Monday, September 25, 2017

The Landowner

"Jesus told His disciples this parable:
' The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o'clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.'
And he went out again around noon and three o'clock and did likewise. .  Going out about five o'clock, the landowner found others standing around and said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard.'
When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.'  When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it, they grumbled.
He said to them in reply, 'My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. Am I not free to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money' " --[Matthew 20: 1-16A].

This Scripture is just about as infuriating as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the profligate son spends his inheritance in squander, but returns home begging forgiveness, and ends up with a lavish feast.

If a landowner today ran his business the way this one does in Matthew 20, he would be out of business in a very short time. You cannot run a business in this world by paying lots of people for very little work. But, as it says in Isaiah 55: 6-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord."

But this parable is not literally about a business owner in this Life. This parable is about the Next Life.

Growing up, I received poor-to-no-parenting. I was putting myself down for naps and finding food at age five. . .  and blamed by my parents for doing those things to help myself survive. I went to school with black eyes. I was called ugly every day, then blamed for being too sensitive about it.

It has taken me a lifetime to pull myself up, and out of the abyss. Just trusting another human being has taken a huge amount of strength and courage.

I have had to build my emotional landscape back up from nothing.  I got to a point by age 18 that I was barely eating, barely sleeping, barely feeling anything, rarely speaking. I was a ghost. I had no time and no energy for anger, I was just trying to parent myself and to survive.

About ten years ago, my world went upside down at the sudden death of my father. Then the awful memories began flooding back. I realized that he was a man with huge faults and character flaws, a man who should never have become a father. He was angry and bitter and he took his anger out on me.

The first emotions to come back for me were deep pain like a cancer; and depression like a yawing black hole.

It was only after years of work on myself that I was able to feel any other emotions. One day, I felt a tiny spark of Joy. I said to myself, "THIS must be what it must feel like to be Happy."

I see-sawed between Happy and Sad for years. I still have trouble distinguishing irritated from frustrated, curious from wary, scared from angry.

Finally, one day I started to ask WHY -- WHY did my parents treat me that way? And, there are really no answers to that. Since my parents are both deceased, I will never know.

I began to realize that I need every ounce of energy to rebuild myself, to get through the day, to be a good wife, a loving mother. I cannot figure out the Whys or the Judgments, by myself. What my family did to me is too big, too HUGE for me to ever understand.

I was talking to a Christian friend about this. I said, "No child wants parents who are hateful and evil. No child wants to get parents who burn in Hell for how they treated you." Call it a fantasy but I wanted to either be rescued early on; OR, I wanted a different family.

I got neither.  I told my friend, 'I wanted loving parents. I don't want to wonder for the rest of my days, whether they are burning in Hell now. I am kinda haunted by that. No matter what they did, it does not comfort me to envision them screaming in agony in an unquenchable fire. I never wanted parents like that.'

What my friend said astonished me. She said, in Matthew 20, God gives the same generous amount to the laborers, whether they were industrious since dawn or whether they showed up at almost sundown. As long as a person comes to God with a contrite heart, even at the very last minute of Life, he receives God's generosity.

Okay, I admit, now THAT made me furious! WHY would my father get the reward of Heaven for what he did?  THAT is NOT FAIR!

But, I didn't want to spend the rest of my Life imagining him screaming in agony, either. WHAT if he DID beg God for forgiveness in his last moments? I can never know that. Do I even need to know that?

I have decided to let God judge. I need to get on with my Life and enjoy the happy years that I have left.  I cannot worry about what someone else gets in this Life or in the next. I need to keep rebuilding my Life, finding those moments of Joy, healing from the scars.  If my father received God's
last- minute forgiveness, that takes nothing from me.

God has been very generous to me. His Blessings are new to me, every day.

[Related Postings: "The First Shall be Last", 8/21/17; "The Vineyard", 9/22/14; "Putting the Last First", 8/25/13; "The Evil Seed", 5/24/13.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Lure of Anger

"Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the Sinner hugs them tight. . . Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse Mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days. . . Think of the Commandments, hate not your neighbor." --[Sirach 27: 30- 28:7].

After my father died abruptly one spring morning, and then my best friend died about a year later, then my mother-in-law died less than a year after that, then my own mother died only a month after that -- well, my world turned upside down.

What my family had told me was the Truth turned out to be all Lies. What others had been telling me  was the Truth, my family had always told me were Lies.

I ran to my Pastor in a panic. I told him, "Everything has gone upside down. I need to get closer to God, NOW. Only, I don't know how."

He told me to go sit in the stillness of the Chapel, before the Tabernacle, and to meditate. I said, "I don't have time." But, I realized that I was racing to and fro, but accomplishing little.

My pastor told me, "Please. You need this. Sitting and reflecting are not a waste of time. Stop being a 'Type-A personality', and sit quietly. Talk to God."

