Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Message 2017

" How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him who brings glad tidings, announcing Peace, bearing good news. announcing salvation [ rescue, deliverance from ruin]" . . . --[ Isaiah 52: 7-10].

Each year, I tell my son, 'All I want for Christmas is World Peace.' -- And then, he laughs at me, as if this is preposterous.

More and more I realize, that World Peace is a matter of Justice-- but more than that, of Love. Because, if there were more Love, wouldn't there be more Justice?

If the last decade has proved anything to me, it is that we humans cannot merely rely on world governments to achieve Peace. I realize that the Love must come from within ourselves and radiate out.

Love, in my mind, begins with talking to each other. Unless the person I am talking to is irrational and completely Evil, I am committed to encountering "The Other" in my midst -- the person who is radically different than I am.

I will never forget the day when my son was about ten, and he came home excitedly telling me, "Did you know it is okay be different?" Now THAT is why my son goes to school, not to get A's in Algebra or to ace the French quiz, but to encounter The Other.

When I was in high school, my best friend was Jewish. Around Christmas time, she once asked me if she could come to Christmas Eve services at my church? This was literally decades ago . . .

I said to her, 'Why would YOU want to come to my church?' She said, 'Because the music is so beautiful.'

My mother had long-since banned church, saying, "We don't believe in that stuff." That always confused me. Why did we go to church when I was little -- just to be obedient to my grandmother? Now that she had passed away, we felt free to skip out?

I told my mother that my friend wanted to go to church with me on Christmas Eve. My mother was silent, then she said, 'Okay.'  My family refused to go, it was just my friend and me.

During the Christmas Eve service, I had to nudge my friend to sit, stand, kneel. I had to show her where the carols were in the Hymnal. At the end, when the music director dimmed the lights, and the Children's Choir lit candles and sang Silent Night, I believe we were both in tears.

My friend, who had health issues, and a complicated relationship with her mother, came out of the church and stood near the porch lanterns. She positively glowed. She simply breathed, 'Thank you.'

After Christmas, I said to her, 'Now you need to take me to temple.' She explained that it would be on Friday night. I said, 'So?'

My friend told her mother. Her mother was silent, then she said, 'Okay.'

At temple, my friend guided me to the women's side. She nudged me to sit, stand and kneel. She helped me with the book which we followed for prayers and songs. I was in awe at the power of the Shofar, and at the haunting chants in Hebrew.

Afterwards, her mother told me, "In MY day, my parents would never have allowed a 'goy' [ non-Jew] to enter our home, yet alone dine with, or be friends with me." I was shocked. I mean, this was my girlfriend.  I didn't care if she was Jewish. I didn't judge her over her health issues. I loved her. I accepted her and she accepted me.

Would this ecumenical encounter happen today? Dare I say, No?

Years later, as a mom, I picked my son up from a playdate. The family is Muslim. In the center of the main room, on the coffee table, was the Quran, on an ornately carved wooden stand. My first thought was, why don't we Christians place a Bible in our living rooms, front and center? What a beautiful practice!

I went over to the Quran, and noticed the gilt on the edges and the elaborate scrolling design around each page. It was so beautiful, I gasped. The mom invited me to touch it and to look at it. Even though I could not read a word, I felt it was an honor to turn the pages.

I have learned that Peace comes from leaving aside my traditions and beliefs in suspended animation, for a short time, and entering the world of another.

I have learned that when I allow myself to be in the moment with someone of different beliefs, that I am dependent upon that person to guide me. Suddenly, I know nothing, I have entered a new world, and I experience what loving interdependence really is.

These days, many Christians would never speak to a Muslim, any Muslim. A white person may avoid those who are black, or may go all day without encountering a single person of color. Some Democrats would never speak to a Republican. Women are alienated from men. Suburban and city folks never cross paths. We are so divided and alienated from each other, we cannot even have a dialogue.

We have made each other out to be mortal enemies.  . . Just for being different.

IF we are committed to Peace and Love, then at least we should be talking to each other, with gentle voices.  If all we can do is shout each other down, or isolate ourselves from the "enemy", then we are doomed to failure. . . to cynicism. . . to Hate.

" If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have Love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." --[1 Corinthians 13: 1].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Rejoice !!

"Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil." --[1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24].

It is the Christmas season. For my Jewish friends, it is Hanukkah. It is the season of Light, shining in the darkness.

