Monday, November 28, 2016

The Armor of Light

" 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

Who is YOUR King?

" 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 (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

The Myths About Christianity

"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

Seven Brothers

" 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.