I began the practice of meditating in the Chapel daily. What came out was horrifying. . .  abuse by my family. A trauma just about every year of my life --  A fire in my grandparents' house when I was three; my near-drowning when I was four.  On and on, the memories came flooding back. Going to school with black eyes, not being fed, not being taken to the doctor. It was like a tide which I could not control.

I went back to my pastor. I started to tell him what had gone on. Even a priest practiced in difficult conversations is very capable of cringing.

Once, he interrupted me and asked, "But? -- Where is the anger?"

I said, " I gave up on anger a long time ago. I did not have time for anger, I was trying to survive."

"And now?, he asked. I said, "Anger is like a huge truck stuck in the mud. You gun the engine and the noise is deafening and you feel very powerful at the moment. But you are digging yourself in deeper and deeper. You are making it inevitable that you will never get out of the jungle. It traps you, and you never move forward."

The pastor had taught me to pray the Serenity Prayer.  I told him, "I accept what happened to me. That is, all that happened is FACT. I don't like it. I never deserved it. But it just IS."

We talked about Forgiveness. I began to understand that Forgiveness does NOT mean that the other person did nothing wrong. When a person asks for Forgiveness, he has to acknowledge his Sin first.

Forgiveness also does not mean that you have to keep going back for more abuse. The Bible never asks you to leave your brains out of the equation. In fact, we MUST remember the terrible things done to us, so we can protect ourselves from further harm.

Forgiveness DOES mean letting go of the hate and anger that would prevent us from moving on and working on our healing. If anger and hate rule our lives, then quite simply,  Evil is allowed to live on in us for the rest of our days.  And who wants Evil to retain its ugly grip on us?-- "Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?"

If you live in anger and Hate, you might push everyone away, even those loving people who are trying to help you.

If you remain in anger and Hate, you may be so blinded by intense fury, that you will never be able to help anyone else who has gone through something similar.

And so, I live every day, "taking as Jesus did, this Sinful world as it is, not as I would have it."

[Related Postings: "The Victim Soul", 7/11/15; "Hate = Murder", 2/7/11; "Anger in the Temple", 3/10/12; "Love is . . . Forgiveness", 2/29/12.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Gathered Together

"If I tell the sinful, 'O wicked one, you shall surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold YOU responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself." --[Ezekiel 33: 7-9].

In Genesis 4:9, after Cain murders his brother Abel, God asks Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" Cain replies: "I know not; am I my brother's keeper?"

Pulpit Commentary says that this reply adds "falsehood, effrontery, and even profanity to murder".

The fact is, as we read in Ezekiel 33, we ARE our brothers' and sisters' keepers. We ARE.

And in Matthew 18, Jesus teaches His disciples, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him is fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat whims you would a Gentile or a tax collector [avoid him]."

In Jesus' world, we are ALL brothers and sisters. When Jesus' mother and brothers go out looking for Him, after He has been preaching for days, someone in the crowd tells Jesus: " 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.'  He replied to him, 'Who is my mothers, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to His disciples, He said, 'Here are my mother and brothers.' " --[Matthew 12:46-50].

In my childhood home, my parents told me that people who believe in God are losers and hypocrites. They had every kind of bigoted name for various ethnic groups.  My father would tell me that he was English and that the English were superior in every way. This went way beyond ethnic pride. This was bigotry. When I laughed out loud at his outrageous words, he would turn to me and say, "Why are you laughing? I am deadly serious."

A wise woman once asked me, "How did you keep from becoming like them?" -  I said, "Because a child does not want Hate, what she craves is Love."

Every time my parents mocked someone's ethnicity, country of origin or religion, I think a little bit more of their soul died. They slowly revealed themselves to me as the lifeless creatures they really

I did not hate them for that, because I was not born with Hate in my heart. But it made me so very sad to see them that way. And it made me determined to love others radically.

Gradually, I came to see by personal experience, that Sin and Hate divide us from each other, and these certainly divide us from God, who IS Love.  Sin IS Death, because Love IS Life.

My parents spent their lives holding themselves apart from others and seeing themselves as superior to others. But, we are gathered together as One, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

 Martin Luther King, Jr. also said, "Affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question that Adolph Eichmann chose to ignore, "How responsible am I for the well-being of my fellow human beings?"

We have a responsibility to take care of each other. This responsibility extends to warning others of the error of their ways. This is uncomfortable, hard work. As Jesus alludes, it sometimes takes the work of the community. As my pastor says, "This Christian stuff is not for wimps."

Warning others does NOT mean judging them in the sense of looking down on those who sin. We are ALL Sinners. It does not mean extending Final Judgment  either-- only God can do that.