And yet, where is the Joy?

We keep our heads down always working, obsessively checking for emails and texts, fearful of missing something important; going about our days fully, cognizant of the world's serious problems -- violence, racism, sexism, the threat of war, poverty, hunger, damaging storms, political corruption.

Often I wonder how St. Paul can possibly urge us to "Rejoice always" ?

There was a time when I awoke each morning and recited a litany of my woes to the mirror. I looked at my own image gazing back to me, and almost pitied myself- - I looked pale, exhausted and depressed.

In some ways, I had every right to be depressed. I had had a childhood full of trauma. I had just managed to escape that miserable existence when I got married, set up household -- and discovered how hard life can be.

My husband was -- and is -- my constant joy and comfort. But I forgot that, as I dwelled upon all that was going wrong. To accept a new job, a promotion, we had to move several states away. We had to sell our house at a loss. Then we could afford only a small apartment in our new town. My husband could not find a new job in our area for quite some time. We were reduced to one salary. We had to delay our dream to start a family. Then my husband's mother died. Then, my husband was diagnosed with some health problems. Then, our cat died.

Every day when I faced the mirror, I recited, "No house, no job for my husband, no baby, no cat."

One day, my husband overheard me and told me, "How about reciting what we DO have?"

Ouch! But he was right.

I had come close to dying, during my traumatic years, so many times. But, I am alive!

I went hungry a lot during my childhood. But I have food.

I had no friends as a child. I have many friends now.

My husband had to look long and hard to find a new job. But thank God I had a job and could support us both.

Rejoice always. Somehow even at my darkest moments, I can find something to rejoice over and be thankful for.

Giving thanks IS "God's will for us." God wants us to find something, no matter how small, to be thankful for. Maybe a sunny day. Perhaps that, despite the fact that my chronic lung disease was so inconsistently treated when I was a child--  I am breathing today!

This does not mean to be unrealistic about Life. Everything is NOT wonderful. Given my traumatic past, I do test everything. I do not trust easily. But I am supposed to test things -- to throw away what is Evil and to embrace what is good.

As for not "quenching the Spirit",  I keep trying to reach for the Fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Sometimes I don't trust enough to love others or to accept love from anyone else. Sometimes, my Joy fades away. Sometimes, I feel no Peace, only anguish and despair. Sometimes, I cannot reach out and be kind, I just want to retreat and wall myself up. Sometimes, I am irritated and difficult. Sometimes, my Faith is sorely tested. Sometimes, my anger gets the better of me. I vent loudly, and my emotions spin out wildly.

Here is where I take a deep breath, take some time to withdraw, and quietly pray. I have a lot of barriers keeping me from the Fruits of the Spirit. For some period of time, I despair, I retreat, I doubt, I rage, I vent, I lose my Peace.

I know I cannot win this battle alone. I have to pray. I need to "borrow" God's strength. I am too wounded to succeed in this by myself.

But if I allow the despair, the anger, the doubt, the isolation to ultimately win out, then the Dark Side wins.

And that simply cannot be!

[Related Posting: "Where is Your Joy?", 3/30/13]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A New Earth

"But, according to His Promise, we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." --[2 Peter 3: 8-14].

Every day in the news, we discover ever more distressful events.  North Korea is perfecting its deadly weapons systems.  Almost every day, two or three men are "outed" as sexual abusers or assaulters. Mass shootings occur with alarming regularity.  War and violence are ever present in our world.
Hunger and disease ravage Africa.

And meanwhile, we await "new heavens and a new earth".  Sometimes those inspiring words can seem a mockery of Reality.

As Isaiah 40: 3 says, "A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!"

Sometimes our world seems like such an irredeemable wasteland, I barely want to get out of bed in the morning.

It also seems way too long to wait to enter Heaven after this Life. Or, even yet, to wait for Jesus' Second Coming.

I want a New Earth NOW!

We wonder what kind of prophet can show us the way? Certainly Mark talks about a very unconventional prophet in John the Baptist: "clothed in camel's hair, a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and honey."  -[Mark 1: 1-8]. Who would even dare to talk to him?

John the Baptist was a divine predecessor to Jesus -- who Himself was an unconventional Redeemer, the son of a carpenter and a young teenaged girl, a "rabbi" who preached, "Behold, I am making all things new." -[Revelation 21:5].

