love my son for his good grades or his tournament wins. I love him for his quirky grin, his thick curly hair, his love of a good hamburger, his quick wit. I love him for all those ineffable qualities that we can never, ever sum up, when we try to describe our love for someone.
Jesus knew that a person's greatest and most valuable quality is the ability to Love. These things -- Love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control-- cannot be measured. That is because these are priceless. . . .
[Next Part in the Series: "Education in America -- Urban Schools"]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
RESOURCES: "Beyond Measure", by Vicki Abeles, author of "Race To Nowhere".
Sunday, August 21, 2016
"People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south, and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some who are first will be last." --[Luke 13: 22-30].
When I was growing up, I was definitely the "Last". I was the baby and the only daughter; I am told that I should have been cherished. But over and over, by the behavior of my parents and sibling, I was taught that I did not matter. That it was best to not be noticed. To go invisible. I was blamed for everything, even for things I did not do wrong.
Amazing how God works in one's life. Being firmly rooted at the bottom of the pecking order has given me a huge heart for those in the same position in life. The widowed. The children with no mother. The poor. The immigrant. The person of color. The marginalized woman. The homeless. The laborer. The uneducated.
In America, status is just about everything. We judge status by the neighborhood in which we live, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the schools we attend, the places where we vacation.
I ignore ALL of these things. A job with physical labor tells me nothing about your morals or ethics. Your status as an immigrant or a person of color tells me nothing of the quality of your soul.
In fact, if anything, I find that a person who has been marginalized, ignored, downtrodden, or maltreated has been through rough times and, often possesses more compassion and tolerance than the typical successful person.
But my relationship towards those who are considered "Last" goes far beyond attitude.
Sometimes, I remark to my husband that my days are so busy, that I rarely sit down. When I account for how I spend the hours in my days, I realize that, other than feeding my family, cleaning my house, sleeping and taking care of the garden, my hours are spent helping others.
You can tell a lot about someone if you look at how they spend their time; if you realize what their priorities are. Someone who has a lot and who spends most of his free time time aggrandizing himself, or aggregating even more resources for himself, is putting himself first. He is not putting the Last first.
In a spare moment, I may call a friend who lives alone. I may send home-baked goods to a neighborhood family -- perhaps because the wife/mother has died; or because the lady is too elderly to bake any longer. I may pick out someone from my contact list and send that person a note or photo.
Many years ago now, my husband and I found a wooden trestle table at a yard sale. We stripped it of its many layers of paint and repainted it a soft green.
The little wooden trestle table sits on my front porch. People drop off donations. I never know what I will find. Yarn goes to the Senior Center knitting club. Personal CD players go to the local hospice. Hand-knitted hats and scarves go to the local shelter. Empty plastic flower pots go to a school with a community garden. Toys and games go to the Family Center at the local shelter. Children's books go to the city magnet school. Non-perishables go to the town food pantry.
Friends tell me, "You are a great person!" They tell me I am amazing. They say, ' Most people cannot take care of themselves, let alone others.'
But I say, No. This is the kind of thing we are supposed to be doing. . .
In today's culture, we say, "I am taking care of Number One." We promote ourselves by posting endless "Selfies." Most of our sentences begin with the pronoun, "I". . . We spend our days making our own happiness the priority. We say, " I can work each day to set goals for MYSELF. I can succeed at my OWN happiness. I deserve everything I can achieve for myself." -- I am not exaggerating, I hear this kind of thing every day!
BUT how much time do we spend on the welfare or happiness of others? What is YOUR priority as to how you spend your time, after your basic needs have been met?
In this Scripture, Jesus talks of people coming from East, West, North and South to recline at the table in the Kingdom of God. In Biblical times, in the early church, meetings were held in the biggest homes of the community. Those mansions of the wealthy had an inner room big enough for only a chosen few to recline at the banquet table. All others were relegated to the courtyard, crowded in an outside area, where the rain could fall, straining to hear the Word and to receive the Bread of Life.
In the Kingdom of God, ALL will come from every direction, to recline at the banquet table. There will be no marginalized. No poor, no sad, no forgotten children of God.
And, IF we do behave in way of believing that some of God's children are Last, and should remain that way, we will find that Jesus has turned the tables on those who believe that they are First!
For the Last shall be first. And the meek shall inherit the Earth!
[Related Postings: "Putting the Last First", 8/25/13; "And the Lowly Shall be Exalted", 9/1/13.]
(C) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.