Given our responsibility for each other, HOW is it that we are so shocked and overwhelmed at the response of ordinary citizens in times of trauma -- the managers who risked their lives to stay in the World Trade Center on 9/11, until all employees were ushered to escape routes. The "Cajun Navy" who turned their personal watercraft into rescue vessels after Hurricane Katrina, and who did it again after Hurricane Harvey?

"WHY would ANYONE do that", we ask? --- BUT- What I ask is, "WHY wouldn't I do that?"

[Related Posting: "Confronting Sin", 9/3/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Losing My Life

"You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; You were too strong for me, and You triumphed. All the day, I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the Word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.
I say to myself, I will not mention Him, I will speak His name no more. But then, it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." -[Jeremiah 20: 7-9].

According to the Commentary in the Life Application Study Bible, NIV, "By [earthly] standards, Jeremiah was a miserable failure. For 40 years, he served as God's spokesman to Judah; but when Jeremiah spoke, nobody listened. And he certainly did not attain material success. He was poor and underwent severe deprivation to deliver his prophecies. He was thrown into prison and into a cistern, and he was taken to Egypt against his will. He was rejected by his neighbors, his family, the false priests and prophets, friends, his audience and the kings. . . But, in God's eyes, Jeremiah was one of the most successful people in all of history."

All the day, growing up, I myself was an object of laughter. My family was very comfortable financially. I would ask if we could give to charity? My parents and my sibling would mock me, chortling, "We don't GIVE our money away."

We called ourselves Christian, but my mother would pronounce that she worshipped "The Almighty Dollar." I did not dare to speak God's name out loud. I was asking as a teen could we go to church, but my mother would tell me, "We don't believe in that".  And so, if I wanted to correct their blasphemy, I would whisper to myself, "You mean 'Almighty God."

My sibling called me ugly every day, in great detail -- faulting me for my complexion, my teeth, my eyesight. My mother would say, "You are too sensitive." So, I concluded that what my sibling was saying must be true, but the problem was that I was too sensitive about these reproaches.

When my parents did not stop the verbal abuse, my sibling took to rounding up the children in the neighborhood to mock me. They ringed me, chanting what my sibling directed them to deride me with. I would run inside and hide in my room. I was too gentle to confront them, too frightened to stand my ground.

When my parents did not stop the neighborhood bullies, my sibling became even more emboldened. I was going to school with black eyes. My parents mocked me, "Little Miss Black-Eyed Susan."

No one cared to put me down for the naps I needed, so I took naps when I decided I needed them. I was five.

Increasingly, even at five, I was not fed. I became extremely thin. I would hang around the neighbors' yards, hoping they would give me a small meal, perhaps a glass of milk and a piece of bread with butter.

My mother told me that it was my own fault that the kids and my sibling were bullying me, because I reacted with emotion. By age eight, I had numbed my feelings. By age ten, I had stopped speaking.

When I became a teen, more capable around the house, I either hid in my room, tried to contribute to the peace by doing chores, or I left the house for hours.

I was modeling Christian behavior -- responding with gentleness, retreating, or even walking away.

When I was 14, my parents stopped taking me to church altogether. The treatment for my chronic lung disease ceased as well.

I developed scars on my lungs as a result. I live with this daily.

I also took my Faith underground. When I met my Christian husband, I asked him for a gold cross necklace. But in front of my parents, I wore it under my shirt collar.

When I went home to tell my family that I was marrying this Catholic man, my mother hissed, "We did NOT raise you this way! WHY are you doing this to us?"  My parents refused to stand in the receiving line at my wedding. My husband and I were shut out of family events.

As we read Jeremiah, we could almost believe his story was an exaggeration. Or, that this kind of thing happened only in the "Olden Times".

But persecution is real, not just the world over, but in America. Try coming out to someone, that you are Christian, and feel the derision, the scorn, even the outrage. I have wounds that are real, as well -- physical scars, psychic and emotional wounds.

I once told my pastor my story. His reaction was one of shock -- not just at all I had experienced, but at how amazing it is that I did not turn out like my family.

He said I had a steely bond with God. That is, no matter what was thrown at me, verbal abuse, food deprivation, medical neglect, physical abuse, and so on, I would not turn away from my Christian core.

When I first joined a church with my husband, and went up to receive the Eucharist for the first time in decades, I would get panic attacks. I feared my Faith being so visible.

But my church friends told me I felt that way because my Faith was so very precious to me.

Jesus tells us that, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" --[Matthew 16: 21-27].

I have been asked if I would do what I did all over again? My answer is Yes!  I "lost" so much of my life in the process, but what my family offered, I did not want. For, I have gained a whole new Life in Him!

[Related Postings: "My Heart Like a Fire", 8/30/11; "Hating this Life", 3,25/12; "The Victim Soul", 7/11/15].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.