I get so discouraged about all the Evil in our world. But then I say, surely there is something I can do to help make things better?

I try to teach my son this, as well. Even if what I can do is small, that is better than doing nothing at all, than remaining silent where Evil flourishes.

I taught my son this before he went off to pre-school at age three. I told him, "You are big and strong and smart. Try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Help your classmates. If you see a little girl fall off the end of the slide, for example, help her up, then run to get the teacher. Be a friend."

And this is exactly what happened one day in fourth grade! A little girl fell into a muddy puddle at the bottom of the slide. She wasn't hurt, but she was scared and muddy. She began to cry. My son helped her up, then ran to get the teacher. When I picked him up at the end of the school day, he said, "Mommy! How did you know that would happen?"

At the end of the school year, I received a card about my son, filled with comments from his classmates: "He helped a girl up when she fell off the slide." -- "He plays with the kids no one wants to play with." - - "He helps me with my spelling." -- "When I am sad, he makes me laugh." -- "He defends the kids who are bullied."

Simply put, I have learned that "a new earth" comes when we dare to be different. When we dare to speak up or help out or defend others when no one else will.

A new earth unfolds when we dare to be that "one voice crying out in the desert." When we see how dark things can be, and we work to "make things new."

A new earth unfolds when we refuse to accept the wasteland, but we propel forward spreading our voices for Love and justice.

"For behold, I create new Heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or [even] come into mind." -- Isaiah 65: 17.

[Related Postings: "The Voice of One" 12/5/16; "Baptized with the Holy Spirit", 1/11/13' "Prepare the Way", 12/10/12.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 4, 2017

On Watch

"Jesus said to His disciples: 'Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places His servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming. May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!' " --[Mark 13: 33-37].

In my childhood home, my mother used to tell us often, "What happens in this house, stays this house, within these four walls."

That was an awful thing to say to a child.

My parents were pillars of the community. My father had a professional job, he had an advanced degree. Even my mother had a college degree, at a time when few women went to college. We lived in a fine suburb, in an immaculate house. We went to church every Sunday. My mother even taught Sunday school.

But what was happening on the inside bore no relationship to my family's reputation in the outside world. I was fed inconsistently. I was hit. I was called ugly every day, in excruciating detail -- my ugly nose, my teeth, my complexion and so forth. I was abused verbally, physically, emotionally and in all ways.

Essentially, my mother had sworn me to silence. . . Or? What would happen? I was too afraid to mention what was going on in that house.

There is an awful lot in the press lately about high profile, powerful men whom everybody admires on the outside. But they have a deep, dark ugly secret going on in private.

When their nasty private world becomes public, we feel horrified, disgusted, disillusioned and outraged. . . . as we should.

There was a time when politicians tried to convince us that what happened "in private" was irrelevant to their ability to be a great leader.  They tried to convince us that their peccadilloes and affairs IN the Oval Office were none of our business.

I beg to differ.

I know this now, the same way you know it -- once politics have been eliminated from the equation, we have Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Gerry Sandusky, Matt Lauer, Louis CK, and on and on.

We all laughed at that episode of Seinfeld, when Jerry and Elaine joked that THIS -- their friendship, their time in the coffee shop, their time going to the movies together -- had NOTHING to do with THAT -- their sleeping together.

Now we know the Truth. Sex must never become a weapon. Sex is not about emotionless conquest, where you leave in the middle of the night so you can evade that morning face-to-face, and all those inconvenient emotions.

I have learned that if there is a horrifying disconnect between a person's outward demeanor and ugly private behavior, then that is a huge red flag. I have learned to get away from that situation, really fast. In some cases, it may even be necessary to call in the authorities.

This is not some new-agey, social science psycho-babble. This notion is centuries old and goes back to the Bible. The master expects his workers to be the same, whether he is present or absent. The master puts a gatekeeper in place to be sure all is in order.

I have also learned that what a man does in private really does profoundly affect his leadership. We cannot trust someone who abuses his power or station.

I have learned that this kind of behavior must be exposed. Way back in Biblical times, St. Paul said, "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible." -[[Ephesians 5: 111-13].

And John 3: 20 says, "Everyone who does Evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."  In other words, Evil flourishes in the darkness. But we must be the LIGHT that illuminates Evil.

[Related Posting: "The Seamless Christian", 12/2/12}.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.